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Kool Herc (1955 - )

Related: breaks - Early hip hop - Jamaica - sound system - proto-disco

Unidentified photograph of Kool Herc

A Profile

Kool DJ Herc, the godfather of hip-hop, was born in Jamaica in 1955. He moved to the Bronx in 1967, at the age of twelve. With his unique playlist of R&B, soul, funk, and obscure disco, Herc quickly became the catalyst of the hip-hop way of life. The kids from the Bronx and Harlem loved his ghetto style, which gave birth to the concept of the B-Boy. The B-Boy -- or beat boy, break boy, Bronx boy -- loved the breaks of Kool Herc, and as a result soon created break dancing. These were the people of the hip-hop culture. While Pete DJ Jones was #1 for the black disco crowd in NYC, Herc and the B-Boys were the essence of the hip-hop movement, because of they lived the lifestyle. The way they danced, dressed, walked, and talked was unique, as opposed to most of the disco artists and fans of the time, who were not as in touch with the urban streets of America.
Brian Chin for http://rhino.com/Features/liners/72851lin.html

Kool DJ Herc (born Clive Campbell on April 16, 1955) is a Jamaican American musician and producer, generally credited as a pioneer of hip hop during the 1970s. He was the originator of break-beat deejaying, wherein the breaks of funk songs--being the most danceable part, often featuring percussion--were isolated and repeated for the purpose of all-night dance parties (AMG). Later DJs such as Grandmaster Flash refined and developed the use of breakbeats, including cutting. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DJ_Kool_Herc [Jan 2005]

Sound systems

As Steve Barrow (author of The Rough Guide to Reggae/Blood and Fire Records) writes in the sleevenotes, Jamaican deejay music is the source for all Rap music: From Count Machuki talking over records on Sir Coxsone's legendary Downbeat Sound System this style would eventually travel to America when the Jamaican-born Kool Herc began playing at Block parties (a version of the Kingston Soundsystem parties) in the Bronx. Cutting up rare-groove classics for the first B-Boys to rap over, Hip-Hop was born and the DJ music that had started on the early Soundsystems of Kingston would go on to conquer the world! [...]

Extend the break

By most accounts Herc was the first DJ to buy two copies of the same record for just a 15-second break (rhythmic instrumental segment) in the middle. By mixing back and forth between the two copies he was able to double, triple, or indefinitely extend the break. In so doing, Herc effectively deconstructed and reconstructed so-called found sound, using the turntable as a musical instrument, making music with music.


When he performed to Breaks at crowded venues, such as the Hervalo in the Bronx, he would shout loudly 'B-Boys go down!' and this was the cue for dancers to cut and jump their gymnastics. Even today nobody is quite clear what Kool Herc meant by his phrase. Some suggest B-Boys stands for 'Boogie Boy' while others insist it means 'Break Boy'. The later has become the favored choice. But who were the original B-Boys and where had they learned their skillz? Again the answer is fairly straight-forward. They had simply adapted what they had been doing on the ghetto streets. [...]


... the whole chemistry of that came from Jamaica ... I was born in Jamaica and I was listening to American music in Jamaica ... My favorite artist was James Brown. That's who inspired me ... When I came over here I just put it in the American style and a perspective for them to dance to it. In Jamaica all you needed was a drum and bass. So what I did here was go right to the 'yoke'. I cut off all anticipation and played the beats. I'd find out where the break in the record was at and prolong it and people would love it. So I was giving them their own taste and beat percussion-wise ... cause my music is all about heavy bass ... --Kool Herc

Rap Music

Modern day rap music finds its immediate roots in the toasting and dub talk over elements of reggae music. In the 1967, a Jamaican dj known as Kool Herc moved from Kingston to NY's West Bronx. Here, he attempted to incorporate his Jamaican style of dj which involved reciting improvised rhymes over the dub versions of his reggae records. Unfortunately, New Yorkers weren't into reggae at the time. Thus Kool Herc adapted his style by chanting over the instrumental or percussion sections of the day's popular songs. Because these breaks were relatively short, he learned to extend them indefinitely by using an audio mixer and two identical records in which he continuously replaced the desired segment.


In those early days, young party goers initially recited popular phrases and used the slang of the day. For example, it was fashionable for dj to acknowledge people who were in attendance at a party. These early raps featured someone such as Herc shouting over the instrumental break; 'Yo this is Kool Herc in the joint-ski saying my mellow-ski Marky D is in the house'. This would usually evoke a response from the crowd, who began to call out their own names and slogans.

As this phenomenon evolved, the party shouts became more elaborate as dj in an effort to be different, began to incorporate little rhymes-'Davey D is in the house/An he'll turn it out without a doubt.' It wasn't long before people began drawing upon outdated dozens and school yard rhymes. Many would add a little twist and customize these rhymes to make them suitable for the party environment. At that time rap was not yet known as 'rap' but called 'emceeing'. With regards to Kool Herc, as he progressed, he eventually turned his attention to the complexities of dj-ing and let two friends Coke La Rock and Clark Kent (not Dana Dane's dj) handle the microphone duties. This was rap music first emcee team. They became known as Kool Herc and the Herculoids.


