LeRoy McCarthy has established himself as a revered documentarian of Hip Hop. A self-proclaimed “cultural advocate,” the Brooklyn resident has dedicated his life to ensuring Hip Hop and the artists who helped to make it a thriving, worldwide culture, are properly memorialized.
Via his company HeteroDoxX Inc., McCarthy has led efforts for street renamings that honor the likes of The Notorious B.I.G. in Brooklyn, 2Pac in Oakland, the Wu-Tang Clan in Staten Island, the Beastie Boys in Manhattan and De La Soul in Long Island, with many more in the pipeline.
McCarthy’s work has garnered recognition from Congress, with Hip Hop Celebration Day taking place on August 11 and the entire month being dubbed “Hip-Hop Recognition Month.”
From his earliest memories, McCarthy recalled being enthralled with every element of Hip Hop. Having a bird’s eye view of the culture left an indelible imprint on his mind and he’s been in love with it ever since.
“I’m 55, so [I] pretty much grew up Hip Hop…it was already forming as I was growing up. I came up at a time during the late 70s and early 80s when it was still burgeoning,” McCarthy told HipHopDX. “Where I went to school in Brooklyn, in the playgrounds or the school cafeteria, you could hear rappers Spoonie Gee on tapes, the block parties, and at the different functions. Hearing and seeing Hip Hop develop as I was growing up was just a normal thing so my first memories of Hip Hop were the parties in Brooklyn.”
Born in Jamaica, like Hip Hop’s Godfather DJ Kool Herc, McCarthy and his family immigrated to the U.S. when he was a child. The influence of West Indian culture on Hip Hop was not lost on McCarthy. He says that the very nature of block parties with loud music had roots in Jamaica.
“Over the top speakers, and over the top sound systems is definitely a Jamaican thing,” he continues. “The DJs, who they would call selectors, spoke over the music records, and putting them together was very common. When I was growing up, even going to church, we had a different way of doing things in Jamaican communities and Caribbean communities that I can see reflected in the way Hip Hop was developing.
In Brooklyn, where I grew up, the loud music, the large speakers, on top of speakers, block parties, or backyard parties, were common things. Hip Hop just matriculated into guys from the neighborhood who became rappers and DJs.”
Before becoming a cultural advocate, McCarthy launched his career working in Film & TV production as an intern 1997 on Spike Lee’s He Got Game. From there, he worked as a location manager for over two decades. He even earned an acting credit in a Hip Hop classic, Above The Rim, while he was in high school.
“Even before I started working on films, I was a background extra on Above The Rim. It was filmed at my school, Tilden High School in Brooklyn. I was just passing by the set and I saw somebody I knew who knew another guy who was casting extras in the film,” he explained. “They asked me if I wanted to work and I said ‘Yeah.’ We worked for two full days at the Tilden gymnasium and Tupac was there, Leon was there and all the other actors. Bringing this back to today, when I got the street name for 2Pac, I reached out to Leon and he wrote a letter of support for it.”
The business of getting the cities to honor Hip Hop legends with street names is often an arduous enterprise that takes working with politicians, municipalities, cities, and boroughs. Out of all of the street names that he’s worked to bring to fruition, McCarthy said that the Beastie Boys was the most strenuous process because of all the bureaucracy, red tape, and the lack of viewing the contributions of Hip Hop legends as important.
“The politics and the community board in Manhattan didn’t think that the Beastie Boys were worthy to be honored with a street name because of their politics. At the time, there was a city council member who was a nice lady but her staff didn’t really entertain the idea of honoring them,” he recalled. “It wasn’t until we got a new city council and a new city council member, Christopher Martre began representing that same district, that we finally got it approved. He worked with us and it was passed by the city council in 2022. In September 2023, the forthcoming street naming for Beastie Boys will be dedicated in Manhattan.”
Other dedications that McCarthy is working on include a Public Enemy Turnpike Dedication and street namings for Outkast, The Fugees, and Naughty By Nature. His tireless work has been inspired by his grandmother who taught him to care for anything he places value on. McCarthy embodies this ethic with his commitment to preserving the history of Hip Hop for future generations.
“My grandmother was a Garveyite. There is something to be said about the movement of Marcus Garvey, and what he tried to accomplish. But for today, how do we get that message across? It’s not necessarily back to Africa in a physical sense because a lot of people that talked about going back to Africa didn’t actually make it back,” he said. “But there is an empowerment that I feel that could be had by honoring Hip Hop. From Biggie to Tupac to A Tribe Called Quest to Wu-Tang to the Roots and others. Even working with Senator Chuck Schumer, to have a resolution that honors Hip Hop, I believe it can empower the Hip Hop community,” he said.
“In my travels, I’ve been to Nashville and they celebrate country music in Nashville. In New Orleans, they celebrate jazz music. Hip Hop is an American indigenous genre and it would be appropriate for New York City to honor the culture during its 50th anniversary year and beyond,” McCarthy added. “Getting streets named after Hip Hop icons empowers the communities where Hip Hop comes from although these communities change over time. That’s why it is very significant to have a street name for Biggie Smalls in Brooklyn today.”
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