DJ Kool Herc

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DJ Kool Herc
DJ Kool Herc in New York, 2006
DJ Kool Herc in New York, 2006
Background information
Birth nameClive Campbell
Also known as
  • Kool DJ Herc
  • Kool Herc
  • Father of Hip-Hop
Born (1955-04-16) April 16, 1955 (age 69)[1][2][3]
Kingston, Jamaica
OriginThe Bronx, New York City, U.S.
GenresHip hop
Years active1973–present[4]

Clive Campbell (born April 16, 1955), better known by his stage name DJ Kool Herc, is a Jamaican American DJ who is credited with being one of the founders of hip hop music in the Bronx, New York City, in 1973. Nicknamed the Father of Hip-Hop, Campbell began playing hard funk records of the sort typified by James Brown. Campbell began to isolate the instrumental portion of the record which emphasized the drum beat—the "break"—and switch from one break to another. Using the same two-turntable set-up of disco DJs, he used two copies of the same record to elongate the break. This breakbeat DJing, using funky drum solos, formed the basis of hip hop music. Campbell's announcements and exhortations to dancers helped lead to the syncopated, rhythmically spoken accompaniment now known as rapping.

He called the dancers "break-boys" and "break-girls", or simply b-boys and b-girls, terms that continue to be used fifty years later in the sport of breaking. Campbell's DJ style was quickly taken up by figures such as Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash. Unlike them, he never made the move into commercially recorded hip hop in its earliest years. On November 3, 2023, Campbell was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the Musical Influence Award category.[5]


Early life and education[edit]

The front of 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, where Campbell lived with his family and threw his first parties

Clive Campbell was the first of six children born to Keith and Nettie Campbell in Kingston, Jamaica. While growing up, he saw and heard the sound systems of neighborhood parties called dance halls, and the accompanying speech of their DJs, known as toasting. He emigrated with his family at the age of 12 to The Bronx, New York City in November 1967,[6] where they lived at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue.

Campbell attended the Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education High School in the Bronx, where his height, frame, and demeanor on the basketball court prompted the other kids to nickname him "Hercules".[7] After being involved in a physical altercation with school bullies, the Five Percenters came to Herc's aid, befriended him and as Herc put it, helped "Americanize" him with an education in New York City street culture.[8] He began running with a graffiti crew called the Ex-Vandals, taking the name Kool Herc.[9] Herc recalls persuading his father to buy him a copy of "Sex Machine" by James Brown, a record that not a lot of his friends had, and which they would come to him to hear.[10] He used the recreation room of their building, 1520 Sedgwick Avenue.[11]

Herc's first sound system consisted of two turntables connected to two amplifiers and a Shure "Vocal Master" PA system with two speaker columns, on which he played records such as James Brown's "Give It Up or Turnit a Loose", Jimmy Castor's "It's Just Begun" and Booker T. & the M.G.'s' "Melting Pot".[9] With Bronx clubs struggling with street gangs, uptown DJs catering to an older disco crowd with different aspirations, and commercial radio also catering to a demographic distinct from teenagers in the Bronx, Herc's parties, organized and promoted by his sister Cindy, had a ready-made audience.[9][12][13]

The "break"[edit]

DJ Kool Herc developed the style that was used as one of the additions to the blueprints for hip hop music. Herc used the record to focus on a short, heavily percussive part in it: the "break". Since this part of the record was the one the dancers liked best, Herc isolated the break and prolonged it by changing between two record players. As one record reached the end of the break, he cued a second record back to the beginning of the break, which allowed him to extend a relatively short section of music into a "five-minute loop of fury".[14] This innovation had its roots in what Herc called "The Merry-Go-Round", a technique by which the deejay switched from break to break at the height of the party. This technique is specifically called "The Merry-Go-Round" because according to Herc, it takes one "back and forth with no slack."[15]

Herc stated that he first introduced the Merry-Go-Round into his sets in 1973.[16] The earliest known Merry-Go-Round involved playing James Brown's "Give It Up or Turnit a Loose" (with its refrain, "Now clap your hands! Stomp your feet!"), then switching from that record's break into the break from a second record, "Bongo Rock" by The Incredible Bongo Band. From the "Bongo Rock"'s break, Herc used a third record to switch to the break on "The Mexican" by the English rock band Babe Ruth.[17]

