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On a recent evening, Sean Armstrong is kicking back in his south Santa Rosa home wearing a signature hoodie that reads "Live, Love, Inspire, Reprezent." The block-letter design is one of a growing line under his hip-hop brand Reprezent Clothing. With Brooklyn block-party legends Newcleus on the stereo, the 30-year-old Cloverdale native is nursing a severely broken ankle.
Breaking since the late 1990s, Armstrong and crew were invited to join Ground Level's SUB-4 as the official Cloverdale chapter, spending the next decade battling against the biggest b-boy crews in California. But Armstrong also wanted to rock fresh threads.
Amid the cultural deterioration of last decade's bling obsession, the demise of urban stores like Mr. Rags meant supporting underground designers was challenging. "With hip-hop, you always wanna be fit and fresh. These big corporations don't understand what an underground cat wants to rock—what represents them," affirms Armstrong.
Being down for the cause in hip-hop isn't about getting rich; it's about developing a technique that will allow an individual to subsist while contributing to the culture. "I want to inspire," Armstrong says. "I have always wanted to take what I've learned and make the community more artistic." To keep that flowing locally, Armstrong developed his lifestyle brand giving light to all four elements. Doubling up on jobs and sleeping in cars, the Reprezent project took shape.
Armstrong has fond memories of longtime friend Roxrite's presence in the Sonoma County breaking scene. "I'll never forget how he kept asking me, 'You're dancing, right? I hope you're still dancing.' I never wanted to find a day when I'd say, 'No, I'm not dancing anymore.' I didn't want to let him down. Just the fact that he asked me, that he cares every time I see him, that kept me going."
Six weeks into what doctors say is a minimum year off from a life of breaking, Armstrong is no doubt optimistic. "My ultimate goal when I started Reprezent was to stay in the hip-hop game. I once thought, 'What if I can't battle forever and make money off it?'" he says, sidetracked by his immobilized foot, "and I can't, especially now. But no matter what, I can cultivate and spread the culture."
To many, hip-hop would seem to have gotten a bad rap over the last decade—the excess of money, sex and violence have misled a new generation to believe the media hype about a culture based on commercialism. But to those who truly keep the art form alive, working to maintain a support system of cultivation for the next generation of b-boys and b-girls is crucial. In passing down the true essence of hip-hop, with the likes of Roxrite and the accomplishments of b-boys everywhere, the practitioners are changing the conversation, and society is beginning to take notice.
In the words of Ground Level, "At the time we were still kids, but I could tell b-boying was going to be huge. How huge it is now, I never dreamed it would be this big. But the best never die, and real b-boys still exist."
CLASSES IN SONOMA, MARIN & NAPA: PRIVATE AND GROUP LESSONS
Mike “Ground Level” Cisneros
“The Art of B-Boying” by Ground Level
Thursdays 6pm-7:30pm @ Club X Gym
545 Ross Street, Santa Rosa
Manuel “Man-E” Weigel
“New Funk” By Man-E
Fridays 5pm-6:15pm @ Core in Motion Studio
134 Weeks Way, Sebastopol
Jesse “B-Boy Child” Ventura
”Nut’n But Style” by B-Boy Child
By Appointment @ Club X Gym
545 Ross Street, Santa Rosa
707-843-8789 and 707-591-0487
“The U.N.I.T” by Bernadette and Joe Gray
3077 Coffey Lane, Santa Rosa, CA
Academy of Danse
1123 Jordan Lane, Napa, CA 94559