“The sun hadn’t gone down yet, and kids were just hanging out, waiting for something to happen. Van pulls up, a bunch of guys come out with a table, crates of records. They unscrew the base of the light pole, take their equipment, attach it to that, get the electricity – Boom! We got a concert right here in the schoolyard and it’s this guy Kool Herc. And he’s just standing with the turntable, and the guys were studying his hands. There are people dancing, but there’s as many people standing, just watching what he’s doing. That was my first introduction to in-the-street, hip hop DJing.”
DJ Kool Herc is the founder of hip hop music and culture. He invented a new style of DJing, which he shared with the world when he held his first hip hop party. This “back to school jam” was held at his house, in August of 1973. His main goal was to earn money so that his sister, Cindy Campbell, could buy back to school clothes. He never expected his music to blow up in popularity after this.
In the 1970’s, disco music was very popular. To create hip hop music, Herc isolated the short, five second instrumental part of disco records, called breaks. These instrumentals sections lacked voices, and emphasized the beats. He then used a technique he later called the “Merry-go-round” technique, to extend the break of songs from five seconds, to about five minutes. The merry-go-round technique involved two records. He would play the break from one of them, then rewind it back to the start of the break while playing the break from another record right beside it. His music inspirations involved James Brown, Jimmy Castor, and Brooker T. & the MGs.
His music turned out to be a massive hit. Herc became something of a local hero; more and more people were coming to his parties. Other DJs began adapting to his music, and a community of hip hop DJs, MCs, break-dancers, and graffiti artists started to form.
Why is this important? The bronx had many gangs fighting each other in violent disputes. The gangs involved most of the Bronx’s population of African-American citizens who had not as much money. There was not much intervention between gangs mainly because the other, more wealthier side of the population did not care. Adults were off partying at disco clubs, and because of the high price to pay to enter, only the rich people went. The rest had nothing to do, so they resorted to violence. But DJ Kool Herc changed everything when he invented hip hop music. This new form of culture provided an alternative to fighting. It gave them different types of hobbies to focus on. Teenagers and other Bronx citizens came to these underground parties to have fun. It gave them something else to live for; they no longer needed fighting to keep themselves entertained. They could learn to DJ, or MC, or break-dance to hip hop music. While uptown DJs catered to an older, more wealthier crowd, DJ Kool Herc held underground hip hop parties.
DJ Kool Herc is also very important because he influenced other people who would eventually join him as founders of hip hop. One of them is Afrika Bambaataa. Bambaataa, inspired by Herc’s work, learned how to DJ. He used this new culture to shift his gang from violence to supporting others. He converted his group from the “Black Spades” gang into a peace keeping organization called the Zulu nation. As a team, they helped to reduce the amount of violence by bringing gangs together and sorting out their conflicts through peaceful means. They kept the younger children away from violence by holding after school programs to follow their hobbies. They also participated by helping out the community with guarding homes from robbers, druggies, and gangs. The second famous figure in hip hop that Herc influenced, was Grandmaster Flash. Grandmaster Flash, learned Herc’s style of music and took a step further. He asked himself, how can I stand out and improve this music? He invented the backspin technique, punch purchasing, and scratching. This greatly improved the style of DJing and increased the possibilities of what you can do with the music. He also created a group called the Furious Five, who traveled around and inspired people with their hip hop music, spreading awareness and becoming famous in the process.
Sadly, because his work was never recorded and other DJs began to become more famous than him over the years, his name started to fade and he became less popular over the years. As a result, he has not received much awareness by the people in our world today. I believe it is crucial for dancers to learn about our roots and history. By learning about this, we can respect the hip hop culture and perhaps improve our dancing skills.
As a hip hop and break-dancer, I want to learn about dancers that DJ Kool Herc influenced, and how he influenced them. So far, I have only looked at DJs. I also will watch some interviews of Herc so that I can get an insight into his personality.