Kool Herc also contributed to developing the rhyming style of hip hop by punctuating the recorded music with slang phrases, announcing: "Rock on, my mellow!" "B-boys, b-girls, are you ready? keep on rock steady" "This is the joint! Herc beat on the point" "To the beat, y'all!" "You don't stop!"[18][19] For his contributions, Time nicknamed Herc the "Founding Father of Hip Hop",[20][21] called him "nascent cultural hero",[22] and an integral part of the beginnings of hip hop.[23][24]

On August 11, 1973, DJ Kool Herc was a disc jockey and emcee at a party hosted by himself and his younger sister Cindy at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue.[25] She wanted to earn extra cash for back-to-school clothes, so she decided to throw a party where her older brother, then just 18 years old, would play music for the neighborhood in their apartment building. She promoted the event with flyers and organized the party.[26] She also styled her brother's clothes for the party.[27]

Specifically, DJ Kool Herc:

extended an instrumental beat (breaking or scratching) to let people dance longer (break dancing) and began MC'ing (rapping) during the extended breakdancing. ... [This] helped lay the foundation for a cultural revolution.

Herc in 1999 holding James Brown's Sex Machine album

According to music journalist Steven Ivory, in 1973, Herc placed on the turntables two copies of Brown's 1970 Sex Machine album and ran "an extended cut 'n' mix of the percussion breakdown" from "Give It Up or Turnit a Loose", signaling the birth of hip hop.[28]

B-boys and b-girls[edit]

The "b-boys" and "b-girls" were the dancers to Herc's breaks, who were described as "breaking". Herc has noted that "breaking" was also street slang of the time meaning "getting excited", "acting energetically", or "causing a disturbance".[29] Herc coined the terms "b-boy", "b-girl", and "breaking" which became part of the lexicon of what would be eventually called hip hop culture. Early Kool Herc b-boy and later DJ innovator Grandmixer DXT describes the early evolution as follows:

... [E]verybody would form a circle and the B-boys would go into the center. At first the dance was simple: touch your toes, hop, kick out your leg. Then some guy went down, spun around on all fours. Everybody said wow and went home to try to come up with something better.[18]

In the early 1980s, the media began to call this style "breakdance", which in 1991 The New York Times wrote was "an art as demanding and inventive as mainstream dance forms like ballet and jazz."[30] Since this emerging culture was still without a name, participants often identified as "b-boys", a usage that included and went beyond the specific connection to dance, a usage that would persist in hip hop culture.[31]

Move to the streets[edit]

With the mystique of his graffiti name, his physical stature, and the reputation of his small parties, Herc became a folk hero in the Bronx. He began to play at nearby clubs including the Hevalo (now Salvation Baptist Church),[32] Twilight Zone,[11] Executive Playhouse, the PAL on 183rd Street,[9] as well as at high schools such as Dodge and Taft.[33] Rapping duties were delegated to Coke La Rock[34] and Theodore Puccio.[35] Herc's collective, known as The Herculoids, was augmented by Clark Kent and dancers The Nigga Twins.[9] Herc took his soundsystem (the herculords) —still legendary for its sheer volume[36]—to the streets and parks of the Bronx. Nelson George recalls a schoolyard party:

The sun hadn't gone down yet, and kids were just hanging out, waiting for something to happen. Van pulls up, a bunch of guys come out with a table, crates of records. They unscrew the base of the light pole, take their equipment, attach it to that, get the electricity – Boom! We got a concert right here in the schoolyard and it's this guy Kool Herc. And he's just standing with the turntable, and the guys were studying his hands. There are people dancing, but there's as many people standing, just watching what he's doing. That was my first introduction to in-the-street, hip hop DJing.[37]

Influence on artists[edit]

In 1975, the young Grandmaster Flash, to whom Kool Herc was, in his words, "a hero", began DJing in Herc's style. By 1976, Flash and his MCs The Furious Five played to a packed Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan. Venue owners were often nervous of unruly young crowds, however, and soon sent hip hop back to the clubs, community centres and high school gymnasiums of the Bronx.[38]

Afrika Bambaataa first heard Kool Herc in 1973. Bambaataa, at that time a general in the notorious Black Spades gang of the Bronx, obtained his own soundsystem in 1975 and began to DJ in Herc's style, converting his followers to the non-violent Zulu Nation in the process. Kool Herc began using The Incredible Bongo Band's "Apache" as a break in 1975. It became a firm b-boy favorite—"the Bronx national anthem"[18]—and is still in use in hip hop today.[16] Steven Hager wrote of this period:

For over five years the Bronx had lived in constant terror of street gangs. Suddenly, in 1975, they disappeared almost as quickly as they had arrived. This happened because something better came along to replace the gangs. That something was eventually called hip-hop.[18]

In 1979, the record company executive Sylvia Robinson assembled a group she called The Sugarhill Gang and recorded "Rapper's Delight". The hit song ushered in the era of commercially released hip hop. By that year's end, Grandmaster Flash was recording for Enjoy Records. In 1980, Afrika Bambaataa began recording for Winley. By this time, DJ Kool Herc's star had faded.

