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Hip-Hop History Month: Rocking at the Legendary Harlem World Disco

Some of Hip Hop’s most pivotal and defining moments occurred at 116th & Lennox Ave. in Harlem. Known by its patrons as “The World”, the Harlem World Cultural & Entertainment Complex served as the headquarters to a record label and night club and hosted some of Rap music’s most historic M.C. battles. Some of Rap’s earliest wordsmiths and even the idea to put Rap music on records were born at Harlem World.

The Club

Originally a Disco spot with three floors “Fat” Jack Taylor’s Harlem World was the premiere Hip Hop Club in the late 1970s and early 1980’s. M.C. Charlie Rock of The Harlem World Crew told Troy L. Smith in 2003 “Harlem World became a Hip Hop spot because Hip Hop became so big in New York and when it closed it was partially because clubs and skating rinks like The Roxy, The Fun House and Skate Key started to capitalize on it. The entire name of the club was actually The Harlem World Cultural & Entertainment Complex. That was a loophole to get around the fact that we were not properly zoned. There was a Muslim Temple and a few Churches across the street from us and there were many schools in the area.” 

Some of Hip Hop’s most storied shows and battles took place at Harlem World such as The Busy Bee vs Kool Moe Dee battles of 1981, The Cold Crush vs Fantastic 5 battle in the same year and the legendary Treacherous 3 anniversary shows. According to M.C. Charlie Rock “Doug E. Fresh had many shows and a huge history at Harlem World. He got booed in the beginning when he was Dougie D., but once he started incorporating the Human Beat Box into his show that was it. He became a crowd motivator.”

Some of Hip Hop and R&B’s biggest names played Harlem World. The Cold Crush Brothers, Lovebug Starski, New Edition, The Sugar Hill Gang, D.J. Hollywood, Eddie Cheba, Atlantic Starr, Blue Magic, Jahmila (featuring Keith Sweat and a young Teddy Riley on keyboards) and even Earth Kitt graced the stage of the legendary night spot.

Dan Charnas says in his 2019 Billboard article “In 1979 Sugar Hill Records founder Sylvia Robinson attended a birthday party for her niece at Harlem World. On stage rhyming and spinning “Good Times” by Chic was Lovebug Starski. This was the night that Sylvia conceived the idea of putting this talking music onto record”. Cheryl The Pearl of The Sequence says further “yes Mrs. Robinson even recorded Lovebug Starski in the early days, but never signed him."

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The Harlem World Crew

There were two iterations of The Harlem World Crew. The original Harlem World Crew consisted of Harlem World founder and owner Fat Jack, M.C. Charlie Rock, M.C. Son of Sam and D.J.’s Randy & Kool D. These were the people who maintained the entertainment, daily operation and even construction and maintenance of the club. Fat Jack owned Rojac and Tayster Records which he started in Detroit. He released records like “Rappers Convention” and “Love Rap” under the Harlem World Crew name, but the recording artist version of the crew was actually Dr. Jeckyll (aka the late Andre Harrell) & Mr. Hyde and their D.J. Ronnie Green (aka the late Captain Rock). In the mid 1990’s Ma$e assembled a crew called Harlem World and released a solo album by the same title.

In Hip Hop’s embryonic days Harlem World was the spot for Rap acts to aspire to play. Grandmaster Caz of The Cold Crush Brothers says “Harlem World was more of a showplace. The presentations were better and the groups were tighter. Most other Hip Hop clubs were places that M.C’s went to hang out at after a show or to get on stage and rock. You came to Harlem World to see a show”. In operation from 1978 to 1985, Harlem World remains an iconic institution in Hip Hop and an important part of its live and recorded history.

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