Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

Matthew Swain


Matthew Swain

142nd interview
Interviewee: Matthew Swain
Interviewers: Natasha Lightfoor, Dr. Mark Naison, Laura Kelly
Date of Interview February 2, 2006
Summarized by Christian Rivera

Matthew Swain, a lifelong resident of the Bronx, was born in the Bronx in 1969. When Matthew was two or three years old, his family resided on Mapes Ave; then moved to 182nd street near the Bronx Zoo. Matthew lived in an extended family household with his brother, mother, grandmother, two uncles and an aunt. Matthew Swain’s youth in the Bronx provides an excellent insight into the emergence of Hip Hop.
Keith, Matthew’s uncle, knew Grandmaster Flash.  Keith would frequent a local club named The Sparkle which was on Mt. Eden and Jerome Avenue. Matthew Swain first heard of break dancing in the first grade, then called“ b-boying”. Swain participated in b-boying battles between rival housing projects. Swain’s family moved into the Millbrook houses when he was nine years old. The projects were mainly comprised of working class people.

The Millbrook projects frequently hosted parties or Jams.  Local DJ’s would set up two metal garbage cans and turn then upside down and put this big board to set the turn tables on. The Jams involved rappers and DJ’s entertaining the neighborhood crowd. In addition, the Jams held break dancing or b-boying crews.

In addition to neighborhood Jams, musical influences and community relations greatly influences Matthew Swains youth.  Matthew attended the Eastside Housing Development Summer camp and after school programs. The after school programs offered tutoring and homework help for the neighborhood kids. Music was paramount in Matthew’s youth. When he attended P.S 43, he was in a tap dance class. While growing up in the neighborhood, Matthew had many instruments. During his Junior High School years at P.S 139, Matthew played the Steel drums, performed in shows and sang in the Chorus. After Junior high school, Matthew Swain attended Samuel Gompers Vocational Technical High School in the South Bronx.  During Matthew’s high school years, he majored in Computer technology.
During Matthew’s senior year of high school, he became a father. Matthew could not balance his parental duties with his daughter and focus on computer programming at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. Matthew dropped out of the Borough of Manhattan Community College. Swain moved from the Millbrook Houses to his grandmother’s residence by Fordham Road. While in the Fordham area, Matthew attended Monroe College and studied accounting. After he finished school, he was hired as an accounting clerk in downtown Manhattan.   
In addition to the fires and blackouts, the influx of heroin (aka Smack) and crack altered the Bronx community in the mid eighties. The level of violence corresponding with the influx of drugs into the community was astounding. Hustlers were accepted as part of the community; they sold marijuana and angel dust. Swain was also a victim of the neighborhood violence. He was mugged at gun point by three men in front of a police station; He had to give up his gold chain and ring. In addition, Matthew claims that criminals robbed people of their jackets and even their shoes. Matthew insisted that a structured environment kept him out of trouble.

Keywords: Mapes Avenue. Tremont, Barbados. Winsor North Carolina. The hustle, The robot. Crotona Park. Van Cortlandt Park. Lamp post. GrandMaster Flash. The Sparkle Nelly Nell, DJ Cool Hurk, break dancing, b-boying, Millbrook houses. P.S 43. Patterson Houses. Mitchell Houses. Duke Ellington. Bronx Fires. 1977 New York City Blackout. Grand Avenue. Hip Hop. Neighborhood Jams. Turn tables. Free Style Rappers. Break Dance Crews.  Adidas and Puma shoes. Puerto Ricans. African Americans.  The Skate Palace. Eastside Housing Development (Patterson, Millbrook, Mount Haven and Mitchell). Heroin (Smack). Crack, Graffiti, Black Smurfs, Cypress Ave (Wild West), Wild Cowboys, Hustlers, Marijuana, Angel Dust, Sugar Hill gang, Boom boxes, Stephanie Miller, Shalamar, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder. Bodega. Bongos. Trumpets. Saxophones. Little piano. Little keyboard. P.S 139. Samuel Gompers Vocational Technical High School. Computer technology. Computer programming.  Famous Barbershop. Caesar Hairstyle. The fade & The Flat top. Borough of Manhattan Community College. Gold chains. KRS-One. Boogie Down Productions. Frankie Crocker. Fordham Road. Boy George( Latino drug dealer). Cross Bronx Express by Tariq & Peter Gunz. Monroe College. Accounting. Furniture Business. Jose Serrano. Spring Steeper Village.


© 2009 Bronx African-American History Project at Fordham University

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