Unsurprisingly, many have laid claims to roles as kings or kingmakers of the hip hop tradition. Most students, however, find one name cropping up time and again. To all intents and purposes, hip hop started the day Jamaican-born Clive Campbell, aka Kool Herc, first set foot in New York in 1967. 'At the age of thirteen I migrated to the States, early '67, to the Bronx. It was winter, it was cold.'

By 1969, Herc was partying regularly at local clubs, but noticed that the crowds he joined frequently object to the city's distant, cocksure DJs. 'I used to hear the gripes from the audience on the dancefloor. Even myself, 'cause I used to be a breaker (breakdancer). Why didn't the guy let the record play out? Or why cut it off there? So with that, me gathering all this information around me, I say: "I think I could do that". So I started playing from a dancefloor perspective. I always kept up the attitude that I'm not playing it for myself, I'm playing for the people out there.'

Kool Herc DJs needed to establish an identity or niche in this highly competitive market. Herc was determined to find records that no one else owned, to distinguish himself from the pack. As an example, he pressed his father into buying James Brown's Sex Machine LP in 1969. 'A lot of people wanted that record and couldn't really find it. So a lot of people used to come to the party to hear that.' Herc did his research, checking out what was being played on local jukeboxes to test a song's popularity and picking up rarities at Downstairs Records on 42nd Street and the Rhythm Den. 'This is where your recognition, your rep comes from. You have a record nobody else got, or you're the first one to have it. You've got to be the first, can't be the second.'

While violence has become rap's defining characteristic in the 90s, hip hop actually started out as a means of ending black-on-black fighting two decades earlier. the Bronx citizen of the early 70s had much to live in fear of. 'The gangs came and terrorised the whole neighbourhood, the boroughs. Everybody just ran back into their house. There was no more clubs. If you did do a house party, it had to be: "I have to know you. Don't bring nobody who I don't know to my house."

It lasted for a while until the parents started to come in early, and find a house full of kids, tearing up the new furniture that she just put some money down on. The kids were still seeking for a place to release this energy.' Herc's sister asked him to help out by playing music in the recreation room of his family's housing block, 1520 Sedgewick Towers. 'OK, I throw my hand at it, and she rented the recreation room, I think for twenty-five dollars at the time. We could charge it at twenty-five cents for girls, fifty cents for fellas. It was like, "Kool Herc, man. He's giving a party, westside man. Just be cool, that's what I'm saying, come and have a good time. Just don't ditch the programme."

Dodge High School, before it became co-educational, was an all girls establishment. Not least for that reason, it became, by reputation, the top venue for aspiring DJs, as Melle Mel recalls. ' If you got to do Dodge High School, you was the fuckin' man. And Herc used to do it every year...' Searching for further innovations for his sets, Herc patented the breakbeat, the climatic instrumental section of a record, partly trough his existing knowledge of the dub plates or 'versions' prevalent in Jamaican reggae. ' I was using some of the breakdown parts.

Every Jamaican record has a dub side to it. So I just tried to apply that. As the years went along I'm watchin people, waiting for this particular break in it, the rhythm section. One night, I was waiting for the record to play out. Maybe there are dancers waiting for this particular break. I could have a couple more records got the same break in it - I wonder, how it be if I put them all together and I told them: "I'm going to try something new tonight. I'm going to call it a merry-go-round." The B-Boys, as I call it, the energetic person, they're waiting just to release this energy when this break comes in.' Herc saw a ready-made audience for his 'breakdowns'.

The merry-go-round involved him mixing sections of James Brown's 'Give It Up Or Turn It Loose' into Michael Viner's 'Bongo Rock' and back out into Babe Ruth's 'The Mexican'. His audiences loved it. The merry-go-round became the blueprint for hip hop... The first to react to the , naturally enough, were Herc's party-goers. Breakdancers, or B-Boys, began to interpret Herc's idiosyncratic style with routines of their own. Some historians trace the development of Breakdancing to the African martial arts form, capoeta, brought to America by slaves a century before.

No one is entirely sure of the identity of the first New York breakdancer, but it was certainly popularised by members of the Zulu Nation. The discipline of Breakdancing / B-Boying was one of four seperate styles that eventually converged through the late 70s. Up-rocking was a kind of non-contact mock martial art first seen in Brooklyn. Plus there were two imported West Coast styles - Pop-locking (a mixture of strutting, robotics and moonwalking) and Body-popping (developed on the West Coast by Boogaloo Sam).

Alex Ogg & David Upshal, 1999
Copyright Channel 4 Books

Sty on 22:49:14 9/15/1999 from

Yo I just got back from this CMJ convention party (one of the many) at CBGB's , legendary hip-hop DJ Kool Herc was playing. He was going through the motions, mainly because his mixer had no cue on it (the venue provided it) so I was moving around a little, getting my drink on from the open bar, and all of a sudden he threw on 'That's the way love...' from Ten City!! man was I moving! He followed it up with a quick house set, (hot music, push the feeling on, etc..) but it was fresh and I just wanted to let everyone know I heard some house out there tonight. peace to Kool Herc...


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