Can You Dig It? A Hip-Hop Origin Story narrated by hip-hop legend and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Chuck D is out today. Commemorating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, this Audible Original series documents an extraordinary journey and rarely told story that set the table for hip-hop to be born in the Bronx during the early 1970s.
Can You Dig It? – a 5-episode docu-drama – explores the events surrounding the 1971 murder of Cornell “Black Benjie” Benjamin, a respected peacekeeper and member of the influential Ghetto Brothers gang in the Bronx. The series details the impact of his death and how it led to the historic Hoe Avenue peace meeting, where hundreds of gang members gathered to choose peace over violence. This pivotal meeting laid the foundation for the birth of hip-hop, ultimately leading to Kool Herc‘s legendary “Back to School” party in 1973.
Narrated by Chuck D, Can You Dig It? features interviews with influential figures who were at the forefront of this cultural movement. Their firsthand accounts, including former Black Panther and peacekeeper Joseph Mpa, original hip-hop MC Coke La Rock, and renowned photographers/documentarians Joe Conzo and Henry Chalfant, provide an immersive journey into the political and social landscape of the time.
Also included is insight from the family of Black Benjie, who go on record, for the first time ever: “If Kool Herc is considered the father of hip-hop, then my uncle was the general; my uncle was the martyr,” says Angelique Lenox, niece of Black Benjie. “He didn’t die in vain, something good came from his death; his life mattered. This is truly my best version of a love letter to my father and my family and I will not stop until his name is a part of the hip-hop story.”
The mission of Can You Dig It? is to highlight a community’s resilience, the power of peace over violence and to uplift unsung heroes that changed the course of history. It examines a period of transformation and instability in America and New York City between the late 60s and early 70s, and the circumstances and policies that led to significant urban decay and gang activity in the Bronx, including racist housing and zoning laws and the construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway.
Chuck D elaborates on the thesis of Can You Dig It? on the show by saying: “No death, no peace; no peace, no Kool Herc party; no party, no hip-hop. Black Benjie is an unsung hero…the direct correlation between the peace treaty and the birth of hip-hop is clear. There’d be no Public Enemy without this story.” The 1971 Hoe Avenue peace meeting made the Bronx safer and fostered an artistic cross-pollination of ideas as gang territory lines faded. Just two years later, the famous Kool Herc Back-to-School party at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx took place.
The series features a blend of dramatic scripted scenes and observational commentary with cultural luminaries like street photographers Joe Conzo and Henry Chalfant, former Black Panther Joseph Mpa and hip hop’s first MC, Coke La Rock. It also includes interviews with family members and experts, archival recordings and a cinematic score. The scripted cast is as diverse as the borough they call home: nearly 100% Black and LatinX led, featuring young talent from the Bronx and surrounding areas, and local community arts programs.