Black Music Month: DJ Kool Herc

June is Black Music Month and WERS at Night will recognize black musicians, composers, singers, and songwriters who have made enormous contributions to the music industry. Today, June 8th, 889@Night is highlighting DJ Kool Herc.

Clive Campbell, born April 16, 1955 in the beautiful Caribbean country of Jamaica, would eventually move to America and become the originator of a new sound booming from the inner city. This new sound would become known worldwide as Hip-Hop. The eldest of six children born to Keith and Nettie Campbell in Kingston, Jamaica, a young Clive would go to the neighborhood dancehall parties to watch and listen to the DJ play, developing his style from watching those Jamaican DJs. Unlike the American DJs, the Jamaican DJs would talk over the song they played which they called Toasting. Toasting was the act of talking in a monotone melody, over a rhythm or beat by a deejay. These lyrics can be either improvised or pre-written. Toasting can be found in various African traditions and cultures, such as griots chanting over a drum beat, as well as in Jamaican music forms like dancehall, reggae, and lovers rock. This mix of talking and chanting had a direct influence on the development of MCing in Hip-Hop.

The Campbell Family moved to 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, Bronx, New York in November 1967, which would later become the birthplace of Hip-Hop. During the time, due to the creation and construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway, thousands of people had been uprooted in the Bronx which led to “White Flight” of the 1980s into the suburbs because of lowered property values. Many landlords during this period would resort to arson in order to receive money through insurance policies. Due to the drastic changing in the Bronx, a violent new street gang culture would emerged around 1968, and had spread with increasing lawlessness actions across the Bronx by 1973.

During his teenage years, Clive Campbell would attend the Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education High School in the Bronx, where his height, frame, and physical presence on the basketball court prompted his teammates to give him the moniker “Hercules”. During this time, he began running with a graffiti crew called the Ex-Vandals, taking the name Kool Herc. Graffiti became are response to the arson perpetrated by the landlords during the “White Flight”. The youth would travel the city spray-painting any blank wall, abandon buildings, trains and or surface in a public places. Graffiti range from simple written words to elaborate wall paintings called “Burners”, and has existed since ancient times, with examples dating back to Ancient Greece, Roman Empire, and Ancient Egypt.

Herc and his sister, Cindy, began hosting back-to-school parties in the recreation room of the I building, 1520 Sedgwick Avenue. Herc’s first sound system consisted of two turntables, a Dual channel guitar amplifier, and PA speakers on which he played records like James Brown’s “Give It Up Or Turn it A Loose”, The Jimmy Castor Bunch’s “It’s Just Begun”, and Booker T & the MG’s’ “Melting Pot”. The music scene in the Bronx became divided during this period of time. The clubs were burden with the menacing presence of the local street gangs, the uptown DJs catering to an older disco demographic with different ambitions, and the radio catering to a demographic distinct from the youth in the Bronx. However, Herc’s events would become the place to party for the local children.

At these neighborhood parties in the recreation room at Sedgwick Avenue, DJ Kool Herc developed the style that would later become the blueprint for Hip-Hop. Herc used the record to focus only on a short, heavily percussive part in it the music called the “break”. Since this part of the record was the one the dancers liked to dance to the best, Herc would isolate it and then change the break to another break in a different song. As one record reached the end of the break, he cued the other record back to the beginning of the break, thereby extending a relatively small portion of a record into a “five-minute loop of fury”. The dancers to the breaks would adopt the names “b-boys” and “b-girls”. Their style of dance would also adopt a named and would become known worldwide as “breaking”. Herc’s terms “b-boy”, “b-girl”, and “breaking” became part of the lexicon of Hip-Hop culture.

A young Grandmaster Flash accredits Kool Herc as his hero and the reason he began DJing in 1975. He also stated that because of Herc, it was possible for Flash and his MCs “The Furious Five” to reach their pinnacle. In 2007, DJ Kool Herc persuaded the state of New York to make 1520 Sedgwick into a historical landmark because of its pivotal role in hip-hop. Currently he is suffering from kidney stones that caused him internal bleeding and serious pain. Although he is called the father/founder of Hip-Hop from many different sources, he owns no trademark or copy write to the style and is currently without health insurance. His official website is currently website looking for donations.

By Mike Johnson

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