PARTY OVER HERE: AN ORAL HISTORY OF KOOL HERC’S HISTORIC BACK-TO-SCHOOL JAM
On August 11, 1973, forty-four years ago today, a 16-year-old Jamaican immigrant changed pop music forever. In the rec room in an unassuming middle-class apartment building at 1520 Sedgewick Avenue, Clive Campbell, later known as Kool Herc, invented hip hop at his little sister Cindy’s “back to school jam.” The young DJ, the eldest of six kids, had been refining a new technique in his second-floor bedroom. Herc’s sonic secret was ignoring the majority of the record and playing the frantic grooves at the beginning and/or in the middle of the record. Herc referred to this as, “the get down part,” because this section of the song was when the dancers got excited.
Utilizing two turntables and a mixer, Herc used two copies of the same record (removing the labels so others couldn’t “bite”) to isolate and extend the percussion and bass of a song. This became known as “the break.” However, it wasn’t until spinning at his sister’s recreation room party that he previewed it for an audience.
“It was only twenty-five cents for girls and fifty-cents for the guys,” Cindy Campbell recalls. “I wrote out the invites on index cards, so all Herc had to do was show up. With the party set from 9 pm to 4 am, our mom severed snacks and dad picked-up the sodas and beer from a local beverage warehouse.” Herc has brought new records from a shop called Sounds and Things and practiced for most of the week, the music blasting from his father’s Shure speakers.
What Kool Herc created in that recreation room on Sedgwick Avenue might seem uncomplicated in retrospect, but in 1973, it was revolutionary. And we’re still feeling the vibrations 44 years later. “Once they heard that, there was no turning back,” Herc told me in 1998. “They always wanted to hear breaks after breaks after breaks.” Forty-four years after that first party, a few (mostly) Bronx folks, pioneers in their own right, shared their Herc stories.
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