luXe, the adopted child of the Bronx
Compared with nature, culture is not innate. Born in curiosity, nurtured in experience, it evolves, moving in time and space. Culture is transmitted, taught, learned, regressed and confronted. Ignoring ideological and geographical limitations, it goes beyond borders and brings together people of opposed value bases.
And every culture has its aesthetes. luXe, aka Nasty Yass, embodies hip-hop culture in its most passionate form. Born in France, Nasty Yass is the son of Iranian resistance fighters who fled a corrupt regime. He grew up in the suburbs of Paris for many years, and the graffiti running on the walls of the 95th arrondissement punctuating his RER journeys, gradually germinated the seeds of Hip-hop.
It was during his first trip to the US that he finally fell in love with this culture. luXe, too is a child of the festival, and recognizes in it, the values he has always sought — tolerance, discipline, open-mindedness. He trained with the greatest, became a member of the Zulu Kingz, and fully embraced the essence of Hip-hop, between graffiti, dance and rap
We met him in his adopted 95, the land of his first steps in breaking, to retrace his life, his vision of Hip-hop and to talk about the Knights of the Zodiac.
1. Can you introduce yourself? My name is luXe, it’s my rapper blaze. In bboying I’m known as Nasty Yass. I’ve had a lot of AKAs too, like Nightmare, The Bronx Adopted Child, Musical Homicide, The Sound Engineer. These blazes, that are about music, were given to me because I was at a young age, musically oriented, even before I was good in dance. I learned very quickly to “dig”, to have access to huge sound banks.
I was born in Seine Saint Denis department 93. When I was seven years old, my family moved to the 95 (a Paris suburb). Today I represent the 95Zoo crew, it’s a breaking group of people from the 95. We can get together naturally, by taking the same trains to come back from battles, going to the States together etc.
2. In which context did you grow up? Was it a context that favoured your encounter with Hip-hop? I was born in Seine Saint Denis (93), but my parents are Iranian political refugees. They were very active in the Iranian resistance in their homeland, and once in France they remained active and continued to work there until about five years ago. That’s why we moved to the Val d’Oise (95), because in Paris this is where the resistance fighters are. So, I was born a political refugee myself. I spent most of my time at my parents’ work, surrounded by people with complex stories; soldiers, people who hijacked planes etc., completely crazy stories.
My childhood memories are of political demonstrations by thousands of people shouting “Death to Western imperialism, death to ***, the ***, the ***”. Therefore, I grew up with reference points that have nothing to do with growing up in a multicultural metropolis. I didn’t have the education to understand the everyday reality that I saw on the streets.
My parents were so involved in this extreme stuff that I had to build my own references. It was like I needed my own extreme thing. I think Hip-hop gave me that, gave me the keys to understand the world. That’s why I’m very attached to my elders, my big brothers, etc., because they’re the ones who gave me that.
3. What was the trigger that brought you to Hip-hop? My parents and I often travelled by train. Here you have the H-line that goes to Paris. It was these train journeys that made me curious. I was a kid, so I would look out the window and see the graffiti of all the northern suburb legends. I wondered about the different structures, techniques, forms of drawings. The diversity fascinated me, so many different drawings. It’s like when you look at the Looney Tunes and none of the characters look the same.
4. Can you quickly situate the different periods of your life, between the graff, rap, breaking phases; between the USA and France etc.? Factually, I started with graffiti. When I was 13, around 2000, I started breaking. The first tape I watched was the BOTY 2000, when the Flying Steps won. Then I got access to some “treasure” tapes: Ken Swift volume 1 and 2.
In 2003, when I was 16, I went to New York for the first time by myself. I had 10 days to kill, so I went to the street, walked around and met dancers on 5th avenue next to the New York Public Library and in Battery Park. They were mostly street guys, the ones who do street shows in NY and who are physically and spiritually machine-like. I exchanged views with a lot of people during this first trip, I battled guys in the street, many of them are great bboys, some became good friends.
After this first experience, I was hooked. I started going back to the States very frequently. All the money we made from street shows at the Trocadero was used exclusively to go to the States to smoking out people.
After this first trip, I went to IBE for the first time. There I met Alien Ness who, over time, became one of my greatest mentors.
