DJ Kool Herc
Everything we now recognize as the massive cultural force of hip-hop began 50 years ago in the Bronx with the turntables of DJ Kool Herc. Herc was a founding father of hip-hop music. He emigrated from Jamaica to New York in the 1960s and started throwing block parties in his neighborhood in the early 1970s, where he played funk and soul hits on his turntables. One of those parties, a back-to-school event for his sister Cindy, held at 1520 Sedgewick Avenue on August 11, 1973, is widely considered to be the moment hip-hop culture began – when all the elements came together in one place. This seed would eventually grow into global dominance, both for the music and the surrounding culture.
Herc was known for his powerful sound system and for utilizing a master of ceremonies to hype up an audience, both of which were inspired by his Jamaican roots. Herc quickly differentiated himself from traditional disc jockeys by using two turntables and a mixer to create a continuous flow of music. Rather than playing records in their entirety, he developed his signature “Merry-Go-Round” technique, which extended a song’s instrumental break for long periods of time. These extended “breakbeats” provided the early musical foundation for break-dancers (b-boys and b-girls) to showcase their moves. Herc turned songs like the Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache,” Jimmy Castor’s “It’s Just Begun,” and James Brown’s “Give It Up or Turn It Loose” into the building blocks of the hip-hop sound.
Herc’s innovation and experimentation with music helped create the blueprint for hip-hop and set the stage for future artists to build upon. He took existing music and technology and innovated new ways of thinking about how the music could be played, how it could directly interact with the audience and eventually, how emcees such as Coke La Rock and the Herculords would rap over his beats. Herc was instrumental in developing the culture and community of hip-hop and in helping to make a space for young people to express themselves creatively through music and dance. In the words of Kool Herc himself, “And it don’t stop!”
Influence: James Brown, King Tubby, Lee “Scratch” Perry
Legacy: Grandmaster Flash, Sylvia Robinson, Jam Master Jay
1100 Rock and Roll Boulevard
Cleveland, Ohio 44114