45 Orchard Street is a seven-story structure on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. These days the surrounding area is a gentrification hub, peppered with galleries, boutiques and luxury apartments. But back in 1991 a small studio space in the building housed the first night of what would become a New York City hip hop institution – the Lyricist Lounge.
Founded by Danny Castro and Anthony Marshall, two teenagers who at the time were hitting the club scene as hip hop dancers, the event became an MC incubator: Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Saul Williams would all graduate from its ranks, while future phenomenons like The Notorious BIG and Eminem would also grace its stage. This is the story of hip hop’s most revered open mic movement.
The Lyricist Lounge would quickly become known as a stage for MCs to showcase their fiercest flows and most creative wordplay – but the night originally emerged against the backdrop of New York City’s upbeat club scene.
Anthony Marshall Co-founder of Lyricist Lounge
I met Danny in 1991. We were in high school and going to clubs like Heartthrobs and then Studio 54.
We were only like 15, going out to nightclubs in New York with fake IDs – this was before Giuliani came into office, so it was Mayor Dinkins and New York nightlife was totally different. It was ...