Humankind has this fascination about the origin of things. The greatest questions we had asked are about the origins of life, the universe, of man, among many others. With that being said, it is just understandable that we would ask about the origin of one of the most influential genres in music. Hip-hop had transcended from a just being a musical genre to a culture being embraced by people of all ages worldwide. To explore the topic of the origin of hip-hop would not only benefit those who had embraced the genre.
It would also be helpful to those who are not fans of hip-hop to be introduced to the origin of hip-hop. Through that we could have a better understanding of the music and the culture. And there would be no better way to discuss the origin of hip-hop than to discuss the life of its recognized originator, DJ Kool Herc. As we could notice, his name is based on the mythological hero “Hercules. ” That is just understandable as he is, in many sense, the hero of hip-hop. And if he is Hercules, the Olympus of hip-hop would be its birthplace, 1520 Sedgwick Avenue. 520 Sedgwick Avenue is probably one of the most important places of musical history.
It is the very place where one of the most influential music genre and sub-culture had originated. But even if the historical importance of 1520 Sedgwick Avenue is undeniable, was under the threat of being replaced by other infrastructures. Perhaps a look back of how it had become a Mecca for hip-hop would reiterate its importance (Black Dot & Grandmaster Caz 2006). Moreover, as we go further with the discussion, we should notice that the image of hip-hop had been evolving through time.
The image of hip-hop today is unfortunately being attributed to negative stereotypes like street crimes, vandalism, gangs, and much hostility. Perhaps a look back to its origins would clear some of the negativity shrouding the image of hip-hop. And also, if the music and culture of hip-hop is being wide appreciated today, a look at its origins would also be appreciated. What is hip-hop? Before we traverse further with the discussion, perhaps it would be very helpful to first define hip-hop. Hip-hop is generally defined as a genre of music as well as a cultural movement.
It is even described as a way of life for some people. Its development is much attributed to New York City which was lead by African Americans and Latin Americans. During the foundation years of hip-hop, the African Americans and Latin Americans had just recently arrived at America (thenext. org) A common assumed reason for the establishment of hip-hop is that it is a product of the cultural development of the new settlers. (Chang & Herc 2005) The specific locations where it flourished were in the Bronx and Harlem (thenext. org).
There are four historic elements of hip-hop, from which it owes its development. These historic elements became the basis for hip-hop, they are: DJing, emceeing, the visual art of graffiti, and b-boying that is much commonly known as break dancing. There are new elements of hip-hop today which are offshoots of the historic ones. They are the hip-hop language or slang, battle rapping and dancing, beatboxing, among many others. During its early development in the 70’s, the hip-hop sound evolved from the rhythmic beats produced by the DJ technique called “scratching.
What the DJ’s of that time did was to scratch a record in one record player while looping another sound or the “break” from another record player simultaneously. And the person we are focusing at, DJ Kool Herc, had pioneered that DJ technique. He is a musical innovator and pioneer DJ that had ignited the evolution of hip-hop from being an underground genre from the streets of New York to being a worldwide mainstream phenomenon. DJ Kool Herc Clive Campbell who is more commonly known as DJ Kool Herc is the recognized originator of hip-hop.
He was born at Kingston, Jamaica on April 16, 1955—he was really meant to be “king” indeed. When he was still young, he had a chance to watch and hear DJ’s in action. There were sort of neighborhood parties theat they call “dancehalls” and the DJ’s would turn up the music and at the same time accompanying it with speeches. Music accompanied with the speech of the DJ is a DJing technique called “toasting. ” What the young Campbell had witnessed there would be an everlasting inspiration and influence for him. Its influence on him would manifest as he develops an eager interest in music.
When he turned 13, he had to migrate to America and he had settled in the Bronx, New York. His family had to face many challenges in their new settlement. When the construction of the “Cross Bronx Expressway” was started, many families were forced to move out and the placement of communities had to bear with the radical change. DJ Kool Herc’s family was one of the families that were forced to find new settlement. Fortunately, they had managed to find a place to stay also in the Bronx. But their new location would give them another challenge which is to deal with the violence perpetuated by street gangs.
