Happy birthday, hip-hop! Never forget that none of this would be possible without the revolutionary work of DJ Kool Herc.
Since its birthday forty-seven years ago, hip-hop has come to mean so many different things to so many different people. A movement born at a back-to-school block party on 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, the Bronx, hip-hop has since evolved into something truly monumental in scale. Given how ubiquitous the culture has become, it has been all too easy to forget about its noble roots — or worse, take them entirely for granted.
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While the history of hip-hop’s birth is well documented by a variety of sources, be it Hip-Hop Evolution on Netflix or Ed Piskor’s Hip-Hop Family Tree, all roads ultimately lead back to the guiding presence of Kool Herc. The Jamaican DJ and his younger sister took it themselves to throw the “Back To School Jam,” where Herc stepped up to provide the music. His role in pioneering the “break” technique — which is to say briefly isolating a record’s instrumental section — and looping it on repeat, was revolutionary at the time; dancers quickly took to the floor to showcase their abilities, and like that, breakdancing was born.
From that point onward, DJs like the prodigal Grandmaster Flash began building on the foundation Herc laid down, with Flash proving particularly adept at balancing two identical records at the same time, thus creating an indefinite loop — a process that can now be achieved with the simple toggle of a button began as a dazzling display of showmanship and technique. These practices, which quickly began spreading once DJs realized just how lively the parties had become, soon evolved into what we now think of as “sampling.” All of this because of Herc’s innovations, the list of which goes on — if his revolutionary turntable tactics weren’t enough, Herc can even be credited as pioneering ad-libs, livening his loops with spirited cries designed to further hype the crowd.
It takes more than a simple write-up to express the impact hip-hop had, and continues to have on the world, but the fact that we’re here reading this speaks to its incredible reach and longevity. Happy birthday to hip-hop, and much thanks to DJ Kool Herc and everyone who helped pioneer the culture into something larger than life.