Grandmaster Flash suggests that Herc may not have kept pace with developments in techniques of cueing (lining up a record to play at a certain place on it).[39] Developments changed techniques of cutting (switching from one record to another) and scratching (moving the record by hand to and fro under the stylus for percussive effect) in the late 1970s. Herc said he retreated from the scene after being stabbed at the Executive Playhouse while trying to intercede in a fight, and the burning down of one of his venues. In 1980, Herc had stopped DJing and was working in a record shop in South Bronx.

Later years[edit]

Herc spins records in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx at a February 28, 2009 event addressing the "West Indian Roots of Hip-Hop".

Kool Herc appeared in Hollywood's motion picture take on hip hop, Beat Street (Orion, 1984), as himself. In the mid-1980s, his father died, and he became addicted to crack cocaine. "I couldn't cope, so I started medicating", he says of this period.[40]

In 1994, Herc performed on Terminator X & the Godfathers of Threatt's album, Super Bad.[9] In 2005, he wrote the foreword to Jeff Chang's book on hip hop, Can't Stop Won't Stop. In 2005 he appeared in the music video of "Top 5 (Dead or Alive)" by Jin from the album The Emcee's Properganda. In 2006, he became involved in getting Hip Hop commemorated at the Smithsonian Institution museums.[41] He participated in the 2007 Dance parade.

Since 2007, Herc has worked on a campaign to prevent 1520 Sedgwick Avenue from being sold to developers and withdrawn from its status as a Mitchell-Lama affordable housing property.[42] In the summer of 2007, New York state officials declared 1520 Sedgwick Avenue the "birthplace of hip-hop", and nominated it to national and state historic registers.[11] The city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development ruled against the proposed sale in February 2008, on the grounds that "the proposed purchase price is inconsistent with the use of property as a Mitchell-Lama affordable housing development". It is the first time they have so ruled in such a case.[43]

Serious illness[edit]

According to a DJ Premier fan blog,[44] The Source's website[45] and other sites, DJ Kool Herc fell gravely ill in early 2011 and was said to lack health insurance.[46] He had surgery for kidney stones, with a stent placed to relieve the pressure. He needed follow-up surgery but St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, the site that performed the previous surgery, requested that he make a deposit toward the next surgery, because he had missed several follow-up visits. (The hospital noted that it would not turn away uninsured patients in the emergency room.)[47] DJ Kool Herc and his family set up an official website on which he described his medical issue and set a larger goal of establishing the DJ Kool Herc Fund to pioneer long-term health care solutions.[48] In April 2013, Campbell recovered from surgery and moved into post-medical care.[48]

First vinyl record[edit]

In May 2019, Kool Herc released his first vinyl record with Mr. Green.[49]

Fan made mixes[edit]

On August 11, 2023, UK hip hop artist Donnie Propa released Straight from the crate cave: Kool Herc edition. Which showcased the classic mixes and samples that were traditionally done by DJ Kool Herc in his early parties.[50]



  • DJ Kool Herc and Mr Green: Last of the Classic Beats (2019)[51]

Live albums or recordings[edit]

  • L Brothers vs The Herculoids – Bronx River Centre (1978)
  • DJ Kool Herc and Whiz kid with the Herculoids: Live at T-Connection (1981)
  • DJ Kool Herc: Tim Westwood show December 28, 1996

Guest appearances[edit]


  • DJ Kool Herc – B-Boy Boogie[56]

Fan made mix[edit]

