Clive Campbell aka DJ Kool Herc

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Clive Campbell aka DJ Kool Herc

April 16th, 1955 Clive Campbell was born in Kingston, Jamaica to parents Keith and Nettie Campbell. Clive was exposed to Jamaican Dance Hall music and toasting as a child. Toasting is the act of the Jamaican Dance Hall Selectors (the equivalent to Hip Hop DJ’s) rapping or engaging into call and response with the crowd. These early influences would help to set a piece of the foundation of what we call Hip Hop today. In 1967 the Campbell family immigrated to the United States seeking better opportunities for their children, they settled in the Bronx, New York at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, which would become the birthplace of Hip Hop.  During the 1960’s the Bronx experienced the fall out of the construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway which displaced thousands of families opening the door for poverty, crime and gang culture. The Bronx also experienced “white flight” as property values dropped and landlords resulted to burning their buildings and collecting the insurance money. Campbell attended Alfred E. Smith High School and was known to spend most of his time in the schools weight room. Over time he would grow to be known as “Hercules” because of his towering stature over the other teens around him.

Campbell would begin a graffiti crew called the Ex-Vandals where he would take the name that history would remember him by “ Kool Herc.” He always had a love for music and would often host parties with his sister Cindy in the recreation room of their building located at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue. Campbell owned a collection of records he would play at his parties that included James Brown’s “Sex Machine”, “Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose”, Booker T & the MG’s’ “Melting Pot”, and music by the Ohio Players; but his main influence was the Jamaican Dance Hall music. Campbell’s fortunes changed when his father brought him a “Vocal Master” PA system with two turntables and two amplifiers. A readymade audience of young people who hated disco and commercial radio and were looking for somewhere they can have fun and escape the poverty for a while.  August 11th, 1973 Campbell’s sister Cindy asked him to play music at her party,  this party turned out to be one of if not, the first Hip Hop party ever. We do know that Hip Hop started at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue due to the particular style Campbell would present his music.

As I stated earlier Hip Hop has its roots in Jamaican dance hall music as well as many other music genres; the dance hall deejay’s would use a technique called the “merry go round” which Campbell adopted, where they would find the “break” in a song, isolate the break using two records of the same song, switching from break to break as each break would end, which would extend the break from a thirty second to or minute part of a song to a five minute instrumental dancers could dance to. The “break” is the instrumental portion of the song that would be included into songs to inspire listeners to dance to the song. Campbell was known for including songs within his routine such as James Brown’s “Give It Up or Turnit a Loose”, “Bongo Rock” by The Incredible Bongo Band and “The Mexican by the English rock. He was also known for helping to develop what we know of as rapping by using the “toasting” technique which is the call and response. Extending the break also gave birth to breakdancing, B-Boys and B-Girls. With the elements of the DJ, the call and response or the prototype of the emcee, the break dancers and the graffiti artist, Hip Hop was born and the young people of the South Bronx had a culture to call their own. Campbell’s reputation grew as big as his stature, eventually he was playing his music and introducing Hip Hop throughout the Bronx and New York.

Campbell formed a group to perform at parties named the Herculords that consisted of Coke LA Rock his emcee and is often said to be recognized as the first emcee or rapper, Clark Kent as well and his dancers The Nigga Twins. The Herculords were known for their style of music and sheer volume at which they would play their music. With Campbell laying the foundation for Hip Hop it opened the doors for other pioneers such as Grand Master Flash and Afraka Baambaata to take the music style and improve on it. Grand Master Flash was the first to take the djing techniques created by Campbell and then use the turntables as if they were instruments. The birth of Hip Hop helped to alleviate the growing street gang issues in the Bronx, the young people now had another outlet to channel their energy. Hip Hop would be transformed from something thought of as a crazy music phase troubled kids created, to a worldwide cultural phenomena that is one of the most influential art forms ever.

The recording of “Rappers Delight” in 1979 helped to propel Hip Hop into the future and on the music charts forever, but we must know the origins of this thing we hold so dearly to our hearts. Hip Hop is the music of the oppressed, the impoverished, it is the voice of the voiceless and the heart of streets. It was born out of struggle as an instrument to heal, escape and eventually empower its listeners. Clive Campbell was a musical visionary who helped change the course of not only American music history but the history of music worldwide. He used his imagination, early dance hall influences and creativity to create Hip Hop. August 11th, 1973 Hip Hop was born at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx, New York. Clive Campbell aka DJ Kool Herc, we proudly stand on your shoulders.



J.A. Ward.

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