The legendary Tunnel party is finally returning to NYC with a huge event Jan. 31st, the Friday of the Super Bowl, at B.B. King’s! With a lineup of hosts consisting of some of the biggest artists coming up in today’s NY Hip Hop scene,the event could turn out to be a turning point in regaining NY’s crown. Leading the way will be NY’s biggest DJ and Tunnel originator, Hot 97’s Funk Flex along with his crew of Cipha Sounds, DJ Riz & Big Kap, who will be handling mic duties. These are the guys who broke some of the biggest records in Hip Hop history, in Hip Hop’s biggest club ever, and these are the guys who helped bring Hip Hop from the underground to the mainstream. However, somewhere along the way, Hip Hop and its NY party scene may have gotten a little too mainstream, a little too rich and lost its identity and culture. If you think you’ve been to the hottest Hip Hop party at one of NY’s top clubs and you have never been to the Tunnel in its prime, well, you haven’t been to the hottest Hip Hop party in NY. On Jan. 31st true Hip Hop heads will have a chance to relive that moment and perhaps regain that energy that NY’s been missing. To truly understand the importance of the night, those not familiar with the Tunnel in its prime need to understand its history.
As we all know, Hip Hop was born in New York. When it started it was a huge underground phenomenon and you could only get your fix of the newest genre of music if you knew where the scene was. Hip Hop started in the Bronx and spread like wildfire through the five boroughs. Each borough adopting its own style and lending a slightly different take on the culture. Hip Hop was fresh and it was edgy, a genre birthed from the inner city that not many people outside of the hood had access to or really understood at the time. As Hip Hop grew so did the craving for Hip Hop parties outside of its normal scene, places such as downtown Manhattan. Hip Hop was street and gritty, downtown and other similar party scenes were still timid about bringing that kind of culture and unknown through its doors. It would take someone with extreme respect and knowledge of both Hip Hop and the downtown party scene to bring the two together. Her name was Jessica Rosenblum, a downtown promoter who had been doing events and lots of business at the Palladium, a club owned by Peter Gatien. She also happened to be managing up and coming DJ Funkmaster Flex who was looking for a permanent home for their Sunday night Hip Hop party called The Mecca.
Using her connections in the downtown party scene, Jessica was able to convince Peter Gatien to give her a Sunday night at his downtown club, The Tunnel. The Tunnel was a huge nightclub inside an old warehouse that was once used to unload and store train cars. It was already a hotspot in NY prior to Jessica’s Sunday night party but never had a Hip Hop night. This was new territory and nobody knew how it would turn out. What they didn’t know was that Sunday nights at the Tunnel would become the stuff of legends.
In 1993 doors opened for The Mecca, Jessica’s Sunday night Hip Hop party at The Tunnel. With it’s huge bar and ability to hold 3 to 4,000 people, along with the insatiable hunger for guests to get their taste of Hip Hop, The Mecca party quickly became a huge success. It was the only place downtown for Hip Hop fans to hear the latest and greatest records, the first time a Hip Hop club had been in such a huge and popular venue. The three hottest people in NY nightlife ran it at the time. Peter Gatien was the biggest club owner, Jessica Rosenblum was the hottest promoter and Funk Flex was Hip Hop’s biggest DJ. Hip Hop fans would wait all week to go to the Tunnel. On Sunday nights all roads led to The Mecca.
The Mecca party was packed with lines around the block every night and things could get a little crazy outside the packed club. Jessica decided to bring in Chris Lighty as head of security and co-promoter to help alleviate all the rah-rah at the door. If you wanted to get into the Tunnel you had to deal with Chris Lighty first. If there was an issue inside the club it was Lighty who would be called in to handle it. Lighty once had to send Tupac back to his car to return a weapon he had on him.
Anybody who was anybody in Hip Hop was at the Tunnel on Sunday nights. The club was packed with industry people, artists and the streets from which the music came from. There was no VIP area, no tables and no bottle service; industry people and fans interacted with each other on the dance floor or at the bar while Cipha Sounds and Flex broke the newest records. The Tunnel was where you would go to find out what was the hottest new record in the streets.
No one had the Internet back then, you couldn’t just log into a website and check the Top 10 hottest Hip Hop tracks and listen to them. You had to go to the Tunnel and vibe with the people and see what new records Flex and Cipha would play. Cipha was the tester, he would open for Flex and play all the brand spanking new records. If it was hot and the crowd loved it, Flex would touch Cipha on the shoulder meaning never to play that record again. Flex would play it the next week during primetime and have the place rocking. This is how records were broke before the Internet. Huge records were played for the first time at the Tunnel and became huge hits based on the crowd’s reaction. Records such as, “Hate Me Now”, the remix to “Flava in Ya Ear”, “Who Shot Ya” and “Get At Me Dog” all were broken at the Tunnel. This is where Flex first started bringing tracks back 15 times in a row. When “All About The Benjamins” came out Flex played it for an hour straight and the crowd went nuts every single time.
This was in the middle of the Bad Boy era when Puffy was the King of NY. He would spend thousands of dollars at the bar on champagne. It was Puffy who started walking around the club with a bottle of champagne in his hand. Him and Jermaine Dupri would go bottle for bottle. All the ballers would be at the bar competing to see who could have the most bottles of champagne up on the bar. Bartenders would walk out with $400 to $500 in tips.
Every borough was well represented in the Tunnel, the place would be packed with the Bronx on one side, Queens on this side and Brooklyn on another. The party was wild and there was something going on everywhere, even in the bathroom. The Tunnel was unique in that it had a Unisex bathroom. This was before clubs began implementing a zero tolerance policy. The bathroom would be packed with guys and girls partying, smoking weed and yes, getting nasty. The Tunnel was so crazy that nobody even thought anything of it, it was a regular occurence. Everybody was just wilding out and having fun. For better or for worse, the Tunnel was the type of party that would never be replicated in NY nightlife again.
The Tunnel closed its doors for good in 2001 without a grand finale and the Hip Hop party scene in NY has never been the same. Bottle service became the big thing and killed the club scene in NY. Clubs are much smaller now with tables for bottle clients everywhere. Gone are the days of huge dance floors with artists and fans being able to interact and mingle with each other. If you partied at the Tunnel you were part of a legacy. As Peter Gatien is quoted as saying “The Tunnel had a vibe like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It was the kind of night where almost nobody left alone. There was so much networking, whether it was business networking, or people networking, or girl-boy networking, whatever. So much talent came through, so many deals were made. What other night in New York can people still reminisce about almost 15 years later?”
Jan. 31st is everyone’s chance to witness what NY Hip Hop is truly all about and perhaps bring the NY Hip Hop scene back to its prominence. The new school will meet the old school and recreate a vibe not felt since back in 2001. Jessica Rosenblum will be handling the guest list and as usual will be very selective with who’s on the list. Already said to be confirmed on her list are Raekwon, Sadat X, Talib Kweli, the Lighty brothers, Bill Spector and many more Hip Hop and nightlife scene heavyweights. Tickets are $25 in advance and can be purchased here. Scoop them up quickly as this is sure to be the hottest Hip Hop party in recent memory.