“Wild Rice” is an Americana song that’s been playing in the Bronx for decades.
The song, first recorded in the 1930s by the singer-songwriter Ralph Nicks, is a plea for a little more green in America’s cities.
The lyrics, sung by Nicks and later recorded by fellow Brooklynites R&B singer Frankie Valli and Willie Nelson, say: “You gotta make a little wild rice/Don’t you want it on your plate?/When you see that little wild, you know it’s wild.”
Nicks wrote the song to be an anthem for a city struggling with the ravages of poverty and blight, and he was a man of conviction.
“I had a heart that could not be beaten,” he told the New York Times in 1985.
“When I first started singing it, I just wanted it to be about my life.”
He was right.
But he didn’t have much hope for the people of New York.
“The people of the Bronx are the most hopeless in the country,” Nicks said in a New York Magazine interview in 1986.
“They’re the most stupid.
They’re the ones who are afraid to eat wild rice.”
The song was a big hit in the city, and by the 1990s, the Bronx was a hub of the nation’s urban farming movement.
The city was home to some of the country’s biggest companies, including McDonald’s, Kraft, Coca-Cola and General Electric.
It was also the birthplace of the modern-day Harlem Shake, and it was a hotbed of hip-hop.
Today, the Harlem Shake is a staple of the Brooklyn rap scene, and even the name of the song is based on a street address.
But in those days, the song was just a catchy tune, and the Harlemites of that era had a few more songs than they did rappers today.
One of the first of these came in the form of a song by the rapper, Harlem-born, Bronx native, R&A singer-guitarist Rico Dirty.
In this 1964 song, Dirty sang about being a farmer in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Brownsville, Queens, a city that’s long been a haven for the poor.
“It was a little town, a little dirt, a bit of blight,” Dirty sings.
“There were just a lot of bad apples and a lot, uh, shit.”
The neighborhood was teeming with black residents, but some residents wanted to move to Harlem.
The Bronx had a thriving black middle class, and so did the neighborhoods surrounding it.
As the song goes, “There’s a lot to love about Brownsville,” but “the people are not so bright.”
“The problem was the bad apples,” Dirty continues.
“That’s why I said to myself, ‘I’ve gotta get out of this area.
I don’t wanna live in Brownsville anymore.'”
In 1964, Dirty was a 14-year-old kid.
“He went to Brownie’s School,” says R&R guitarist Frankie Vales.
“So he started to make the right choice, and go to the Bronx.”
Dirty’s choice was the Bronx.
Dirty went to school at Bronx College, the same school as Harlem’s first black president, Frederick Douglass.
But Dirty was not happy in Brownsdale.
He was living in a one-room shack with his grandmother, and a neighbor complained to the school about his attitude.
“She was so angry with me, and she was like, ‘Don’t be a man, don’t act like a man,'” Dirty remembers.
“And I was like ‘I can’t, because I’m a Negro.
I’m not gonna act like one.'”
Dirty went home and began recording the song.
“Everybody was singing about how much money they made, and they were doing the Harlem shake,” Vales says.
“But it was the little people who were singing the Harlem shakes that were singing it.
And I was thinking, This is the people that have to listen to me now.”
And so Dirty began recording his own version of the Harlem-style rap.
The results were something of a shock.
The songs were not only catchy, but also politically subversive.
“We didn’t want to be a part of the rap game,” Dirty says.
So Dirty wrote songs for the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela, and while some of his lyrics were aimed at whites, Dirty also went after Black people.
“These are not lyrics about Black people,” he tells The Atlantic.
“This is about white people.
You know, the white people who have been stealing from the black people, the whites who are robbing us.
The white people are the ones that are robbing the black guys and stealing from them.
They should get what they deserve.”
But Dirty’s lyrics were not enough to keep him off the street.
In 1964 and 1965, he went to prison for selling crack cocaine, and