Looking back four decades to the genre's inceptions, SoundExchange celebrates the birth of hip hop, exploring how the artform was born at the hands of Clive Campbell, and how it grew and developed from that point onward.
Guest post by William Glanz of SoundExchange
When Clive Campbell developed a new technique to spin records, he also helped created a new genre of music.
That was more than four decades ago, and this week hip-hop celebrates its unofficial birthday, 44 years after Campbell tried something new on a turntable.
Campbell – known as DJ Kool Herc – had started using a technique that allowed him to play songs longer so b-boys and b-girls (break dancers) wouldn’t have to stop dancing so often. Herc already had been working as a DJ and noticed that break dancers preferred instrumental breaks in music, so he developed a method to extend those segments.
He extended the backbeat of songs by playing the same song on two turntables. According to a 2008 story in New York Magazine:
Utilizing two turntables and a mixer, Herc used two copies of the same record (removing the labels so others couldn’t “steal” them) to isolate and extend the percussion and bass. This became known as “the break.”
“Herc was the first to play break beats, which made him a force on the turntables,” Nelson George, co-executive producer of the annual Hip Hop Honors for VH1, told New York Magazine.
On August 11, 1973, DJ Kool Herc played at a party at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx that became legendary because many now consider that the birth of hip-hop.
“We give props to Herc. If that day didn’t happen, there would be a different story being told,” MC Easy A.D., a founding member of the Cold Crush Brothers, a legendary hip-hop group from the Bronx that formed in 1978, told SoundExchange.
Herc became a folk hero in the Bronx, DJ Toney Tone, another founding member of the Cold Crush Brothers, told us.
“When I finally saw him, I walked up behind him and he had an aura about him,” DJ Toney Tone said.
DJ Toney Tone said he saw Herc play for the first time in either 1974 or 1975.
Hip-hop “grew into something universal,” he said. “It grew into something positive and full of love.”
In addition to Herc’s technique, one thing that separated him from other deejays was his equipment, said Almighty Kay Gee, who joined the Cold Crush Brothers in 1979.
“He had the biggest system in the Bronx,” Almighty Kay Gee told us. “With that system he had, he was the man for many years because nobody could compete.”
Herc isn’t solely responsible for the birth and rise of hip-hop. Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash also deserve a lot of credit for promoting hip-hop, the Cold Crush Brothers told SoundExchange.
“Those are the top three – Herc, Bam and Flash. Bam has always said Herc was first,” DJ Toney Tone said.
If Herc was the brains of hip-hop, Flash was the blood and Bambaataa was the spirit, MC Easy A.D. said, and together they influenced generations of artists who followed.
Four decades later, hip-hop has become the most-listened to musical genre in the nation.
“It’s incredible. Sometimes I just go ‘Wow, I was part of that.’ It’s phenomenal to be able to say I’m part of that,” said Almighty Kay Gee.
In its mid-year report issued July 12, Nielsen Music noted that hip-hop accounts for 25 percent of all music listened to by U.S. consumers. In a separate report, BuzzAngle put the figure at 21 percent (the difference in the two numbers is explained by the fact that the Nielsen report combines hip-hop and R&B).
What started at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue 44 years ago has become a global phenomenon, giving birth to a thriving hip-hop culture that also includes deejaying, MC-ing, graffiti and breakdancing.
KEY DATES IN HIP-HOP
August 11, 1973 – DJ Kool Herc deejays party at 1520 Sedgwick in the Bronx
October 13, 1979 – “Rapper’s Delight,” by Sugar Hill Gang, makes its first appearance on a Billboard chart
1984 – Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin start Def Jam Recordings
August 3, 2017 – LL Cool J is the first hip-hop artist to be named a Kennedy Center Honors recipient