Donnie Propa - Straight from the crate cave: Kool Herc edition [50]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Kool Herc Biography". Archived from the original on May 13, 2019. Retrieved June 23, 2021.
  2. ^ "Today In Hip-Hop: DJ Kool Herc Celebrates 10th Birthday – XXL". June 30, 2013. Archived from the original on June 30, 2013. Retrieved November 13, 2021.
  3. ^ Goldma, Henry (January 22, 2007). "Clive/DJ Kool Herc Campbell (1955– ) •". Blackpast.orgn. Retrieved June 23, 2021.
  4. ^ Hess, Mickey (November 2009). Hip Hop in America: A Regional Guide. Bloomsbury Academic. ISBN 9780313343216.
  5. ^ "2023 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee: DJ Kool Herc". May 3, 2023.
  6. ^ Chang, pp. 68–72.
  7. ^ Rhodes, Henry A. (2003). "The Evolution of Rap Music in the United States" (PDF). pp. 5–6. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 3, 2016. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
  8. ^ Hager, Steven. Hip Hop: The Illustrated History of Break Dancing, Rap Music, and Graffiti. St Martin's Press, 1984 (out of print).
  9. ^ a b c d e f Shapiro, pp. 212–213.
  10. ^ Ogg, p. 13.
  11. ^ a b c Roug, Louise. "Hip-hop May Save Bronx Homes" Archived October 20, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, Los Angeles Times, February 24, 2008. Link retrieved September 9, 2008.
  12. ^ Ogg, p. 14, p. 18.
  13. ^ Toop, p. 65.
  14. ^ Chang, p. 79
  15. ^ "The Freshest Kids: The History of the B-Boy (Full Documentary)". YouTube. January 8, 2014. Archived from the original on April 21, 2014. Retrieved April 26, 2017.
  16. ^ a b Hermes, Will. "All Rise for the National Anthem of Hip-Hop" Archived March 11, 2023, at the Wayback Machine, The New York Times, October 29, 2006. Retrieved on September 9, 2008.
  17. ^ Ogg, pp. 14–15.
  18. ^ a b c d Hager, in Cepeda, p. 12–26. Cepeda writes that this article was the first appearance of the term hip hop in print, and credits Bambaataa with its coinage (p. 3).
  19. ^ Toop, p. 69
  20. ^ Karon, Tony (September 22, 2000). "'Hip-Hop Nation' Is Exhibit A for America's Latest Cultural Revolution". Time. Archived from the original on February 20, 2005. Retrieved January 1, 2009.
  21. ^ Farley, Christopher John (October 18, 1999). "Rock's New Spin". Time. Archived from the original on January 24, 2005. Retrieved January 1, 2009.
  22. ^ "5 Fine Books You Missed (We Did)". Time. June 11, 2006. Archived from the original on July 6, 2006. Retrieved January 1, 2009.
  23. ^ Farley, Christopher John (July 9, 2001). "DJ Craze". Time. Archived from the original on January 12, 2005. Retrieved January 1, 2009.
  24. ^ "Dancehall Days". Time. June 11, 2003. Archived from the original on June 22, 2009. Retrieved January 1, 2009.
  25. ^ a b Tukufu Zuberi ("detective"), "BIRTHPLACE OF HIP HOP", History Detectives, Season 6, Episode 11, New York City, found at PBS official website. Accessed February 24, 2009.
  26. ^ Baruch, Yolanda. "DJ Kool Herc's Sister Cindy Campbell Talks The Birth Of Hip Hop Christie's Auction". Forbes. Archived from the original on May 3, 2023. Retrieved April 27, 2023.
  27. ^ Allah, Sha Be (August 11, 2018). "Today in Hip Hop History: Kool Herc's Party At 1520 Sedgwick Avenue 45 Years Ago Marks The Foundation Of The Culture Known As Hip-Hop". The Source. Archived from the original on March 21, 2019. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  28. ^ Ivory, Stephen (2000). The Funk Box (CD box set booklet). Hip-O Records. p. 12. 314 541 789-2.
  29. ^ Kool Herc, in Israel (director), The Freshest Kids, QD3, 2002.
  30. ^ Dunning, Jennifer. "Nurturing Onstage the Moves Born on the Ghettos' Streets", The New York Times, November 26, 1991.
  31. ^ See for example Suggah B in Cross, p. 303: "I'm a B-girl till I die, when they bury me they're gonna bury me with some shelltoes on my feet and some gold around my neck because that is how I feel."
  32. ^ Hess, Mickey (November 2009). Hip Hop in America: A Regional Guide. Bloomsbury Academic. ISBN 9780313343216. Archived from the original on May 21, 2024. Retrieved June 2, 2022.
