Hip Hop is a global phenomenon but many don’t know about it’s history or the man who started it all. Once upon a time there was a DJ named Kool Herc, the man who started it all. Here is the story of the founding father of Hip Hop.
The Rise of Hercules
Kool Herc emigrated with his family at the age of 12 to the Bronx, New York in 1967. They lived at an apartment complex at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue. Due to the construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway (completed 1963, with further construction continuing through to 1972), thousands of communities were uprooted and property values dropped. Many landlords started burning property for insurance money. These conditions led to the rise of young street gangs in 1968, and spread with increasing lawlessness across large parts of the Bronx by 1973.
While attended the Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education High School in the Bronx, Campbell was dubbed “Hercules” due to his height, frame, and demeanor on the basketball court. This name evolved to Kool Herc upon joining a graffiti crew called the Ex-Vandals. Herc got a copy of “Sex Machine” by James Brown, a rare album in his area, which resulted in his friends coming to him to hear it. He and his sister began hosting back-to-school parties with Herc as the DJ in the 1520 Sedgwick Avenue apartment recreation room. During the time formal clubs in the Bronx were struggling with street gangs and their DJs were catering to an older disco crowd while commercial radio was directed at a different demographic the youth of the Bronx was alienated everywhere except at Herc’s parties.
DJ Kool Herc developed the break-beat, a style using the record to focus on the short heavily percussioned part on a record. Herc isolated the break and extended it by using two record players. Before one record reached the end of the break he would use the second record to play the same break from the beginning, making a hype loop for as long as he wanted. Herc called this technique “The Merry-Go-Round,” claiming he introduced the technique in 1972. The earliest known “Merry-Go-Round” switched between three breaks; first using the “Now clap your hands! Stomp your feet!” break from James Brown’s “Give It Up or Turnit a Loose,” then switching to the break of The Incredible Bongo Band’s “Bongo Rock,” from the “Bongo Rock” break, Herc switched to the break on Babe Ruth’s “The Mexican.”
Beyond the Breaks
Kool Herc not only started the rhythm used in Hip Hop but he also helped develop the rhyming style that has become rap by adding recorded music with phrases, such as: “Rock on, my mellow!” “B-boys, b-girls, are you ready? keep on rock steady” “This is the joint! Herc beat on the point” “To the beat, y’all!” “You don’t stop!”
Herc also coined the term “bboy,” “bgirl,” and “breaking.”
Herc began playing at nearby clubs and high schools, eventually have Coke La Rock rhyme over his mixes. He began a collective, called The Herculoids.Herc and The Herculoids inspired a spew of people who would become legendary. Afrika Bambaataa, the god father of Hip Hop, heard Kool Herc in 1973 which inspired him to start DJing using Herc’s style in 1975. He would later turn his gang The Black Spades into the Zulu Nation. In the same year Grandmaster Flash began DJing, who would later create his collective The Furious Five with the iconic song…..
After being stabbed trying to stop a fight at one of his show in 1980, Herc stopped DJing and began working at a record shop, while Hip Hop kept growing. He appeared in the movie Beat Street in 1984 and in 2007 he was able to stop the sale of his old apparent net building 1520 Sedwick Avenue, which was officially declared the “birthplace of Hip Hop” and registered in the Natioanl and state historic registers.
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