While “eye for an eye” was the norm in the South Bronx, something unprecedented happened following Benjamin’s murder, with the presidents of rival gangs offering respect and support to the mourning gang. This gesture influenced Melendez and the others to forego additional violence and initiate the peace treaty meeting.
As Melendez details in Ghetto Brother, the treaty was a near-immediate panacea for gang violence. “The world became broader,” Voloj writes. “You went to parties in neighborhoods you never set foot in before. It didn’t matter what colors you were wearing. The turf grid was slowly disintegrating. Former warlords became DJs and gangbangers battled on the dance floor.” Gangs replaced their menacing names with more benign crew names, and hip-hop, in its earliest form, was born.
There’s been a quasi-resurgence of hip-hop’s earliest history of late. New documentaries Fresh Dressed and Rubble Kings highlight the genre’s evolution through fashion and gangs, respectively. Yet, notwithstanding fascinating NYC gang docs like 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s and Flyin’ Cut Sleeves, the amount of video evidence from the late Sixties/early Seventies period is scarce.
Ghetto Brother’s visuals attempt to make up for that. Ahlering’s style – black and white, angular, stark – mirrors the desolate vibe of the South Bronx circa 1971, giving the book an edgy feel that complements its source material perfectly. A worth addition to the canon, Ghetto Brother is a brisk, compact work highlighting an overlooked, yet pivotal, part of the history of both a genre and a city.