Making Something from Nothing
After living their entire lives in New York, Moe, his mom, and his brother, Alex, packed their belongings into a U-Haul and drove to Pittsburgh, PA. His mother started a new job and his brother was still in middle school, but Moe, newly 18 and accustomed to the New York culture, lifestyle, and pace, felt lost, bored, and completely disconnected. He fell into a deep depression after the move. His mom recalls that he didn't get out of bed for weeks.
After those few weeks of nothing, Moe started filling his days practicing breakdancing moves in his bedroom. It was his only connection to life back in New York. The confined space—similar to that of a typical breaking circle at the club—taught him control. He experimented with new moves and perfected staples, bringing a level of purpose back in his life, but it only satisfied him to a point: Moe was hungry for social involvement.
When he finally emerged, Moe ventured out to the Pittsburgh clubs to test drive his new moves. He was excited to be back in an environment that fed his soul, but disappointed with the state of the scene. Compared to what he was used to in New York, Pittsburgh was lame. This didn't help with his depression, but Moe kept at it, exploring different brands of Pittsburgh nightlife.
Moe met Ian Robinson and Alex Gray in a breakdancing circle at Club 168. They were part of crew called the Jedi Monks, and were responsible for putting on the party that particular night. Alex's first impression of Moe: cocky asshole. Alex recalls Moe walking in acting like he owned the place and dominating the circle, even though it was Alex's crew who put on the event. Moe, still an outsider to the scene, didn't know the details of the social dynamics, and was there just being himself, having a good time, and getting down. To make matters worse, Moe nearly kicked Alex when he was breaking in the circle. Needless to say, the situation escalated, things got heated, and they did not get resolved that evening.
But the scene was small, so small that almost every time Moe went out to dance he ran into Alex and his crew. Over a short period of time Moe and Alex realized they had a lot in common, put their first meeting aside, and joined forces. They built what grew into a lasting friendship, remaining close to this day. Moe was invited to be the fourth member of the Jedi Monks, of which Ian, Alex, and Oli were also members. These kids were deep in the scene and had the inside connection to a lot of what Moe was craving.
Ian brought Moe to "The Block," a single street block in East Liberty with a New York vibe, where veteran hip-hop heads sold clothes and incense, spit rhymes, and painted graffiti. It was there that Moe met Akil Esoon, the self-proclaimed Yoda of the scene, who gave him insider information on everything from where to hang, to who to trust, and who to stay away from.
Ian shared his bootleg breaking videos with the Jedi Monks. Remember this was pre-YouTube and online video browsing, so bootleg tapes were the best resource to hone one's skills and discover new moves. As do many other students of the culture, Alex, Ian, and Moe have fond memories of sitting around a TV sketching in black books and getting hype watching low-quality bootleg breakdancing videos together.
Inspired by Ian's Breaking bootlegs and the five-minute battle scene in BeatStreet, Moe set out to produce his own B-boy video magazine, Footwork. He got his hands on a camera, videotaped different elements at a variety of venues, and spouted his knowledge in front of the camera, used for introducing the different sections. Moe hooked up dual VCRs and edited the raw footage to create the magazine. In its final form, Footwork features the Pittsburgh B-boys circa 1996, showcasing the different dance styles and variety of talent in the scene, with footage of both battle circles and practice sessions in the studio. Moe personally recorded all 100 copies by hand, using the same VHS to VHS setup, then got his hustle on, selling every last copy. Footwork not only gave Moe purpose, it established and validated his place in the Pittsburgh breaking scene. No longer an outsider or newbie, Moe was now on the tip of the tongues of many of the players in the scene.
Moe threw his first Pittsburgh event, Who Got the Props, at the Highland Park Reservoir. It shone a light on the four elements of hip-hop and featured a B-boy showcase. Although Moe doesn't remember this event as being particularly successful, I think he's just being hard on himself, because every attendee I spoke with recounts the great time, with some expressing that they saw it as a turning point in the scene. I chalk it up to the exceedingly high standards Moe holds himself to, in tandem with coming of age in the heart of 1990s New York hip-hop culture. This kind of event was something happening in New York, but Moe was the first to bring it to Pittsburgh. People were hungry and loving what Moe was bringing to the scene, and the efforts he was making to mold it.
In pursuit of broadening awareness of breakdancing and hip-hop in Pittsburgh, Moe taught breakdancing classes at the Jewish Community Center, including historical teachings on the four elements of hip-hop. He took over as leader of the Jedi Monks, changing their name to Influential Flavor, the name of the Coal Cash crew he belonged to back in New York. Moe was bringing the true New York hip-hop experience to Pittsburgh, and people were about it.
Besides performing in and hosting B-boy battles in Pittsburgh, Influential Flavor took to traveling to Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio, to participate in the battles in those markets. At the invitation of the Ill Style Rockers, Moe joined a six-day Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tour, which consisted of hosting assemblies at elementary schools to teach kids about the four elements of hip-hop, and evening breakdancing performances at colleges. He continued to tour with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame over the next five months, while also organizing and hosting destination battles in Pittsburgh, where he drew all the best regional talent.
Let's put something into perspective here: Moe had only been in Pittsburgh for about a year. Almost everything you just read happened between his 18th and 19th birthdays. Moe went from not knowing a single person in the city to producing Footwork, throwing Who Got The Props, and leading Influential Flavor, building them a regional reputation with personal invites on tours—while simultaneously organizing and hosting destination battles in Pittsburgh. It's a lot to accomplish in a year, but Moe was just getting started.