Can You Dig It? is a new audio docu-drama narrated by hip-hop legend and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Chuck D that explores a rarely told story that led to the birth of a global artistic movement. The 5-part Audible Original series will debut August 10, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. The series begins with the 1971 murder of Cornell “Black Benjie” Benjamin, a member of the influential Ghetto Brothers gang in the south Bronx, and how his role as a peacemaker prompted the historic Hoe Avenue peace meeting: a truce between gangs that paved the way for the birth of hip-hop culture. Tomorrow, June 2, the City of New York will rename the intersection of E. 165th Street and Rogers Place in the Bronx “Cornell ‘Black Benjie’ Benjamin Way,” commemorating the location of his attack. Members of the Can You Dig It? cast, crew and production team will proudly be in attendance at the street renaming ceremony to celebrate this recognition with the Benjamin family and supporters.
Can You Dig It? was created, written and produced by Pete Chelala, Bryan Master and Julian Voloj, of PB&J Productions LLC, a NY-based entertainment and content studio, alongside Channel Zero Executive Producers Lorrie Boula (PBS/BBC’s Fight The Power: How Hip-Hop Change the World) and Chuck D.
“December 8, 1971, was a defining moment in American history. A time when the gangs of New York laid down their weapons and redirected their youthful energy towards the creative arts. Arts that would eventually become the foundation of what we now know as hip-hop,” says Chuck D in the opening of the show.
The mission of Can You Dig It? is to highlight a community’s resilience, the power of peace over violence and to uplift unsung heroes that changed the course of history. It
examines a period of transformation and instability in America and New York City between the late 60s and early 70s, and the circumstances and policies that led to significant urban decay and gang activity in the Bronx, including racist housing and zoning laws and the construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway.
Chuck D elaborates on the thesis of Can You Dig It? on the show by saying: “No death, no peace; no peace, no Kool Herc party; no party, no hip-hop. Black Benjie is an unsung hero…the direct correlation between the peace treaty and the birth of hip-hop is clear. There’d be no Public Enemy without this story.” The 1971 Hoe Avenue peace meeting made the Bronx safer and fostered an artistic cross-pollination of ideas as gang territory lines faded. Just two years later, the famous Kool Herc Back-to-School party at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx took place.
The series features a blend of dramatic scripted scenes and observational commentary with cultural luminaries like street photographers Joe Conzo and Henry Chalfant, former Black Panther Joseph Mpa and hip-hop’s first MC, Coke La Rock. It also includes interviews with family members and experts, archival recordings and a cinematic score. The scripted cast is as diverse as the borough they call home: nearly 100% Black and LatinX led, featuring young talent from the Bronx and surrounding areas, and local community arts programs.
Also included is insight from the family of Black Benjie, who go on-record, for the first time ever: “If Kool Herc is considered the father of hip-hop, then my uncle was the general; my uncle was the martyr,” says Angelique Lenox, niece of Black Benjie. “He didn’t die in vain, something good came from his death; his life mattered. This is truly my best version of a love letter to my father and my family and I will not stop until his name is a part of the hip-hop story.”