Armed with a backpack, B-Boy VHS tapes, merch, some breaking moves and flight vouchers from his sister, the now-legendary Cros One was able to put San Diego on the global breaking map with his Freestyle Session from the humblest of beginnings. While breaking had died down in the USA in the mid-80s, a perfect storm was brewing overseas, keeping the culture alive as international jams, like B-Boy Summit, Miami Pro Am and the Rock Steady Anniversaries brought breakers from all over the world back to where the artform began. Read on as Cros tells the California story of breaking in this next installation of Breaking Oral History. From the major players, to the vital importance of VHS tape culture, to how the scene was incubated in raver culture and more, travel back to the 90s when not only Freestyle Session was born, but with it a new wave in B-Boy history.
When did your story with breaking begin?
I used to break and then there was a gap, from about 85-88. B-Boying really died down in The States then. I got into graffiti at that time, which is where I got my name, Cros One, from. A lot of B-Boys turned writers at that time. But on New Year’s Eve of 1993 I went to a rave at (the amusement park) Knott’s Berry Farm, called K Rave. They had a techno side and a Hip Hop side. I of course gravitated to the Hip Hop side, and then I saw people breaking! All the time it seemed kind of dead, I was still keeping up with my moves during my judo practice, so I just went out there and started busting. Beyond the raves, there were party crews at the time on the West Coast, which were a crossover of B-Boy crews, graffiti crews and some weird raver-dancing guys, not that I ever really got what they were doing.
A piece Cros painted in Japan in 1995, long after he stopped writing.
One time in '94, there was a rave where the ravers even ended up battling the B-Boys. The Hip Hop side, of course, won that battle! But we battled, and as a result I met a whole new group of dancers. So from there, I began breaking with another crew. Shortly thereafter, B-Boy Summit 1 started in San Diego, started by Asia One and Easy Roc and the San Diego Zulu Nation Chapter. They did the first three in San Diego, and moved to Los Angeles by 1999.
So rave culture was an integral part of the rebirth of breaking Stateside, or at least on the West Coast?
For us in San Diego, we had raves and the party crew scene, but there were also the booty dancer girls and the early stages of choreography. B-Boys would enter those contests too, but there weren’t really any straight-up battles. We’d go to raves, car shows, Asian parties, bass parties and whatnot and that’s where we would break. That’s where the girls were at! B-Boy Summit blew our mind when it started. We had never seen so many B-Boys in one place. People came from all over the world, and crews like Rock Steady, Air Force Crew came out, all of whom were much higher-level dancers than we were.
Good times at the FSS 3 Pre-Party
There was another smaller event called Secret Wars, which really influenced me to organize my own jam. I helped the organizer out, and I ended up winning the event, so I ended up getting paid twice- for winning and also a small cut from the event profits for having helped out. After that, I thought to myself that it could be a viable way to make a living. I started Freestyle Session in November of 1997.
What was a major event in Southern California that changed the game?
Around 1995-6 was Radiotron, in Los Angeles, and those videos went around the world. I think that in the 90s, the whole Southern California scene was vital. The stuff that was coming out there really went worldwide. Airflares got big in Southern California, and then went global. A lot of the battles did the same. What was going down in SoCal was just a culmination of the entire state’s creativity and activity though. It’s just that everyone came from all over the state and down to Los Angeles. For example, Radiotron’s biggest crews came down from Northern California, like Style Elements (Modesto), Renegades (Bay Area), they were all pretty high level.
Cros One, Gerald (Rock Force Crew, RIP), Storm and Paulskee during FSS 3
What was the music scene like at that time, in relation to breaking?
The music was different, much different, than it is now. We owe some of the change to the European scene for that too. The thing that was crazy about FSS too, up until then the B-Boy events were electrofunk, and Planet Rock-type stuff. But we took the music back to being only golden-era Hip Hop, which you just didn’t see before at big events. As the years went on, we would watch Battle of the Year videos and we’d see everyone getting down to break beats. And then we kind of transitioned in that direction too. What really put FSS on the map was that we were playing hardcore Hip Hop. We went back to funk and soul.
What was the driving force behind the success of FSS at its start?
