Kool Herc emigrated to the Bronx in 1967 when he was 12 years old. While attending Alfred E. Smith High School he spent a lot of time in the weight room. That fact coupled with his height spurned the other kids to call him Hercules.
His first deejay gig was as his sister's birthday party. It was the start of an industry.
1520 Sedgwick Avenue. The address of Herc's family and the location of the recreation room where he would throw many of his first parties as the DJ.
Herc became aware that although he new which records would keep the crowd moving, he was more interested in the break section of the song. At this point in a song, the vocals would stop and the beat would just ride for short period. His desire to capture this moment for a longer period of time would be a very important one for hip hop.
Herc would purchase two copies of the same record and play them on separate turntables next to each other. He would play the break beat on one record then throw it over to the other turntable and play the same part. Doing this over and over, he could rock any house in NY. (Not to mention it being an early form of looping that would be made easier through electronic sampling.)
He would dig in crates and look everywhere to find the perfect break beat for his parties. He didn't care what type of music, because he only needed a small section of a song for his purposes.
His first professional DJ job was at the Twilight Zone in 1973. He wanted to get into another place called the Hevalo, but wasn't allowed…yet.
His fame grew. In addition to his break beats, Herc also became known as the man with the loudest system around. When he decided to hold a party in one of the parks, it was a crazy event. And a loud one. At this time Afrika Bambaataa and other competing DJ's began trying to take Herc's crown. Jazzy Jay of the Zulu Nation recalls one momentous meeting between Herc and Bam.
Herc was late setting up and Bam continued to play longer than he should have. Once Herc was set up he got on the microphone and said "Bambaataa, could you please turn your system down?" Bam's crew was pumped and told Bam not to do it. So Herc said louder, "Yo, Bambaataa, turn your system down-down-down." Bam's crew started cursing Herc until Herc put the full weight of his system up and said, "Bambaataa-baataa -baataa, TURN YOUR SYSTEM DOWN!" And you couldn't even hear Bam's set at all. The Zulu crew tried to turn up the juice but it was no use. Everybody just looked at them like, "You should've listened to Kool Herc."
Finally his fame peaked and at last, in 1975, he began working at the Hevalo in the Bronx. He helped coin the phrase b-boy (break boy) and was recently quoted as saying he was "the oldest living b-boy."
As competing DJ's looked to cut in on the action, Herc would soak the labels off his records so no one could steal his beats.
Grandmaster Flash had another story about Herc in his heyday
Flash would go into the Hevalo to check out Herc, but Herc would always embarrass him. He would call Flash out on the mike and then cut out all the highs and lows on the system and just play the midrange. Herc would say, "Flash in order to be a qualified disc jockey…you must have highs." Then he would crank up the highs and they would sizzle through the crowd. Then he would say, "And most of all, Flash, you must have…bass." And when Herc's bass came in the whole place would be shaking. Flash would get so embarrassed he would leave.
After a while spinning the records got to be an all intensive thing and Herc wouldn't have as much time to talk to the crowd and get them going. He needed someone else to help out and act as the Master of Ceremonies for him. And thus, for all practical purposes, Coke La Rock became the first hip hop MC ever.
Another club that Herc rocked was the Sparkle located at 174th and Jerome Avenue in the Bronx. This was the spot that came before the Hilltop, 371 (DJ Hollywood's spot) and Disco Fever.
In 1977, Herc's career began to fall. The rise of Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five, and Bambaataa's various crews with their polished emcee styles put Herc at a disadvantage. One night he was stabbed three times at his own party and his career never fully recovered.
He appeared as himself in the film Beat Street.
Kool Herc played his last Old School party in 1984.
Most recently he has appeared on Terminator X's release "The Godfathers of Threat" and with the Chemical Brothers on their album "Dig Your Own Hole."
Similar to Bambaataa he does appear in Europe and New York from time to time.
Although he is not part of the hip hop vocabulary of most of those who listen to it these days (unfortunately), Kool Herc is the father of this underground sound from New York that found its way to becoming a worldwide phenomenon.
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