  33. ^ Ogg, pp. 14, 17.
  34. ^ "Black Awareness Foundation | The Footsteps of History". February 12, 2016. Archived from the original on February 12, 2016. Retrieved November 13, 2021.
  35. ^ "Breaks, Bronx, Boogie, Beat: What Is Bboying?". Archived from the original on August 23, 2017. Retrieved August 23, 2017.
  36. ^ Toop, p. 18–19
  37. ^ Ogg, p. 17
  38. ^ Toop, pp. 74–76.
  39. ^ Toop, p. 62.
  40. ^ Gonzales, Michael A. "The Holy House of Hip-hop: How the Rec Room Where Hip-hop Was Born Became a Battleground For Affordable Housing" Archived March 10, 2023, at the Wayback Machine, New York, October 6, 2008.
  41. ^ Sisario, Ben (March 1, 2006). "Smithsonian's Doors Open to a Hip-Hop Beat". The New York Times. Archived from the original on December 13, 2019. Retrieved January 1, 2009.
  42. ^ Gonzalez, David (May 21, 2007). "Will Gentrification Spoil the Birthplace of Hip-Hop?". The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 10, 2023. Retrieved January 1, 2009.
  43. ^ Lee, Jennifer 8. "City Rejects Sale of Building Seen as Hip-Hop's Birthplace" Archived March 10, 2023, at the Wayback Machine, The New York Times, March 4, 2008.
  44. ^ "Update-Donations To Kool Herc Via Paypal Now Available". Archived from the original on March 10, 2023. Retrieved January 30, 2010.
  45. ^ "DJ Kool Herc – Health, Condition". Archived from the original on February 3, 2011. Retrieved January 30, 2010.
  46. ^ Headlines Archived March 10, 2023, at the Wayback Machine, Democracy Now, February 1, 2011. Retrieved February 1, 2011.
  47. ^ Gonzales, David (January 31, 2011). "Kool Herc Is in Pain, and Using It to Put Focus on Insurance". The New York Times. Archived from the original on August 9, 2011. Retrieved April 16, 2011.
  48. ^ a b "Official DJ Kool Herc Website". February 2, 2011. Archived from the original on May 16, 2011. Retrieved February 2, 2011.
  49. ^ "Mr. Green & Kool Herc Release 'Last of the Classic Beats' Project". March 12, 2019. Archived from the original on April 7, 2023. Retrieved August 11, 2023.
  50. ^ a b Propa, Donnie. "Straight from the crate cave: Kool Herc edition". Retrieved August 11, 2023.
  51. ^ Montes, Patrick (March 12, 2019). "Mr. Green & Kool Herc Release 'Last of the Classic Beats' Project". hypebeast. Archived from the original on April 7, 2023. Retrieved August 11, 2023.
  52. ^ Marshall, Wayne (2007). "Kool Herc". In Hess, Mickey (ed.). Icons of Hip Hop: An Encyclopedia of the Movement, Music, and Culture. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 23. ISBN 978-0-313-33902-8.
  53. ^ Wade, Ian (2011). "The Chemical Brothers – Dig Your Own Hole – Review". BBC. Archived from the original on August 5, 2011. Retrieved July 16, 2015.
  54. ^ Cooper, Roman (January 30, 2008). "Substantial – Sacrifice". HipHopDX. Archived from the original on July 17, 2015. Retrieved July 16, 2015.
  55. ^ "Can't Stop Won't Stop – The Next Lesson Mixtape – DJ Sharp & DJ Icewater". Discogs. Retrieved December 15, 2023.
  56. ^ "Bboy Boogie – DJ Kool Herc". bboysounds. July 12, 2013. Retrieved December 15, 2023.


  • Chang, Jeff. Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation. St. Martin's Press, New York: 2005. ISBN 978-0-312-42579-1.
  • Cross, Brian. It's Not About a Salary...Rap, Race and Resistance in Los Angeles. New York: Verso, 1993. ISBN 978-0-86091-620-8.
  • Hager, Steven, "Afrika Bambaataa's Hip-Hop", The Village Voice, September 21, 1982. Reprinted in And It Don't Stop! The Best American Hip-Hop Journalism of the Last 25 Years. Cepeda, Raquel (ed.). New York: Faber and Faber, Inc., 2004. ISBN 978-0-571-21159-3.
  • Ogg, Alex, with Upshall, David. The Hip Hop Years, London: Macmillan, 1999, ISBN 978-0-7522-1780-2.
  • Shapiro, Peter. Rough Guide to Hip-Hop, 2nd. ed., London: Rough Guides, 2005, ISBN 978-1-84353-263-7.
  • Toop, David. Rap Attack, 3rd. ed., London: Serpent's Tail, 2000, ISBN 978-1-85242-627-9.

External links[edit]