Now that hip-hop has become a multinational, gazillion-dollar enterprise, it’s all too easy to forget how it began: as a startlingly fresh hybrid artform, practiced by a relatively small community of devotees in the Bronx and Manhattan. Wayne Frost, a.k.a. Frosty Freeze, was one of the undeniable greats back then. As a key member of the Rock Steady Crew, he helped take breakdancing beyond the streets of New York — popularizing the new moves on the big screen in films like Wild Style, Beat Street, and Flashdance.

Frosty Freeze died yesterday in a Manhattan hospital at the age of 44. (He’d been suffering from a long illness, which his family has not yet identified publicly.) I just got off the phone with Freeze’s fellow b-boy star, Richard “Crazy Legs” Colón, who was kind enough to share a few memories of their early days together. “When we first started taking hip-hop on the road, he was there with me for the first tours,” Crazy Legs said, recalling trips they took to dance in London and Paris. “The thing about it is, Frosty Freeze, although he was an inspirational figure, wasn’t anyone that was easily imitated. He was that unique. You have your Magic Johnsons and your Larry Birds and your Michael Jordans. Frosty Freeze was at the forefront of originality when it came to b-boying.”

Despite all that, Crazy Legs said, the contributions of Frosty Freeze and other early b-boys are often overlooked. “Most people don’t know the history of breaking before its primary commercial exposure. People think of it in terms of what went on in the ’80s, but the dance started in the ’70s, and Frosty Freeze was representative of the DNA of the style. He was the last one to truly represent the original form.”

Amen. Let’s take this sad occasion as an opportunity to remember Frosty Freeze’s legacy — just like the makers of the YouTube tribute below have done. Were you influenced by any of Freeze’s movies? What does b-boy culture mean to you?