04 May 2010

Pioneer Series: DJ Kool Herc

We here at bestinthemix.com are true believers of forward progression. However, how can one move forward without understanding your roots? So, we'll be doing a Pioneer Series every once and again to familiarize many of you with the origins of this wonderful world of hip-hop that has taken over the globe. And what better start than to deal with one of the origins of one of the most important facets of hip-hop: DJing? So sit down, spit out your gum, keep your hands to yourself, and take notes; class is starting. Clive Campbell...name sound familiar? He's largely credited with being the godfather of hip-hop. 1520 Sedgwick Avenue...know the place? Ask any "true" hip hop head and they'll tell you that's the birthplace of the genre. That's where Mr. Campbell (better known as DJ Kool Herc!) first began DJing parties for his sister and the neighborhood. Kool Herc, who gained the nickname Hercules because of his physical dominance, moved to the Bronx at the age of 12 from Jamaica. Herc, as he is popularly known, is widely credited with not only being the father of hip-hop, but also with helping to coin the term b-boy/b-girl, which are shortened terms for "break boy" and "break girl." Breaking has two meanings in the world of hip-hop. The first definition deals with the part of a record where the vocals are out and the percussion is the main source (instrumental). Dancers loved this particular part of the song because it gave them a chance to highlight their skills without the words taking away from their shine. The dancers became the b-boys/b-girls (get how it goes together?). Herc, being the innovator that he was, accepted the popularity of the break section and prolonged it by playing the same record on a set of turntables and switching back and forth between the songs at the exact same spot, sometimes at lengths of five or more minutes. The breaks in the songs weren't usually very long, so this gave the dancers more time to breakdance on the floor. This was a huge step forward for music and dancing and threw Kool Herc into the limelight, because no one else had done this before.
Although Herc isn't credited as the first rapper, he was definitely one of the first MC's, using his words to "toast" or talk over the track, which was common in his home country of Jamaica, where the MC would stand by the DJ and shout instructions to the dancers or get the crowd hype. Toasting became the blueprint for current day MCing and rapping. Herc began focusing more on his DJing, furthering the craft and hooking up with Coke La Rock, who became the rapper for his break beats.
As Herc's popularity grew, he began to play at the numerous clubs in the area, and local high schools. Popularity led to imitators, which led to competition. Because of that competition, many new DJs and rappers were able to make a mark as well. Herc influenced many other grandfathers of the genre, such as Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash. Herc's style of music played is also credited with easing a lot of tension and violence in the city, as the gangsters had something better to do and get involved with. Bambaataa himself was once a general in a notorious gang before he became a DJ.
Unfortunately, not all violence stopped. DJ Kool Herc eventually stopped DJing in 1980 as a result of being stabbed while trying to stop a fight. The crowds died down at his concerts as a result of the stabbing, and Herc left the stage. In the mid 80s, his father died and Herc became a victim of the crack epidemic that ravaged New York. He eventually overcame, becoming a public speaker on the virtues of hip-hop and getting the landmark 1520 Sedgwick Avenue recognized as a historic location by the state of New York.
Let's all take a moment to toast one of the first and the greatest: DJ Kool Herc, the father of Hip-Hop as we know it. Look for more articles on the pioneers of the genre here at bestinthemix.com!

Now, before you put your notebooks and pencils away, write down your homework assignment: download the newest mixtape from Kleos and Davy Jones, The Nerd And The New Guy, from http://www.smoothdirtyproductions.com/! See you next time...

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