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Chuck D To Narrate Audible Series Exploring Hip-Hop’s South Bronx Origins

'Can You Dig It?' examines how a gang truce paved the way for the birth of the genre in 1973
Chuck D
Chuck D (photo: Travis Shinn)

Public Enemy’s Chuck D will narrate an upcoming Audible Original series detailing a little-known story with major ramifications for the birth of hip-hop in New York’s South Bronx neighborhood in the early 1970s. The five-episode Can You Dig It? will premiere on Aug. 10 in celebration of the genre’s 50th birthday, SPIN can exclusively reveal.

The series centers around the 1971 murder of then 25-year-old Ghetto Brothers gang member Cornell “Black Benjie” Benjamin, which led to the famed Hoe Avenue peace meeting and a truce between rival gangs in the South Bronx. In the aftermath, the area became safer and its residents began to come together as a community without fear of inadvertently walking into a neighborhood gang’s territory. Two years later, Kool Herc threw his legendary back to school party at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, and the era of hip-hop was born.

“During this 50th anniversary of hip-hop, we hold the attention of the planet,” Chuck D tells SPIN. “Now is the time to bring out the stories of people who paved the way for hip-hop and shaped its earliest days. Two cats from the Bronx, Black Benjie and Yellow Benjy, made the impossible possible. When the city turned its back on the borough, they stepped-up to broker peace on the streets.”

Tomorrow (June 2), the intersection of E. 165th Street and Rogers Place in the Bronx will be renamed Cornell “Black Benjie” Benjamin Way, in honor of the site of his murder. “If Kool Herc is considered the father of hip-hop, then my uncle was the general. My uncle was the martyr,” says Benjamin’s niece, Angelique Lenox. “He didn’t die in vain. Something good came from his death. His life mattered.”

Can You Dig It? blends scripted scenes with commentary from street photographers Joe Conzo and Henry Chalfant, original hip-hop MC Coke La Rock, and former Black Panther Joseph Mpa. The voice cast is comprised of talent from the Bronx and its local community arts programs.

The series was created, written, and produced by Pete Chelala, Bryan Master, and Julian Voloj for New York content studio PB&J Productions LLC, alongside Channel Zero executive producers Lorrie Boula and Chuck D.