Through photographs, oral histories, artifacts and performances, “Straight Outta Fresno” showcased a rich past and a promising future for the hip-hop community in Fresno.
Recently, the Valley Public History Initiative plastered Fres.Co’s walls with the evolving hip-hop scene over the years in Fresno. The venue was nearly filled to capacity.
Dr. Romeo Guzman, assistant history professor and director of the Valley Public History Initiative, said the focal points of the exhibit include the popping dance style — which originated in Fresno — and b-boys style.
“We’re trying to get popping stuff, but also pay homage to the b-boys — the Hmong b-boys — and other crews who were also innovators and who have really placed Fresno on the international map when it comes to hip-hop,” Guzman said.
The exhibit was organized chronologically. It included photographs, posters, trophies, video tapes, clothing and graffiti art. All of the items were donated by the subjects featured in the exhibits.
“We’re talking about (the dancers) through the things that they themselves think are organic to them,” Guzman said. “We’re not using language that’s foreign to them. We’re using things that they themselves relate to.”
The exhibit began with a wall dedicated to the genesis of “popping” in the 1970s, and its growth in the 1980s. Figures like Timothy “Pop’in Pete” Solomon were highlighted.
Solomon’s popping talents led him to be recognized by Michael Peters, Michael Jackson’s choreographer, and he even made an appearance in the “Beat It” music video. That feat was commemorated on the wall with a picture of Solomon on the set of the music video.
Ken and Deborah McCoy, two are dancers that grew up in the Fresno area, were also recognized on the same wall. They were present for the exhibit.
“There’s seven of us, I’m the only girl and my six brothers. We were raised in foster care for seven years. When we got out of foster care, [dancing] is what kept us together,” Deborah said.
Today, Deborah runs a hip-hop dance studio in a venue inside the Manchester Mall.
In a different wall at the venue, Hmong b-boy groups were honored. Photos and text documented the 1990s rise of crews like The Bumz, Smurfs, Dancing in Style and Wizards in southeast Fresno.
The final portion of the exhibits was dedicated to the Climax and Soul Control crews. Climax was founded by Eric “Flip” Costello, Charles “Goku” Montgomery and Pablo “B-boy Pablo” Flores.
Soul Control, described in the exhibit as “an all-star b-boy crew made up of some of the heaviest hitters in the b-boy game,” invited Montgomery and Flores to join the crew after witnessing their adept dancing skills.
Montgomery was present for the exhibit and was proud of what the moment represented for his old crew members.
“At the time that we were doing a lot of things, you never expect to be honored on a wall for people to look at you as a true artist,” Montgomery said. “You don’t really think about those things, you just think about doing.”
Montgomery felt like this exhibit was most meaningful because it honored Flores, who passed away in 2004.
“I carry him in my heart every day, and I know the other crew members do too,” he said. “To see him immortalized a little bit, for the community, it means a lot.”
The informational parts of the exhibits were made possible through the oral histories of men and women like Montgomery, and Ken and Deborah McCoy.
Guzman said he collected and archived the histories over the course of a year with the help of Fresno State professor in the sociology department, Sean Slusser and nine history graduate students.
The exhibit also received help from a California Humanities grant. The grant for the “Straight Outta Fresno” exhibit was the only one awarded in the Central Valley.
Deborah and Ken McCoy broke into dancing by the end of the event. Deborah’s young dance students followed.
Both performances were met with booming cheers from the audience. Even the dancers could not help but cheer on their crew members when one of them went into a solo. The dancers’ moves and dedication to their craft filled the room with smiles.
“It’s pretty amazing, you just don’t see that often anymore. It’s the first time I’ve seen [hip-hop dancing] here in years,” Efrain Sepulveda, an audience member in attendance with his wife, said.
The dancers continued into the night. The rest of the floor was left for the audience to roam and look at the exhibits as music played and an open dance floor invited all who were willing.
And dance they did. Freestyle moves were shown off by all ages. Their efforts, at an event honoring the history of dance in Fresno, were rewarded with applause and cheers from the audience.