August 11 1973 should be a day all of us remember, but sadly many have not.. It was on that date that two siblings Clive and Cindy Campbell decided to do a back to school party in order to raise some money for school cloths and supplies. The party took place in the rec room of their apartment building on 1520 Sedgwick Ave in the West Bronx.. It would be the first of many parties the pair would throw..
Cindy was a budding entrepreneurial type who was good organizer who was the backbone to putting this party together. Her brother Clive was a hulking athletic type who had access to his father’s speakers, and a nice collection of funky records including pristine cuts from his idol James Brown.
It was at this party that Clive who was just starting to deejay and had taken on the nickname Herc, short for Hercules, would introduce a new style of deejaying that would eventually take hold and change the world. What he did was repeat the percussion breakdowns of popular songs… he discovered that the crowd reacted when he played the drum beats so rather than wait for song to play all the way through , he would go straight to the breakdown.. Herc would eventually come up with a system to keep those percussion breaks extended indefinitely. He dubbed it the Merry-Go-Round.. Later we would call them percussion breakdowns, breakbeats.
While those breakbeats were playing, Herc would talk over the music in style similar to what was known as toasting in his native Jamaica. That toasting style which early on consisted of simple shout outs to people from rival neighborhoods was done as a way to make folks feel important and keep the peace. Those shout outs would eventually give way to simple rhymes which back in the 70s was called emceeing and today often called rap.
Also while those funky percussion breakdowns were playing through Herc’s huge column speakers, later dubbed the Herculoids, young dancers would hit the dance floor doing new moves inspired by James Brown and Bruce Lee karate flicks. These dancers would become known as B-Boys and B-Girls..
August 11 1973 at was the birth of what we now call Hip Hop.. Sadly many of the outlets and institutions that have benefitted from this culture have not only NOT acknowledged this date, but with Hip Hop celebrating its 40th year, very few have had year-long celebrations where they big up the history, talk to the pioneers and explore the current state with a goal of taking things to new heights.
2013 will mark the year that we saw the re-election of a president who greatly benefitted from Hip Hop music, culture and the generation of people that identify with the culture. It was also the year we saw one of the Presidents Hip Hop heroes Jay Z play a key role in helping him get elected. One has to wonder if either man reached out to these pioneers to show support or just simply to say thanks.. Hip Hop has some humble beginnings we should never forget.
Today we caught up with Kool Herc to get his take on the 40th anniversary. He noted that he’s doing a big event at Center Stage in Central Park on Saturday (August 10th 2013) and that Senator Chuck Schumer will be there. On the day of Hip Hop’s anniversary August 11th, Herc will be spinning in the Bronx..
We asked him about what it was like at the first party. Herc noted that he played Rare Earth and that he was surprised there were white guys who could jam so hard. He learned early on funky music has no color.. He also noted that he played James Brown and talked about the records he got in 1969 after his father took him to see James Brown and Bootsy Collins in concert.
Herc noted that he was blown away from seeing James Brown with two drummers. One of those drummers was Clyde Stubblefield, the man who gave us the classic breakbeat ‘Funky Drummer‘. Herc would eventually meet Stubblefield 3 decades later in Madison, Wisconsin’s First Wave Hip Hop program which comes out of University of Wisconsin.
After Herc ran this down, I tried to get him to give a list of the songs he played that night.. In the 25 years I’ve known Herc, every time I asked, he’s said no… Pioneering deejay Disco Wiz, noted that he too has never been able to get Herc to give up his set list.. But we know one thing.. That night he played Rare Earth..
During our interview Herc stressed that there is no Hip Hop without James Brown..while fellow Hip Hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa sees Sly Stone and George Clinton along with Brown as the key foundations, Herc disagrees. He says he likes their music and Hip Hop has kept them relevant but its James Brown and James Brown only..
I asked Herc if he was happy with the direction Hip Hop has headed. after 40 years. He said he’s glad its getting many people employment, but its being misused. Herc said the people who inspired him are not being recognized and celebrated.
Herc noted that he’s appreciative of the love many have shown him and his sister.as the 40th anniversary comes upon us..At the same time, he and many others are keenly aware of the glaring oversights and dismissal of those who make millions off the culture but care very little about investing back into the culture or sharing its history.
Herc concluded by saying that he and his sister are still on the block and that they havent gone anywhere. They are still part of the struggle..In fact Herc says he now finds himself fighting to be a part of what he started.. The irony of that.. Below is our Hard Knock radio interview
I wanted to include a couple of older interviews we did with Kool Herc so you can get some more detailed history..
In this interview Kool Herc talks about his Jamaican background. He talks about how he grew up in the same township as Bob Marley and he explains how and why Jamaican culture is an important root within Hip Hop.
One important aspect of Jamaican culture Herc speaks to us about is the sound system. In this interview he talks about the type of equipment he used and why he named it the Herculords.
What was really fascinating in this sit down, was hearing Herc go into detail about the different clubs and parties he threw. He describes the clientele which ranged from some of New York’s most notorious sharp dressing mob type gangstas to high school kids from the projects around the way.
Herc gives us a run down of his playlist and talks about his approach for keeping the crowd satisfied. He speaks about his early deejay battles most notably with Pete DJ Jones. He also talks about the importance of funk music and bands like the Incredible Bongo Band.
Herc concludes this first segment by talking about Hip Hop’s early emcees including his own crew member Coke La Rock. Herc also talks about his other crew members including Timmy Tim.
He talks about the role DJ Hollywood played in Hip Hop. He also gives major praise to Mele-Mel and his brother Kid Creole for inventing the style of rap we all embrace to this day.
Cindy explains that the party started out as a fundraiser for her to get some school clothes. She talked about how they actually had Old E 800 and Colt 45 being sold there and how it was a 25 cent for women and 50 cent for guys.. They made 500 bucks
She also explained how she herself brought slow jam records for her brother to spin..
Cindy also talks about other deals she’s done for her brother including how she talked Harry Belafonte into making sure Herc’s character was positive in the movie Beat Street.