Chief69 Living His Passion for Hip-Hop 

David Gonzalez/The New York Times
A paint-flecked floor is Nelson Seda’s stage. When the weather is too cold or wet, he clears the chairs from his bedroom, turns up the music and dances, his arms and legs a blur of impossibly graceful angles. An hour later, he may pick up his markers and draw – on canvases, old posters, shoeboxes, anything. And for good measure, he might end the day freestyle rapping.

David Gonzalez reports from corners of the city in words and pictures.
Nelson is a young man possessed – in every sense – of a singular idea. For him, the various aspects of hip-hop have become touchstones, inspiring him to push himself and share his art with others at workshops, after-school centers and parks. Only 20 years old, he’s always being told that he was born 25 years too late for the culture’s heyday.

But he’s catching up.

"I have to find my own way,” said Nelson, who goes by the name Chief 69. "It’s something I can’t ignore. We have to find that expression. We all seek that voice. We all look somewhere to be accepted.”

Nelson was born in Brooklyn. His family moved a lot – to Florida, Harlem, and the Lower East Side, before he settled near West Farms in the South Bronx. It wasn’t until he was in New York in the third grade that he heard his first rappers. By the time he reached high school, graffiti writers and dancers entranced him.

The world made perfect sense.

"I ended up meeting people dancing in the hallway and I said ‘Yeah!’” he recalled. "I was never a dancer before. I mean, I danced if my grandparents gave me a dollar to dance salsa with my little sister. I had to be bribed.”

By the time he graduated from high school in 2009, he was intent on making his mark in hip-hop. He went out and promoted his paintings, taking every chance to exhibit them. He became a familiar face at summer park jams in Harlem and the South Bronx, often being the first to arrive and the last to leave. Jorge Pabon, known as "Popmaster Fabel” and a legendary old-school B-boy and vice president of the Rock Steady Crew, took note.

"He’s an ambitious young puppy who started out a little awkward trying to get into the groove of all this,” he said. "But he’s passionate about the dancing. He’s got the right spirit. He’s using his intellect. He’s really a philosopher of sorts.”

Inside his bedroom, where the hiss of the radiator blended with the blare of music from a neighbor’s apartment, he smiled modestly at the compliment. He admits to spending a lot of time thinking about what it means to follow this path, which others would dismiss as childish or trivial. Even some young people on his block – which is down the street from a youth center that hosted storied rap battles in the 1970s – have little idea of the culture he has embraced.

That’s why he has been busy hosting workshops and panel discussions about hip-hop. And when he has an exhibit, he’ll often just give away his work. He thinks having a piece made by someone you know from the block is worth more than anything bought in a variety store.

He once wanted to be famous. Now he just wants to make art accessible. He hopes to land a job at an after-school center. That would make him happy.

"It’s always good to assure yourself that you have some impact,” he said. "We have to. That’s why when we walk out our doors every day, we decide to put a smile on someone else’s face. Sometimes when I dance, it’s not for me.”

The weather was too cold this week to go outside to the park. His radio was busted – the battery had melted. Undaunted, he followed the example of an earlier generation of Bronx B-boys and improvised. He turned on a small television and tuned it to a cable channel that played ’70s disco and funk. He smiled as he heard the chugging guitar of "Shame, Shame, Shame” by Shirley & Company.

Can’t stop me now. Hear what I say.
My feet want to move, so get out my way.

In a tiny room where the walls are covered with his art, Nelson Seda, Chief 69 and founder of the Floor Royalty Crew, spun and popped, dipped and darted, gloriously and happily. For now, he danced for no one but himself. And there was no shame.

Added by: Watcher, 10/Aug/20 | Comments: 0
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