DJ Kool Herc Reflects On Hip-Hop's 48th Birthday

On hip-hop's 48th birthday, we connected with the culture's founding father DJ Kool Herc, who made history at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue.

BYMitch Findlay
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Today is hip-hop's forty-eighth birthday, and in an appropriate turn, cultural founding father DJ Kool Herc has stepped up to commemorate the occasion. This afternoon at 12 PM PT/3 PM ET, LL COOL J's Rock The Bells IG channel will be hosting "73 To Infinity," featuring a live DJ set from Kool Herc. In an effort to adhere to hip-hop's original mission of community service, Rock The Bells will be teaming up with the New York Edge organization in order to raise resources for students in underserved communities.

A noble goal, and one that stands in line with Kool Herc's intention all those years ago. Consider that hip-hop was originally born as a means of celebration, an outlet for young people to express themselves away from street life. For Herc, who pioneered turntable techniques that ultimately paved the way for sampling, it began by controlling the dance floor. But first, he had to use the resources available to him, expressing his creativity through the manipulation of existing vinyl records in his collection.

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"The musical landscape was like a green pasture with many sounds and styles to choose from and incorporate into creating the musical sound I wanted," he explains. Understanding that many breakdancers tended to come alive during a song's instrumental break, (hence the name), Herc created a technique known as the Merry Go Round which essentially allowed him to combine the breaks of two separate records into one continuous loop. 

"The Merry Go Round was a technique I created from watching the B-Boys and B-Girls waiting for the break beats on the vinyl," he explains. "I decided to put those breakbeats from different songs together on both turntables and extend the breakbeats." Such techniques opened the doors for further innovators like Grandmaster Flash to build on Herc's foundation, and before long, hip-hop had infiltrated the mainstream. 

It's no wonder he holds so many memories close to heart. "There are so many, where do I begin," he reflects. "I think a few that come to mind include hearing the song 'Bongo Rock' played in the White House for President Ronald Reagan Inauguration." For context, "Bongo Rock" by the Incredible Bongo Band was a favorite in Kool Herc's DJ set, and it's said that hip-hop pioneer played a pivotal role in driving the song's popularity. 

LISTEN: The Incredible Bongo Band - Bongo Rock 73 

The list of memories goes on. "Cementing 1520 Sedgwick Avenue as the birthplace of Hip-Hop," he adds, referring to the apartment where he hosted his famous "Back To School Jam" on August 11th, 1973; 25 cent entry for the ladies, 50 cents for the fellas.  "Also, getting to play myself in the movie Beat Street - one of the first Hip-Hop films produced by a major Hollywood studio."

Though it's been nearly fifty years since hip-hop's first birthday, the culture is still going strong, having taken a dominant hold of the mainstream with a vast number of artists vying to capture attention. Though some have criticized today's brand of rap music as a shell of its former self -- be it the golden era of the 90s, the platinum era of the 2000s, or even the quickly-aging era of the 2010s -- Kool Herc remains inspired by the innovations that continue to take place.

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"As a musical person, I love all the new sounds that the artist and producers are constantly coming up with," he shares. "Seeing how they’re continuing to push the culture forward. For me, music is forever changing and change is good. It’s great to see how the different styles and growth between decades open the door for more creatives to get involved and explore. Every artist is trying to outdo each other and it’s incredible. I have not been SHOCKED by modern-day hip-hop yet, and I hope not to get shocked."

Today of all days, it's important to reflect on the significance of hip-hop. Forty-eight years of history, a deep reservoir of knowledge, passion, craftsmanship, and creative expression. Hip-hop truly has changed countless lives, and for his role in founding the culture we all know and love, Kool Herc deserves to be celebrated. Be sure to check out his appearance on LL COOL J's Rock The Bells IG channel this afternoon, and share your favorite hip-hop memories in the comments below.

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About The Author
<b>Feature Editor</b> <!--BR--> Mitch Findlay is a writer and hip-hop journalist based in Montreal. Resident old head by default. Enjoys writing Original Content about music, albums, lyrics, and rap history. His favorite memories include interviewing J.I.D and EarthGang at the "Revenge Of The Dreamers 3" studio sessions in Atlanta and receiving a phone call from Dr. Dre. In his spare time he makes horror movies.