Jamaican-born DJ Clive Campbell, a.k.a. DJ Kool Herc, is considered the father of hip-hop music. His technique of isolating the instrumental part of a record, emphasizing the drum beat (or “break”) while simultaneously switching from one break to another, became legendary. He used the two-turntable setup and played two of the same records at the same time.
The oldest of six children, he and his family moved to Sedgewick Homes in Bronx, NY in 1967. Looking to belong, he joined a graffiti crew called the Ex-Vandals. Standing tall with his skills on the basketball court, his friends nicknamed him Hercules, giving birth to his DJ alias of DJ Kool Herc. Experimenting with music of the 1960’s, Herc’s first purchased album was James’ Brown’s “Sex Machine,” which he used to make beats at highly anticipated back-to-school parties. On the turntables, Kool Herc developed the techniques of the “Merry-Go Round” and “Five Minute Loop of Fury,” skills that DJs use today.
Herc stressed the use of hard funk, rock and Latin percussion to bring the break-beat sound of hip-hop to life. His break-beat technique was used to introduce his fans and dancers, which he called “b-boys and b-girls.” The dance style would thus transform into breakdancing. Herc’s shout-outs to the b-boys and b-girls – like “You don’t stop” or “To the beat, y’all” – have remained classic in hip-hop today. It’s partially due to Herc’s persistence and love of music that hip-hop is now recognized at the Smithsonian Institute.
After retiring as a live DJ, Kool Herc fell into crack addiction after his father died. He was also discouraged after being stabbed in a local club trying to stop a fight. But despite his troubles, he came back in 1984 to star as himself in the hit movie, “Beat Street.” Now, his former neighborhood of Sedgwick Avenue is up for national registry as the birthplace of hip-hop.