DJ Kool Herc is a tall and a well-built man even since he was young. When he was in high-school, he would often spend his extra time in the weights room. That is how he got the name DJ Kool Herc, because his height and built was associated with the mythological hero “Hercules. ” As a young person, he already had a deepening interest in music. He had said himself that he would ask his father to buy him records that were popular during those times. One of the artists that he was listening to was the legend James Brown (King 1970)
When was just starting as a DJ, his first equipment was only a guitar amplifier and two basic turn tables. In that humble equipment, he would play the records of popular artists of that time like James Brown and Booker T and the MG’s. Although, he was the originator of hip-hop and was a very talented DJ, he did not pursue a career in the commercial music world. There are certain reasons why he did not pursue a career in the commercial music. One reason for that is because the technology of early record labels of those times was not yet able to accommodate a DJ in their recording studios.
And because of the underdeveloped technology, the early hip-hop recording labels would just settle with recording rappers with a live band playing on the background. Another reason could be well blamed to fate itself. There was a series of unfortunate events that had prevented him to pursue a career in the commercial music business. First is that while he was on a gig, he had intercede a fight, as a consequence he got stabbed (thenext. org). So he had to take a forced vacation from the music scene which had stuttered his momentum as a hip-hop artist.
Some people had also associated the fight with the performance s of DJ Kool Herc. Second is that a regular venue where DJ Kool Herc performs got burned down. (Chang & Herc 2005) Unfortunately, the originator of hip-hop had to settle with a humble job in a record shop in the Bronx. (Chang & Herc 2005) The historic events in 1520 Sedgwick Ave. 1520 Sedgwick Avenue is what many consider, music enthusiast and historians alike, as the official birthplace of hip-hop. DJ Kool Herc and his sister Cindy were generous to their neighborhood as they would host neighborhood parties in the recreation area of 1520 Sedgwick Ave.
During the these neighborhood parties, DJ Kool Herc would be the DJ. That just means that he was in control of all the music that would be played in the parties. Since he was the DJ, DJ Kool Herc has the privilege to experiment with different sounds. And is just fortunate that the people in the parties appreciated the sounds of DJ Kool Herc, or the appreciation is just a testament of his talent as a musician. DJ Kool Herc would be made famous by the Djing technique that he had developed in 1520 Sedgwick Avenue. With the use of his humble DJ equipment, he would play two copies of the same record simultaneously.
While playing both records, DJ Kool Herc would focus on a fragment of the song, or in DJ terms, the “break. ” During the neighborhood parties, DJ Kool Herc had noticed that the dancers, more specifically the b-boys or break dancers, liked the break part more—thus the name break dancing. He had also noticed that even the non-dancing part of the audience also liked the break parts of the song. What DJ Kool Herc had done is focused on the break parts to please his audience. He would make the break part surface by isolating and even prolonging its playing time.
This DJ technique is definitely harder than it sounds. What DJ Kool Herc would do is he would anticipate the end of one break of one record then cue the second record. This technique involves real time multi-tasking while performing in front of a live audience. This had enabled him to prolong a part of the song that he or the audience wants. In his own words, he described this DJing technique as the “five-minute loop of fury” (Hebdige 1987) That had worked well for that particular audience as it had paved the way for more dancing time in those kinds of parties.
This particular aspect of DJ Kool Herc is the very reason why many dancers prefer his music. The numbers of dancers were growing exponentially during the neighborhood parties at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue. DJ Kool Herc addressed the dancers as the b-boys and he had called their style of dancing as “breaking. ” This was inline with DJ Kool Herc beats that are full of “breaks. ” And during that time, the term breaking was also used as a street slang to describe an energetic or excited person. That is how DJ Kool Herc had paved way for break dancing and how the popular style of dancing can find its roots to 1520 Segdwick Ave.
Moreover, the kind of music that DJ Kool Herc had played was all about having fun—a theme that is much needed in a relatively depressed area like the Bronx. To please his audience, he would end the party with a bold and intense switching from break to another break and yet to another during the climatic point of the party. He would call the style of how he ends the party as “the merry-go-round” (Chang & Herc 2005) DJ Kool Herc said himself that it was the year of 1972 when he first started to incorporate “the merry-go-round” in his DJing sets during parties.