I remember bringing the concept up to Asia One once. The place where we practiced was pretty tiny, but there was a basketball court next to it in a much bigger space. I wanted to throw it in the big room, and she told me that I should probably keep my event in our tiny practice space since it would look more full. It gave me the fire in my belly to prove her wrong. I was like, “screw that! I’m gonna fill the big room.” We ended up having a MC event in the smaller practice space and the jam in the gym. We had a few hundred people come out, and we were able to make a small video from that. My sister also worked for United Airlines at the time and gave me packs of stand-by tickets, so I could fly for free. In a way, she really helped shape Hip Hop in that capacity. So I checked out every jam I ever wanted to—from Pro Am, in Miami, to Rock Steady. I went to BOTY in 1999 with Rock Force.
Cros One with his door staff– his mother, father, sister and brother-in-law.
So your sister is a secret cornerstone of breaking in the USA! What did you learn through your travel experience at the time?
The first time I went to Europe was the first time I really understood how global Hip Hop had grown. I had thrown a few of my own events by that time, in 1999. Everywhere I went, I would sell things out of my backpack—posters, videos, etc. I would also talk to distributors on my travels, and in turn I would end up selling more. I hadn’t spoken to a distributor in Europe yet though. And the first time I went, people were asking me for my picture. It was insane. I had used my own money, no my sister’s travel vouchers, to get there and people wanted my autograph? I was so confused and had to ask them why. They would be like, “oh you’re the guy who throws Freestyle Session!” And it was crazy, because it was all word of mouth and between friends. I had no distribution deal there.
“Haters be damned. I wanted everyone to make money by winning too.”
We were doing a little mailorder stuff online, but you would have to mail a check or money order COD (Cash on Delivery). It really made me realize how big it all had gotten. It of course, also landed me a distribution deal abroad! The numbers went up to 5,000 sold. It’s crazy to have had commerce like that, and the profits I made from the merch and videos, I could use for my event. I was able to up the ante of the event that way too, haters be damned. I wanted everyone to make money by winning too.
What was one of your best travel stories?
We went on a little European Tour- we went to The Notorious IBE, which was then held in Rotterdam. The other crew that was there with us was from Hungary, and they ended up eating all our bread! While we were there we saw that we were billed for a surprise rematch against The Family, but nobody had actually told us that was going to happen. We decided to forget that, and just surprise battle them on the spot. It ended up being pretty cool and I had my camera with me, so I was able to make a video. By today’s standards, that [VHS] video went viral, but back then that meant that it sold hundreds of copies, all of which were sent around the world.
What, in your mind, has kept Freestyle Session a top-tier international competition for all these years?
FSS had the good music and the good prize money, so we did what we could to make everything more. We were constantly testing our boundaries. By 2004 or so, it was the end. There was a whole underground video scene of entire tapes being uploaded online, and traded. So the Internet edged out the videos and DVDs, and then YouTube eventually took over. I mean the reality of events back in the day was we’d even have info lines that explained how to get to the events, and all other important information- an actual phone number that you’d have to call. It’s just not like that anymore.
We had to take the event up to LA in 1999, and the crowd sized doubled. It ended up staying there forever, but then in 2013 I did the first World Finals in Japan, and then this year I started a non-profit called UDEF (Silverback x FSS) with Steve Graham, and we did a $250K tour this year. For FSS in the USA we did a $50K battle.
Cros One and Steve Graham
Where do you see the future of breaking going?
With breaking today, it’s at a crossroads. It’s a tipping point, where it could get super big or just stay the same. To be honest, staying the same may not be bad. B-Boys and Girls don’t have the chance to make millions. But I mean, take Lil Zoo as an example, he comes from an underprivileged background and now he’s with Flying Steps. It’s a dream come true. But for people in Morocco, that’s a big deal. It’s something that money can’t buy sometimes, the wealth comes from your worldly travels as a B-Boy. I never thought this would be a viable living. I just figured it would be cool to make something to make some extra cash and do something cool for folks. It never occured to me that a living could be made from it til a few years later, in 1999, when I quit my job and started my own distribution company. Look at where we all are today.
Photos courtesy of Cros One