Support Local Journalism. Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club.

Man Among B-boys 

Rennie Harris reaches out to hip-hop's next generation.

Hip-hop legend Rennie Harris.
  • Hip-hop legend Rennie Harris.

Rennie Harris doesn't think of himself as one of the Legends of Hip-Hop, even though dance historians call him the 21st-century Alvin Ailey. To them, he's a hip-hop savior who brought locking, popping, and B-boy dance styles to mainstream culture. In 1991, he founded Rennie Harris Puremovement, a Philadelphia dance troupe that thrives on breaking down media-exploited stereotypes about hip-hop. "People think it's a fad, and it has no merit or artistic form," Harris says. "If it's not on their radar screen, they don't think it's valid."

Even the street talk is often mangled. Take "breakdancing," a phrase Harris calls a media-contrived misnomer. Streetwise folks call it "B-boying" -- named after the dancers who groove to breakbeat music on the streets of the Bronx. "It was the B-boy culture that developed [the dance style]," Harris explains. "It's the way you talk, the way you dress, the way you walk, your posture. None of the B-boys or B-girls ever call themselves breakdancers."

To dispel the myths, Harris and his troupe spend 11 months of each year on the road, taking their hip-hop history lesson to concert venues and college campuses around the country. He calls Legends of Hip-Hop a "live documentary" that celebrates the culture's growth over the past two decades. "If you stop the evolution, [hip-hop] will become institutionalized," he says. "If you want to get in touch with youth culture, you have to get back into the grass-roots community, and that's hip-hop right now."

But reaching the next hip-hop generation takes money. And Harris, a 39-year-old with an uncanny business sense, secures state and federal grants to keep the troupe running. In 12 years, Puremovement has become Philadelphia's third-largest dance company.

Friday's event at Tri-C's Eastern Campus will include such hip-hop legends as locking pioneer Don Campbell, popping inventors Boogaloo Sam & the Electric Boogaloos, and B-boy faves Skilled Methods. Their show is the finale to the college's Community Hip-Hop Festival 2003, an 11-day B-boy battle and summer camp of classes, workshops, and performances. "It's not new to me," Harris says of the festival crowds. "Hip-hop has been in the theater for a long time. It's kind of like knowing it [would grow in popularity]. It gives the illusion it evolved, but I think [the interest] was already there."

Harris's touring schedule proves it. In 1984, he teamed up with Run-DMC, the Fat Boys, Kurtis Blow, and Whodini to stage what Harris calls the first-ever hip-hop concert. (Harris and Puremovement have also opened for rap artists Kool Moe Dee, West Street Mob, and Salt-N-Pepa.) Harris is getting older, but he's not slowing down.

"Don Campbell's fiftysomething, and he's still doing it," he says. "I just move forward, without projecting who I want to be or what I want to be, and I'm going to keep on moving on forward."

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club for as little as $5 a month.

Speaking of Highlights

More by Cris Glaser

Read the Digital Print Issue

December 1, 2021

View more issues

Most Popular

No recently-read stories.

Visit the archives…


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.


© 2021 Cleveland Scene: 737 Bolivar Rd., Suite 4100, Cleveland, OH 44115, (216) 505-8199
Logos and trademarks on this site are property of their respective owners.

Website powered by Foundation