Ghetto Brothers leader Benjamin “Yellow Benjy” Melendez, who famously brokered a gang truce between Bronx and Harlem in 1971, has passed away at the age of 65, according to his wife Wanda Melendez and author Amir Said.
“He died of natural causes,” Said explains in an exclusive interview with HipHopDX. “He had kidney failure and had been waiting for a kidney transplant. His condition had gotten much worse over the last couple of years. I was told by his wife that yesterday (May 28) he fell and cut his arm badly. He was then rushed to the hospital. But given the complications of his kidney failure, sadly, he did not make it.”
Melendez, who was also the frontman for the Ghetto Brothers band, was the subject of the 2015 documentary, Rubble Kings, which focused on the heavy gang violence in 1970s New York City.
Directed by Shan Nicholson and produced by actor Jim Carrey, the film captured the events leading up to the Hoe Avenue Peace Meeting in the Bronx on December 7, 1971, an event sparked by the murder of fellow Ghetto Brothers member “Black Benjie,” who was well-known in the community as a peace keeper. Although a permanent resolution was never formally established, the resulting negotiation carved out a procedure for dealing with conflicts to avoid street “warfare.”
Said, who co-authored Melendez’s memoir, Ghetto Brother: How I Found Peace in the South Bronx Street Gang Wars, grew close to the socio-political activist.
“Benjy was one of the most transformative figures I’ve ever known,” Said shares. “He went from street gang leader to social activist and inspired everyone around him. He stood as a social activist, a musician, and a friend to many in the 1970s South Bronx — what was then the worst urban area in the United States.
“While DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, and Afrika Bambaataa should all get their due credit for their role in the development of Hip Hop, Benjy certainly deserves recognition for the role that he helped play in paving the path for Hip Hop to grow and prosper,” he continues. “Before the rec center party in 1973, before the park jams — there were the infamous street parties that were held by the Ghetto Brothers in 1971. And Benjy and his band was the spark for all of that. His message of peace, at a time where street gang turf wars were rampant, made it possible for scores of people to unite and focus on music, dancing, and, as Benjy always said, ‘Having a great time.’”
Any Hip Hop purist is likely familiar with the 1979 classic film, The Warriors, which also centered on the ’70s turf wars in New York City — Melendez was one man who truly lived it.