In case you’re tired of watching cat videos, we have compiled a list of some of the rawest and realest vintage videos on YouTube. These videos range from 1978 to 1998, and feature pimps, prostitutes, girl gangs, tag bangers, rebel crews, and more. Some of the videos are sensationalistic (such as the Girl Gangs video, which is more about fear-mongering than it is about understanding), while others are pure portraits of the past (Brent Owens’ Hookers at the Point). But all of these videos raise questions about the underlying socioeconomic and racial complexities that we think are crucial to learn about. And, as an added bonus, the videos capture some of the earliest forms of streetwear—from khakis to Pendletons—before streetwear even existed.
This mini doc (about 15 minutes) was a segment that aired on 60 Minutes in 1978. In it, host Dan Rather interviews Los Angeles gang members with no-fucks-given attitudes. “You got to fight for your varrio—sometimes you got to kill for your varrio,” says one gang member, “just to keep up your reputation.” In addition to conversations with members of White Fence and Little Valley, among others, the segment documents a bunch of classic gang blocks and roll calls, as well as black-and-gray tattoos.
Gary Weis’s 80 Blocks from Tiffany’s is the real-life version of The Warriors. The film documents the Savage Nomads and Savage Skulls in the South Bronx in 1979. There’s no social commentary—it’s just the gang members (and an occasional cop) talking about life on the streets. For example, Fly, one of the Savage Nomads, sits on his stoop with an afro and no shirt, as he talks about gangs using beer-can bazookas and dynamite. “Pretty soon they’re gonna steal the damn atom bomb!” he says.
In addition to the stories of the streets, it’s worth watching for their style. The denim vests with patches, motorcycle helmets (with no motorcycles), aviator glasses, skintight jeans, and the occasional choker make me wish I had been born a couple decades earlier.
Brent Owens’ film, Hookers at the Point, is the rawest and most revealing documentary you will find on YouTube—or anywhere. It follows a group of prostitutes at the Hunt’s Point “ho stroll” in the Bronx in the early 1990s, and offers an intimate, and explicit, glimpse into these women’s lives.
“Just because you’re a prostitute doesn’t mean that you’re dirty or you’re stupid,” one girl says in the opening sequence. In the ensuing 90 minutes, the film continues to be gut wrenching. “There’s something about this nightlife that I got to have,” says Lisa, a prostitute in a white fur coat. “I’m not addicted to no dick, I’m not addicted to no pussy—I’m addicted to those dead presidents on that green bill.”
Pimps Up, Ho’s Down is another classic from Brent Owens, but this one focuses on the lives of the “pimps, players and macks.” It’s not as good or as tough as Hookers at the Point, but it is considerably funnier. The pimps, dressed in Kool-Aid colored three-piece suits and shimmery jheri curls, spew out hilarious one-liner after one-liner without a hint of irony.
“I wanted to be down since the age of 14,” one deadpans. “I remember when I first told my momma. I said momma, ‘I know exactly what I want to be when I grow up.’ She said, ‘I know, you want to be a lawyer or a doctor.’ I said, ‘No momma, I wanna be a pimp.’” Ice-T even makes a cameo, speaking on the rules of the game, while he sits in a barbershop with curlers in his hair.
This sensationalistic 1990 report by Diane Sawyer isn’t groundbreaking, but the attitude, feathered hair, and drawn-on eyebrows make it worth watching. The segment opens with Shy Girl painting on wings with liquid eyeliner. “Her look is critical,” Sawyer narrates. “It is designed to make a statement.” Shy Girl and her friends—Bandit, Beaver and Wicked—then go out to “kick it, get down and defend their neighborhood,” arming themselves with guns. Many of the girls in this video are also young mothers, and a reporter questions what the girls want for their children’s futures. “Not to be in a gang,” one responds. “I mean all we can do is try to keep her out. If it happens it happens.”
“It’s all about getting up and using these cans,” says one writer in the opening seconds of this Fox News segment. “Why do I tag?” another asks. “Because it’s fun!” The video shows them writing on elevator doors, the back of a moving bus, and a freeway overpass sign.
But this segment isn’t about graffiti—it’s about the tag-bangers of L.A. in the 1990s, which have much more in common with gangs. “See, this the way tag-bangers dress,” one says proudly, “the khakis, Pendletons.” They go on to talk about shoplifting sprees, and brag about getting jumped in. “If you don’t write, you’re nobody,” a girl explains. “Nobody knows who you are.”
The makeup or the style isn’t as good as in Girl Gangs, but this 1997 special is much more in-depth and has unparalleled access. ABC’s Primetime gave two girl gang members (Jokey of The Drifters and Mara of Tepa 13) video cameras to document their lives over the course of four months in Los Angeles. The footage is filled with lowriders, guns, gang signs, tattoos, weed, and a whole bunch of street fights between cholos with long shorts and socks pulled up past their knees. “When we were kicking it out on the street, and someone would pass by, shooting at us or something,” Jokey explains, “to me, that was exciting, because people were going to the movies and paying 7 bucks to see something like that, and I was living it.”
If you grew up in L.A. in the late-1990s, then you’ll remember Rebels and Party Crews. These crews were a sort-of alternative to teenagers that might otherwise be in gangs—as well as an excuse for guys to pluck their eyebrows, girls to take off their clothes, and for everyone to listen to terrible music. “We’re not about gangs,” one girl says as a guy flashes a gang sign in the background. “It’s about go-going, dancing, friendship, stripping—I mean, we all have different talents!” We wonder what 17-year-old Scrumptious and 15-year-old Cuddles are doing with their talents today?
For more on this topic, there’s also Rebels
and Rebel Bout.
In case you missed it, catch our episode of Bobby Hundreds’ Snapshots with Greenspan’s, LA’s “Last Original Clothing Store,” who dressed the Latino community when no one else would, set the lowrider look in stone since the 1920s, and continue to survive across generations.