5. Before going back to breaking, I’m curious about something. From what you just described, I conclude that you fell in love with the United States and that you moved there. What do your parents and the environment you grew up in think about your love for the USA? When you grew up in a community that was hooked on the anti-imperialism you were talking about and a visceral anti-Americanism. I’ll start by saying that I live it very well. When I was seven or eight years old, something clicked in my head. My parents were giving me some advice for my education according to their vision of the world and I had a click that made me say to myself: “The world has changed too much since they acquired this vision in their minds.
Indeed, you feel very alone when you understand that, but at the same time very solid. It’s as if you’ve seen the cliff in front of you, its height, and now you know you’re not going to fall. This did not stop me from loving my parents with all my might. On the contrary, it allowed me to detach myself from their responsibility for my success. It gave way to a purer love.
So, I quickly realized what a bogus thing politics was. That, in the world of homo-sapiens, politics is 100% made of unhealthy, hypocritical power plays that hide things dirtier than you can imagine.
6. In France, when you started dancing, who were your mentors? In the Val d’Oise (95) they were called TKO. Later Smirnoff, there was Bboy Peckos who moved to 95 when he was the hottest in his circle. He helped and defended me a lot. There was also Bboy Reegan, one of the greatest phasers in Ile de France (Greater Paris area), still unmatched in my opinion.
Nordine also trained me musically. He taught me to digest, to appreciate funk music. Once he drove me home and he put some Funk in the car. And I told him “Yo, fuck this, put on some rap”. He pulled over to the side of the road, stopped the car and said, “I have to explain something to you. If you want to have a chance of becoming strong, you have to understand the musical heritage of breaking, the way it works, the metrics etc. It’s funk that makes you strong. Funk will explain all that to you, rap is just a result”. He started to explain everything to me, I became passionate about it. I started to digest it. Two months later, I was called the sound engineer. Even today, if I have to do a sample battle, I smoke anyone in France.
I quickly learned that I wanted to impress the old guys, that they wouldn’t have imagined that there would be guys like that after them. My relationship with them was going to be that.
« My parents were so into this extreme stuff that I had to build my references. It was like I needed my own extreme thing. »
7. It’s sometimes said that “You don’t know hip-hop until you’ve been to NY”. New York is the center, it’s a place of birth and growth. No matter what anyone says, the evolution of hip-hop always starts there, and always goes through there. It happens in New York, but it’s universal, everyone can enjoy it in their own way. But New York is the infinite source of information, and you can’t cut yourself off from it. How can you turn on the light bulbs in your house if you cut off the electricity supply?
Then, locally in New York, you understand by living there that the city is optimized for the emergence of such movements. You understand it in the way the city is built, how people live, how they talk. The city is very dense, when you get up in the morning you have a neighbour who puts on Rakim’s entire discography, and you have no choice but to listen to it. Then you go down to the subway, and there’s the little CD seller on the corner with his Ghetto Blaster playing Funk all over the neighborhood.
Everyone raps there, it’s a real lifestyle.
8. You equate all of New York with that culture. But if you take a guy from the richest part of New York, he’s not necessarily going to be part of that culture. In your circle of friends, maybe everyone was living the lifestyle because that was your social environment. That’s a very interesting comment, and I’m happy to be able to answer it in a well-founded way. When I first came to New York, in addition to breaking and the street, I gave French lessons to very wealthy people. Some of my clients had children that I was in contact with.
This social setting that you describe is much less present there. In New York people talk to each other much more easily and naturally than here, it’s very permeable. That’s the big social difference for me between here and over there; despite their differences, people talk to each other. In my opinion, this is a gigantic vector of economic growth. The old and the young talk in the subway, the blacks and the whites, the rich and the poor.
This characteristic facilitates the birth and maintenance of Hip-hop.
9. Once settled in New-York, you joined the Ready 2 Rock crew and the Zulu Kingz which are pioneer crews in the history of Hip- hop. Can you tell us about them? I was Ready 2 Rock before I moved to the US. On yet another trip I did my ritual battle against all the members who were there that day. It was in Manhattan, after a whole jam. When I got out of the Jam they said “now you’re going to do your battle”. And I did what I had to do. Anyway, if you don’t make it through that, you have no reason being in this business.
