In Theaters and On Demand Now

Rubble Kings

The Film

From 1968 to 1975, gangs ruled New York City. Beyond the idealistic hopes of the civil rights movement lay a unfocused rage. Neither law enforcement nor social agency could end the escalating bloodshed. Peace came only through the most unlikely and courageous of events that would change the world for generations to come by giving birth to hip-hop culture. Rubble Kings chronicles life during this era of gang rule, tells the story of how a few extraordinary, forgotten people did the impossible, and how their actions impacted New York City and the world over.

About the Director

Shan Nicholson

Shan Nicholson is an award winning filmmaker, DJ, music producer, and counter/pop culture storyteller. His work is unabashedly inspired by being a product of New York City’s culturally rich period of the 1980’s, which continues to influence the world over. Nicholson’s feature-length documentary, Rubble Kings, the story of New York City gang culture in the 1970’s and its influence on the birth of hip hop, is poised for national and international release summer 2015. A feature narrative is subsequently in development, directly inspired by the events described in Rubble Kings and being written by Nicholson. Beyond his burgeoning success as a documentary film director, Nicholson has focused equal attention on screen writing, directing online content and music videos, with premieres on pop culture tastemaker sites such as Pitchfork, MTV, VH1, and Rolling Stone. Nicholson also has several screenplays in development that have emerged from his documentary work.

Director's Statement

I was instantly drawn to the story behind Rubble Kings. It was the backdrop to all Iknew as a kid growing up in New York City during the 1980s. Hip-hop was my world- it was a movement growing on every stoop in every borough throughout the city. As kids, we would hear the echoes of generations past and the stories of the outlaw gangs that ruled the streets. Looking back, the tales seemed almost folkloric in nature filled with names like the Savage Skulls, Seven Immortals, and the Black Spades. We had no idea that these gangs played such an integral part in the birth of our generation’s song.Later in life, I started producing music and DJ’ing throughout the city. Record collecting became a daily ritual. On one of thesemissions, I ran into one of the holy grails of record collecting- a Latin funk album called “Power Fuerza” by the GhettoBrothers. Not only was the music amazing, their story would haunt me for months to come. The fact that The Ghetto Brothers chose peace over violence after the death of one of their own brother’s resonated with me deeply. I too had lost my best friend to an act of senseless violence. It shattered my world and here I was faced with this story of extraordinary courage in the face of adversity. I knew I had to tell this story.

I went into production with a very definite focus on exploring the socio-economic conditions of the time. I knew these kids were a product of their circumstances and not inherently violent. I really wanted to get to the root of it all and understand why these gangs came to be. Interviews with historian Marshall Berman and former mayor Ed Koch told a story of a city in collapse and the people who were left to pick up the pieces. Shortly after, we interviewed our principal characters- Karate Charlie and Yellow Benji, who painted a vivid picture of the South Bronx and the gang culture of the time. Their charisma, passion and intensity jumped off the screen and really set the pace for the film. We had something special.

For me the story really came together with the archive material. The footage and photographs I unearthed over the course of 8 years of research, was some one of the most exciting aspects of developing the story. Music also played a major role in keeping the flavor and integrity of the time. I was fortunate enough to work with a good friend and incredibly talented composer, Little Shalimar, on the original score.

Most importantly, the key ingredient to telling this story successfully were the people who lived it, and who so graciously gave their time, energy, and life experiences to helping me complete this film. I am so honored to have been invited into their lives and trusted to tell their extraordinary story. My hope is that this moment in time will resonate with the public as much as it did me, and that this connection will lead to some significant and positive change.

Available On

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Rubble Kings Shop

  • New York Times Jun 19, 2015

    “Rubble Kings is a fascinating, valuable work of social, music and New York history, a celebration of a peaceful revolution by those who helped birth it."

  • Village Voice Jun 16, 2015

    "True revelation"

  • Hollywood Reporter Jun 17, 2015

    "An entertaining doc"

  • Consequence of Sound Jun 21, 2015

    "Necessary viewing"

  • New York Daily News Jun 17, 2015

    "A fascinating documentary"

  • Los Angeles Weekly Jun 19, 2015

    "Impassioned examination of New York's gang culture of the late 1970s"