At the recent Woodhaven street fair on Jamaica Avenue, amidst the bouncy castles, vendors selling arepas, candy apples, and other staples of NYC street fairs, one group stood out.
Hawking t-shirts sporting a innocent-looking raccoon and the words “Woodhaven, Queens, NY,” several young men stood by a canopy while hip-hop music played on a portable stereo and where several others had gathered, some of them passing out stickers, CDs and talking with friends and passers-by.
Although the t-shirts did not indicate it, these were the members of Woodhaven’s own 85th, a rap group that grew up in the neighborhood and for the last four years has been performing, writing, rapping and recording CDs and videos.
In addition to Matt Cronin, who serves as an unofficial spokesperson for the band, other members include Eleagle, 21 Quest, Dgod, Ken-I-Produce and DC. Bobby Seltzer, who was helping by exhorting the street fair crowd to buy t-shirts, and Candace Lee, are other members of the "85th family," as Matt Cronin put it in an interview.
The concept of family is important. Throughout my chat with Matt Cronin and Eleagle, they emphasized their Woodhaven roots, their longtime friendships and family connections in the neighborhood, which are not insubstantial. About the 85th collective, Ed Wendell, a director of the Woodhaven Residents Block Association and President of the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society, says he is happy to hear of young people who "have pride in their community and want to make it a better place because they are the future civic leaders, the future business men and women, the future caretakers."
Citing the controversies that make up the history of this part of Queens, as part of an invitation to the members of the collective, Wendell went on to note: "...when we have debates in the here and now - such as what to do with the abandoned railway line - we need to be real mindful that the decisions we make are going to have more impact on the lives of young people than they are our own lives. So it would be great if they got involved, came to the table, and added their voices to the discussion."
Like other hip-hop artists from Queens and elsewhere, the members of 85th are part of an emerging entrepreneurial scene and they also stress their associations with other up-and-coming small businesses, such as Horus New York, which prints shirts for 85th and The City Don’t Sleep, which provides an online marketplace in support of independent artists.
The members of 85th describe themselves as community builders, and they are hoping to grow as artists while at the same time working to make Woodhaven better. Having grown up in Woodhaven, they especially desire to provide a place for young people to go, stay out of trouble, and be involved in things such as playing chess—a cafe/bookstore, for example, that might be the focus of an always emerging youth culture.
What’s not to like about 85th, the future leaders of our community?
You can learn more about 85th by visiting their website: http://www.atrueunderdogstory.com/
Also, you can check out one of their tracks, “Home Cooked Meals,” which is posted here courtesy of the band.