Hip-Hop draws people from all walks of life. If there were a single uniting principal, it's that most people who love classic Hip-Hop are born collectors who are willing to go to the opposite ends of the Earth to find something they are on the hunt for. In most cases, this usually involves DJ's who seek out specific pieces of vinyl that might be rare for a number of different reasons. There is also a thriving business around vintage spray paint cans. But for Jeff DeSimoni, aka Sureshot La Rock, he's dedicated much of his life to collecting vintage flyers.
When most people think of vintage flyers, they think of DK Kool Herc and Cindy Campbell's "Back to School" Jam which gave birth to Hip-Hop in the Bronx on August 12, 1973. Yet, there are so many more flyers from artists like PHASE 2, Buddy Esquire, Sisco Kid, Eddie Ed, Anthony Riley, Brian Hicks, and Danny T. Riley which speak to a larger, more sophisticated art movement.
How did you get into this aspect of collecting?
I've always collected things. I'm a first generation American, so I tend to appreciate different cultures and different elements of societ. I was never really mainstream. I wasn't interested in the mainstream because my parents weren't mainstream. So I gravitated towards things that were a bit more marginal. When I say marginal, obviously Hip-hop's cultural and socioeconomic importance is tremendous and to even try to put a number or a meaning on it may be impossible, but first thing, I was drawn to the music.
What's your first Hip-hop memory?
The earliest that I remember was Run-DMC's "Sucker MCs." So that's '82, '83. Then you started seeing the breaking movies come out. It was getting tapes from people, it was hearing a couple of songs played late night on a radio station and then you have all the different movies that started coming out and then you just thirst for more of it because it strikes a chord what they do. That was sort of my introduction to it.
When you released a 12 inch, had you already gotten into collecting, or did that come afterwards?
My first 12 inch came I think in '93. By that time, I was collecting vinyl and I had a couple of flyers. A few years later is when I started really going up to New York and talking with people and networking and like that to try to get more of those flyers. So I would say the bulk of my collection really started happening around maybe '95, '96. So I'd give it a little over 20 years.
How would you find the needles in the haystack?
Predominantly, a lot of the connections were made through collecting vinyl and at the time it was break, it was soul, it was jazz. It was this stuff that was sampled. Through that it was sort of kind of, if you want to call it a gateway drug, I was always looking for it, but those were where some of my first scores or acquisitions came from. I collected any Hip-hop stuff. What I would do is I would go to record stores and ask the guys if they had seen any flyers.
Describe to me the feeling of finding something rare.
It's overwhelming. It's indescribable. You see one of these things and you're realizing you may be holding the only will and testament of a show. The only thing in existence that says that this happened — so from a historical perspective — it can be overwhelming and exciting because there is a sense of awe and reverence, and respect for this flyer because you're like, "Yo, Oh my God I can't believe that I'm holding this. People's lives were affected by this show." There is that, and of course, there is the excitement. Any time you collect, there is a rush. There is an adrenaline spike that you get where you find it and it makes you want to find more.
How would you navigate the process when you wanted a specific thing?
That's a great question. I think in the beginning, and even to this day, I'm happy with whatever I can find. Anything is important because it's all important now. Tn the beginning you get things and you go, "But you know what? I don't have a Herc flyer. I need to find one. I want a Cold Crush now, I don't want one with their regular lineup, right? I want Caz before Cold Crush."
So your organizing principles could be artists, it could be location, it could be venue, and then I would have to assume that you go, "Okay, I want a PHASE Two flyer, I want a Buddy Esquire flyer, I want a Cisco Kid flyer...
Exactly. So you're looking at the flyer designer, you're looking at the artist, you're looking at the venue, you're looking at the year, you're looking at the promoter. And in terms of venue, it might not even just be that specific venue. It might not be Harlem World or Randy's place. It might not be Bronx River, which I already associated with some artists, but then it's like, you know what, I don't have anything from '77, '78. '76. I don't have any of this. So when something like that comes along you're like, "Yo, I got to get that because again, it's a vital piece of the story and if I don't document it, who's going to?"
What are the main venues that show up on the flyers themselves? I'm familiar with Danceteria and those places. What are the venues and what do people need to know about these institutions that show up repeatedly on these flyers?
I would say Ecstasy Garage, T Connection, and Harlem World. Those are three of the bigger ones that are just coming to me right off the top of my head.
Why do you think the flyers were so important?
For me, one of the things I've always said was I've always thought that flyers were Hip-hop's first currency because each flyer, that was like a dollar bill. The flyer was Hip-hop's way of spreading that word as a currency. And again, the doper the flyer, the more people you would see show up.
Has anybody ever approached you about trying to buy everything from you?
It's really tough. Is there a value on it? Sure. But I think like I always mention, some of these are one of one and some of these maybe you'll find somebody else with it. Or let's even say that you find three or four copies out there. That's still only three or four copies of a show in the entire world. The rarity of these flyers is ridiculous. That's not why I collect them but it's certainly something that I appreciate about them. So in order to put a figure on that, that would be tough. No one has ever come to me with a concrete offer. I think people have known better, people have kind of been like, "I wouldn't even know how to begin to put a value on this." And again, this is Hip-hop's infancy narrative and the historical importance is amazing.