A Jamaican native who moved to New York City’s Bronx borough at the age of 12, Kool Herc is widely credited as the originator of Hip Hop.
Herc (given name Clive Campbell) came to prominence in the early 1970s, when he began throwing dance parties in the rec room at his family’s apartment complex in the South Bronx – at the time a blighted, crime-ridden neighborhood. Noting a spike in crowd energy during the instrumental breaks on the Funk and Soul records he spun, Herc came up with the technique of extending the break by playing two copies of the same record on dual turntables. As one record reached the end of the break, he cued the other record back to the beginning of the break, turning a snippet of a record into an extended loop. He initially called the technique “the Merry-Go-Round,” but it came to be called “breakbeat” deejaying, and its sound would spawn an entirely new culture.
Taking a page from Jamaican toasters, Herc also commandeered the mike to rally dancers with rhymed exhortations (calling dancers “break-boys” and “break girls,” or B-boys and b-girls), laying the groundwork for rapping. Busy at the turntables, he eventually turned the mike over to Coke La Rock, who can lay claim to being the first-ever Hip Hop MC.
Herc’s DJ style was quickly mimicked and popularized by figures such as Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash. Though openly acknowledged as Hip Hop’s founding-father (Grandmaster Flash called him “a hero”), Herc never saw commercial success. Stabbed at one of his own parties, he withdrew from performing, and by the time Rap was rising as a commercial force, he was working in a record store. He has surfaced at various points in the decades since, appearing in a movie and on discs by Terminator X and the Chemical Brothers.