On August 11, 1973, DJ Kool Herc, born Clive Campbell, threw the famous “back to school jam” block party on 1520 Sedgwick Ave. The Jamaican-American DJ was instrumental in the creation of hip-hop. However, it was actually Herc’s sister, Cindy Campbell, who had decided to throw the party. Initially, the goal was to raise funds to purchase new clothes for the upcoming school year. Even ahead of frat party antics, the entry charge was 50 cents for boys and a quarter for girls. Over 300 people would show up at Sedgwick Avenue. DJ Kool Herc would become a local celebrity overnight. Suddenly, the 18-year-old was viewed in a starkly different light throughout the Bronx borough.
However, DJ Kool’s life didn’t start in the bustling streets of the Bronx. Instead, he was the first-born son of Keith and Nettie Campbell in Kingston, Jamaica. At the time, the area was a melting pot of dance halls and DJs, a culture that rubbed off on him as a kid. Music was also being played throughout the household. He told RockTheBells, “In Jamaica, my father let me know about Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, and Bing Crosby. He could sing the entire White Christmas album word for word.” Growing up in a musically inclined family and environment, he would bring that influence when the Campbell family emigrated to New York in 1967.
DJ Kool Herc Influenced Other MCs
A few years later, a teenage Clive Campbell was blasting James Brown’s “Sex Machine” while curating graffiti in the streets of The Bronx. A creative outcast, he joined the Ex-Vandals, a graffiti crew he ran with while riding his bike around town. Soon after that, he began to express his creative interests in a manner beyond the visual world. Blending the influences of The Bronx, Kingston, and his family, he began to build up his resume in the New York borough gradually. With sister Cindy acting as the marketer for the parties, it wouldn’t take long for DJ Kool Herc to begin garnering a sizeable audience. He told NPR, “I never gave a party to buy clothes, or buy some jewelry. I gave a party because people asked me to.”
As DJ Kool Herc continued to host block parties, he discovered his own sound around “the break” in the process. Without the luxury of headphones, he was highly observant of how his crowd would react to the music. A self-described servant of the audience, he curated the “Merry-Go-Round,” where the beat break was looped in a manner that became associated with the inklings of hip-hop. The earliest version of this was with “Bongo Rock” by The Incredible Bongo Band, with the looping record going on to be sampled by Nas on 2004’s “Thief’s Theme.” By the mid-1970s, DJ Kool Herc was a local legend, influencing the hip-hop careers of the likes of Grandmaster Flash, Sylvia Robinson, and Jam Master Jay. In essence, he dominated the early hip-hop scene in the 1970s.
He Still DJs Across The US And Europe
To this day, DJ Kool Herc travels worldwide hosting DJ sets. In fact, he’s better known in Europe in this day and age than he is in the United States. He would never go on to create his own hip-hop record, which he doesn’t regret. Regarding the sentiment that he founded hip-hop with NPR, he boldly exclaimed, “Nobody can take that from me.” By the late 1970s, DJ Kool had purposefully retreated from the music industry. Watching many of his contemporaries succeed, he consciously decided to withdraw. This occurred after being stabbed at the Executive Playhouse while trying to stop a fight. By 1980, he was working at a record store in the South Bronx.
Herc has also been through a fair bit of trials throughout his life. In the mid-1980s, his father passed away. The trauma of the experience took a severe toll on him, and Herc admitted he became addicted to cocaine at the time. However, he would eventually return to the DJ’ing world. In addition, he’s working on an ongoing campaign to prevent Sedgwick Avenue from being converted. Officials want It to become a business building from affordable housing. The location was later deemed “the birthplace of hip-hop.” Thankfully, the iconic site hasn’t been under threat since deemed so by New York state officials. In addition, DJ Kool Herc has expressed aspirations surrounding building a museum commemorating hip-hop within Jamaica. In essence, his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is well deserved.