The first records that he used for merry-go-rounds would be that of James Brown, The Incredible Bongo Band, and the rock band from England, Babe Ruth (Hermes 2006) Since 1520 Sedgwick Ave. was the birthplace of hip-hop, and DJ Kool Herc, was the main voice of the neighborhood parties, he had also contributed significantly to the slang language that is much associated with hip-hop. During the parties he would occasionally punctuate the music that is being played with phrases in slang like “This is the joint! ”, “To the beat y’all! ”, “b-boys are you ready? ”, “you do not stop! Of course, his Jamaican influenced accent made those slang phrases sound cooler.
During the 1970’s, the Bronx was infamous for the terror and violence perpetuated by street gangs. But when the neighborhood parties in 1520 Sedgwick Ave. had become popular, the rate of violence by street gangs had gradually diminished. An explanation for this is because the people there had found something better to keep them busy. The music of early hip-hop had truly made such a significant effect on the early Bronx community. All of those significant events in music history all happened inside the humble building of 1520 Sedgwick Ave.
In July 2007, in recognition of his works, DJ Kool Herc was honored by congressman Serrano in the congressional record. In the same year, 1520 Sedgwick Ave. was also formally declared to be eligible to be included in the lists of both state and federal landmarks. The recognition is just justifiable as it is after all the birthplace of a uniquely American genre of music that is being embraced by people worldwide. 1520 Sedgwick Ave. today In 2007, 1520 Sedgwick Ave. —the birthplace of hip-hop was under the threat of being sold to private investors who seems to have no intentions of preserving the historic value of the place.
The proposed plan for 1520 Sedgwick Ave. was to convert it into a housing building with market competitive rates. The conversion would simply mean that the prices that the settlers would have to pay would be augmented significantly. The high rates would contradict the original purpose of 1520 Sedgwick Ave. as a government program to provide decent and affordable housing for the people of New York. An important aspect to consider in this issue is that the families that are currently residing in 1520 Sedgwick Ave. are humble and common people just like DJ Kool Herc.
They would find it difficult to keep up with the high rates of housing. It is important to consider that the settlers there are the ones that had preserved the place. Furthermore, their families are also the ones who participated actively during the early developments of hip-hop. The plan involves to the removal of 1520 Sedgwick Ave. from the government’s affordability program. The families that are residing in 1520 Sedgwick Ave. are currently being pushed out of the place they and hip-hop had called home.
Unfortunately, the only realistic way for the families to counter the plan of the owner of 1520 Sedgwick Ave. s to make the bid themselves. It is important to consider that these families are medium income families and they will be bidding against large companies and rich investors. DJ Kool Herc and tenants for 1520 Sedgwick Ave. US senator Charles Schumer and the tenants had strongly disagreed with the proposal. But perhaps the most active figure in the fight for 1520 Sedgwick Ave is the originator of hip-hop DJ Kool Herc.
In DJ Kool Herc’s own words he described the current situation of “this is where it all started and now it’s a sad story” He added that “it’s not just about 1520 Sedgwick Ave. ts all about affordable housing… every family needs a piece of the American dream” (Lee 2008) DJ Kool Herc’s expresses the breadth and depth of the situation or 1520 Sedgwick Ave. The issue had transcended beyond the preservation of a historic place to the well-being of many families. The tenants alongside with US senator Charles Schumer and DJ Kool Herc are fighting a war which they cannot seemingly win. In one special press conference that they had conducted they had unveiled the bold plan to purchase the place themselves.
Since they had voiced out their plan to save 1520 Sedgwick Avenue from being desecrated, many had joined them in their cause. Other hip-hop artists and people who had been influenced by hip-hop had actively participated in preserving the birthplace of their beloved music genre and culture. Through the efforts of the group that was being lead by DJ Kool Herc, though they were not able to raise a large amount, the city of New York had rejected the selling of 1520 Sedgwick Ave. This move of the city administration is described as unusual as they do not typically reject such a large offer like the price given by the highest bidder.
Conclusion The name of DJ Kool Herc is just aptly given to him. He is really a hero with a genuine love for the community and its history. He did not only originate hip-hop, but also managed to save an essential aspect of its heritage. It is just right that the building where hip-hop originated was not sold. It is important to remember that the place is not only a historic place for the music genre that has been embrace worldwide. 1520 Sedgwick Ave. is also home to many families. And just like DJ Kool Herc’s vision of hip-hop, 1520 Sedgwick Ave. should remain a place that is for the people.
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Topic: Origin of Hip-hop
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