DJ Kool Herc IS the originator of hip-hop music which emerged into a cultural movement. I asked a few hip-hop “heads “recently, who created hip-hop? Surprisingly, only 1 out of 5 people responded, DJ Kool Herc. The other four said it was Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu Nation. Although Bambaataa was a part of the early movement he wasn’t the originator.
Here are a few things you should know about the creator of hip-hop, DJ Kool Herc:
1. Kool Herc, born Clive Campbell, immigrated from Kingston, Jamaica to The Bronx, New York City in the late 1960’s. Herc brought the vibe and feel of the sound system from Jamaican dancehalls to the Bronx, NY.
2. The birthplace of hip-hop is 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx where Herc grew up. Herc and his sister, Cindy, would throw parties in the recreation room of their building. These parties birthed an entire culture. Herc would play soul music like James Brown and Booker T & the MG’s on two turntables over loud speakers. Eventually he realized that the crowd enjoyed the heavy percussive part of each song, which they described as the break, so he isolated it and looped it. This allowed people to dance longer (breakdancing) and MC (rapping). This innovation had its roots in what he called “The Merry-Go-Round”—a switching from break to break done at the height of the party.
3. The “b-boys” and “b-girls” emerged. They were the dancers to Herc’s breakbeat. Herc noted that “breaking” also meant “getting excited” or “causing a disturbance” in street slang at the time. Herc’s terms “b-boy”, “b-girl” and “breaking” became part of the lexicon of hip hop culture even before that culture itself had a name.
4. Herc’s first began booking gigs spinning at such NYC nightclubs as Twilight Zone, the Havelo and the Executive Playhouse. He also played at a few neighbourhood high schools. Accompanying Herc on the MC was rap legend Coke La Rock. The duo birthed Herc’s collective, known as The Herculoids, which was further augmented by Clark Kent and dancers The Nigga Twins.
5. Afrika Bambaataa followed suit in 1975 with his own sound system and began DJ’ing in Herc’s signature style. Bambaataa converted his followers to the non-violent Zulu Nation in the process and away from gang violence. In that same year, Kool Herc began using The Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache” as a breakbeat. It became a b-boy favourite along with such titles as “The Bronx National Anthem”.
6. Grandmaster Flash described Kool Herc as “a hero”, and also started DJ’ing in Herc’s style in 1975. By 1976, Flash and his MCs, The Furious Five, were packing the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan with unruly young crowds and proliferated Herc’s hip-hop style throughout community centers, high school gymnasiums and clubs in the Bronx.
7. In 1977, Herc’s career began to fall steadily. The rise of Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five, and Bambaataa’s various crews with their polished MC styles put Herc at a disadvantage. Herc retreated from the hip-hop scene that he had created after two personally devastating events. First, he was stabbed multiple times while attempting to intervene in a fight at the Executive Playhouse; and second, the death of his father in the mid-1980s sent Herc into a vicious state of depression causing him to become addicted to crack cocaine.
8. In 2006, Herc remerged onto the hip-hop scene by becoming involved in getting Hip Hop commemorated at Smithsonian Institution museums. In the Summer of 2007, New York state officials declared 1520 Sedgwick Avenue the “birthplace of hip-hop”, and made it eligible for national and state registers.
In 2011, DJ Kool Herc fell ill and required surgery to resolve his kidney stone complication. What is devastating is that this pioneer in hip-hop couldn’t financially cover his hospital bills. It is a shame that a legend who created such an amazing culture doesn’t have the medical insurance or finances to take care of himself. It leaves many in this industry wondering if they too will meet the same dilemma.
DJ Kool Herc and his family have set up an official website, djkoolherc.com, on which he describes his medical issue and the larger goal of establishing the DJ Kool Herc Fund to pioneer long term health care solutions.