Next, I’d like to address this topic by introducing a bboy that has been very important to me, and that is Bboy Floor Phantom. In my opinion, he’s the best, period. I really got to know him, my biggest pride in breaking is to have been his partner for a long time. I also had the chance to break many times with Kamel. The thing about having Kamel around is that his aura automatically makes you stronger. Whereas FloorPhantom is a black hole. With FloorPhantom by your side, you realize what 100% break should be like, and so immediately you realize how far you are from that breaking.
Breaking constantly crushes your ego to rebuild it, and being next to him crushes it more than normal.
And so, one of my biggest challenges was not to look ridiculous next to him.
10. “Crush your ego to rebuild it”, can you elaborate on this sentence? The title of bboy is not for everyone. Being a bboy or a bgirl is not a question of level, level is a result. It’s the way you manage your ego that makes you a bboy or not. Ego is a dance, and it’s a very complicated dance.
From my personal experience, as a guy who has traveled a lot, who has done all the battles, who has been against and with the greatest, I can say today that no one is more humble than a really strong guy. The guys who spread the image of the bboy with an overinflated ego will never be at the level of Kamel, Roxrite, Born or others.
Breaking is brutal. If you want to become strong you have to challenge yourself every day. Those who lose themselves in phase one of their ego will never get far. It’s a lot of work. Personally, I have sacrificed everything for this. I was married before I moved to New York. I took all the punches society can throw at you for not achieving their goals. What I have left today is survivor’s pride. In the mode – You can’t test me, I went through everything to be here. I hurt myself everywhere until I completely understood my body 100% and stopped hurting myself. I beat the demon.
What remains of these trials is something healthy. When you get to that level of understanding, you can’t look down on someone because you know what’s coming.
11. You danced next to the legends. How does it feel to be next to the legends? Have you been watching the Knights of the Zodiac? Do you see the old master? Basically, throughout the series, Shiryu’s master, is a rather old character – who is old throughout the series – who is posed in front of stunts and never goes into battle. Yet Shiryu constantly goes to him for advice. At the end of the series, you understand that the master has received the divine breathing technique that allows him to alter time — basically, one year for humans is a minute for him. So, throughout the series you think he’s getting older when in fact his human essence is still that of his youth.
In the humanly possible, I got this equivalent.
Specifically, at a certain point in my apprenticeship, I received advice from the greatest bboys of all time that allowed me to understand the real essence of Breaking.
I was lucky enough for a while to be able to train regularly on my own with Ken Swift. One day he told me “You have to stop training”. I was very surprised, I wonder if he’s kidding me, after all I’ve sacrificed to get here. He asks me what my goal is in breaking, 10, 20 years from now. I tell him that I want to leave my mark on the game. That I want to make people understand the gigantic commitment that is necessary and possible to have.
He said: “Ok, you’ll have to change your whole approach, stop doing battles”. I didn’t understand, so he explained: “You’re going to battle who? That’s it, you’ve been throwing yourself at every guy in New York that you thought was strong. You’re so overwhelmed that you don’t notice that you’ve already beaten everyone. You have to take a step back to understand that Breaking is an explosion. Think about the greatest breakers you know; do you see any of them at the venue?
Breaking is like rap, it’s a result, it comes from other things. When you don’t know how to do it, you have to practice, and it’s brutal. But you know how to do it. Now, for you, it’s a question of mastery, of creating moments. It’s a question of when, and especially why. You have to stop doing battles where you’re going to be judged by guys weaker than you. Do something else big, live your life to the fullest, and when it’s time for you to dance, it will be so explosive, it will have so much meaning that you won’t recognize yourself anymore. It will be other challenges. It will be things that the classic bboy won’t be able to test because what you bring back will be culturally too heavy.”
I was lucky that he told me this and insisted. It is thanks to such advice that I have been able to reach this stage in my dancing.
12. A word about Rivers Crew? I met Born twice in France at the time. At the Battle de Massy in particular. We checked each other out a bit, then when I was living in New York, he came to spend two weeks at my place and asked me a bit shyly: “What do you think about me coming to live in NY too?
Without thinking I told him to come. At that time, I was living in Brooklyn. It was crazy; the whole building was my crew. We all lived in it, we were there with all the gangsters, all the old-timers. The first generation would come in and smoke and drink with us. It was just crazy.
So, he came, I was also part of his integration in Ready 2 Rock. Regularly, the Rivers crew guys would come to New York, so we would connect. I was always with them when they came. One night after the Breaking Convention at the Apollo, they talked about me joining the crew and it just happened.
