African American Studies
INTERVIEWERS: Mark Naison, Oneka LaBennett, Christina Grath
INTERVIEWEE: Gregory Armstrong
SUMMARY BY: Andrew O’Connell
Gregory Armstrong, born on September 18, 1970 in the Bronx, spent his most formative years growing up in the Bronx River Housing Project at 1455 Harrod Ave. The son of a legal secretary and a father who worked in the Sanitation Department for 27 years, Armstrong recalls a time when growing up in the projects proved tough, but lacked some of the more malicious qualities that they might possess today. While Armstrong admits that violence occurred regularly in his neighborhood (though never directly in front of his building), Armstrong recalls an atmosphere of respect that young people lack today. He remembers that children in his cohort would heed the scolding of any member of an elder generation, even if he or she were not your own parent. Armstrong also suggests that one would try to hide unacceptable behavior from these individuals.
While Armstrong paints a vaguely nostalgic depiction of the project as a place where children would play intramural sports with each building fielding a squad, he also describes in detail the deterioration of the neighborhood as he grew up, especially when the violence associated with the crack epidemic escalated. Although he says during his younger days there were crews instead of gangs (crews may have fought, but they also took part mostly in rap and dance battles), Armstrong also describes the violence as something pervasive, to the point where drug dealers would be having gun violence in the open in broad daylight with no respect for innocent bystanders and residents of the community, even recounting one incident where a child caught stray shotgun fire in the back.
Not only telling of the violence, Armstrong also provides great insight into how the crack epidemic destroyed the moral and familial fabric of the neighborhood. Although too young to draw any similarities to the problem of heroin during the 1960s, Armstrong remembers seeing these people, high on crack, who appeared to be shells of their former selves. What’s worst, Armstrong says, was realizing that the fiend in the hallway could be someone’s parent.
One particular aspect of social commentary that is fascinating in Armstrong’s interview deals with his views on the importance of a father figure. Armstrong points to his father’s presence as a factor in his success, and points out that all his friends who made it out of the projects had a father figure in their home life, while many in the neighborhood did not.
Armstrong proves important not only for his description of the Bronx River Housing Project, but also for his role in the birth of the hip-hop scene as we know it. A talented beat boxer and lyricist, Armstrong ran with the likes of Chris Lighty, CEO of Violator Records and recorded at the same studio in Union Square that hosted Salt-N-Pepa and KRS-One. Armstrong also provides interesting stories of his experiences at hip hop shows featuring such greats as Run-DMC and LL Cool J. Armstrong began running his own studio in 1997, returning to the rap game after a decade long hiatus.
Armstrong attended James Monroe High School, briefly attended Bronx Community College, and currently works at Montefiore Hospital right here in the Bronx.
Armstrong, Gregory. September 22, 2008. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham University.
Click below to download supplemental content.Armstrong, Gregory.mp3 (81367 kB)