13. What did being interested in the essence of the music itself do for you? Did it change anything in your dance to understand the music, which is ultimately 50% of what we do? My personal experience is mixed compared to the people I know. In my opinion, the guys who ended up playing music or composing already had an intimate understanding of the thing that made them go off and have a blast in it. I don’t think it made them stronger in dancing.
As for me, with my background in rap, I started producing as a compulsion. I’ve always had a very keen ear and I didn’t meet anyone who could meet my needs. I was tired of getting feedback that I wasn’t happy with, tired of relying on other people for that. And on top of that, I thought it was horrible to have to feel indebted because they had done something for me when it wasn’t even 5% of what I wanted. So, I started producing. It gave me comfort in the certainties I had about rap, and also about bboys and bgirls as a social group.
There’s something I call the curse of the bboy. In my opinion, the bboy has a curse from the moment he wants to do something other than breaking. He has the advantages that breaking has given him, but he also has a huge array of disadvantages that he drags with him because of breaking. For example – what I’m going to say next is only true for bboys who have been competitive — think of any bboy who has had a career. Besides me, who’s really gotten good at rapping?
And how many have tried? Hundreds, thousands! But who’s been successful? That’s the curse of the bboy. The guy can be a break star, and he’s going to try his hand at rap; that’ll be cool! But ask him to come up with a real sound; it’s going to be shattered, cheap, he’s going to miss something. Why do you think that is?
>> luXe, Gun Hill Road Station; BRONX – New York, USA, 2011.
« What I have left today is survivor’s pride. »
>> Officialisation de l’entrée de luXe dans Zulu Kings. Après le battle initiatique. Avec les membres de Zulu Kings presents ce jour là. Notamment Alien Ness, Born, Floor Phantom, Tyquan, Troll, Jazzy Joolz, Vix, Asia One. MANHATTAN – New York, USA, 2011.
>> luXe performant un morceau de rap en concert.
PARIS, France 2017.
Breaking is live dancing. That’s why breaking culture suffered a lot in the 80s after the fashion-effect had passed. After that it became more of an underground thing.
Compare that to rap and graffiti. What did the rappers and graffiti artists have in terms of business? They had a product. In breaking, there’s no product. When people started to realize that, they made products, i.e. VHS and DVDs of break. But who did they make them for? For themselves! So, the direction of breaking has always been live. We train to shine at a given moment, not for something permanent. When my parents explained this to me, it took me out of the whirlwind.
And the worry that follows is that when people come in and they know how to make products, 98% of the time they pick the wrong people. It’s not done right, or there’s always something missing etc.
14. So that’s why breaking and rap diverged at a certain point. It’s true that at the beginning of the Block Party, the rapper knew how to graffiti and how to dance too. And there was a weak economy structured around that. But in terms of overall sales today we’re on both sides of the spectrum. That’s right, it’s because breaking is not a product. Also, France doesn’t know how to use its strengths to good use. The
French cultural exception only materializes in some of the best breakers who have had an international influence. No one else.
The rest is total amateurism. Whether it’s in the events, the creation of eco-systems, the flyers… It’s cheap. It takes the magic out of the most magical thing on earth. If I, the guy who’s most committed to the cause, can’t make myself want to go to their events, how are you going to convince other people?
It’s because of this lack of professionalism that I’m running my platform today. It may blossom slowly, but it will be real and it will be hot.
15. Are you teaching today? Not right now, but I’ve done it before. After eight months of Breaking, Bboy Tao was with me in 2v2 against Casper and Smurf. He had the smarts to listen to me when I told him we had to do things in order. In a year and a half he judged a battle in Japan. And my students in New York are brilliant, especially Bboy Pollo.
16. A word to the youth. Eat once a day, sleep on the hard floor. Afterwards, you’ll see the speed and the energy with which you’ll get up in the morning. And also, you young people, go get the music, the history, the style. Listen to some luXe music.
Don’t be taken in by the industry’s sleeve. Don’t be fooled by the floppy discs of mediocrity. If the bottom works, you can do even more. Pull the thing up. And big up to all the guys who influenced me, helped me, thanks to every single person who knows they’ve been there, there’s been a lot.
Text by : Tom Chaix and Léo Chaix. @tomrockk @leochaix
Photos by : Wilfried Kareb. @willbreak86
This article is from the second edition of BREAKERS magazine
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