The Original Voice of the Ghetto
Clive Campbell grew up in Kingston, Jamaica, a small town within called Somerset Lane. He was bottled-fed an environment enriched by vibrant culture of music and celebration. Led by local hero King George, who would hold elaborate yard parties, from the sidelines Clive would witness these yard parties in the making and be a part of the community jubilation. Clive's father, Keith was a collector of American jazz, reggae, gospel and country records. Clive grew up well-versed in sounds eclectically ranged from Nina Simone, Louis Armstrong to country’s Jim Reeves. His mother would further his education when at the age of twelve, Clive and his family emigrated to the Bronx where she would introduce him to new American interest of Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson and most definitive, James Brown records played at various local parties. Here he saw the atmosphere further developed with guys dancing, rapping into girls’ ears in sweet whispers as the DJ would constantly interrupt the groove by upsetting the tempo with mismanaged record changing, Clive picked up on this and questioned their selections. He started to collect records with ambitions to someday, host his own events and become a more polished DJ.
Clive's father was also hosting events around their West Bronx club circuit, with an impressive Shure P.A. speaker system he became the sound man for a local R&B band. Clive as a teenager had started hosting his own jams, but was forced to borrow sub-standard speakers from a neighbour. Fiddling with his father’s columns one day, he managed to have it peaking much louder than previously. He took out the speaker wire and connected it to a channel port with a jack giving him more power and a reserve bank allowing him to control it from the preamp. This was at a time where if you had the loudest speakers, your parties were the most popular. He got two Bogart amps, two Girard turntables and used the channel knobs as a mixer. The system could now also handle eight microphones; he had a regular mic in one and another as an echo chamber where he could speak through the speakers plainly and wait for an echoing half way through. Soon Clive and his father shared the system and regularly played jams at their downstairs recreation room on their Sedgwick Avenue housing block to predominantly high-school kids. Herc would also cater for the older folk with slow jams and jazz joints. This became a much anticipated monthly occasion. Before too long discos across South and West Bronx were closing down doe to heavy gang activity by the Spades making them unsafe to attend and attracting attention from the authorities. Here gave birth to the house party revolution making Sedgwick Ave. a new hotspot for the movement. This opened doors for young Clive to give Kool Herc its predestined legend. Not long after Herc's sister, Cindy was to hold a going-back-to-school party to be held at the rec-room to help pay for her school expenses.
One evening on August 11th, 1973 Cindy’s organised Dodge High School event would later become one of the single-most pivotal moments in hip-hop’s early time line staining Kool Herc in history forever as the foremost revolutionary hip-hop DJ. Herc opened the evening with some dancehall classics, which was a signature of Herc's as most American kids weren't familiar with this Jamaican soundtrack, they wanted the funky interludes supplied by soul music. Herc boosted the energy of the crowd by giving them their soul and funk hooks and astonished his audience by adding his own vocals on the mic, echoing heavily through the speakers. He would holler to Mike who controlled the house lights, as a basic form of atmospherics, “Okay Mike, Mike with the lights!” He stole the show! With James Brown making his entrance into the soundtrack of a generation’s most unforgettable experience, they shifted back history making this auspicious event hip-hop’s early equivalent to that of rock and folk music’s Woodstock. Herc had brought back the life into the concrete Boogie-Down and had now become the King George he idolised as a young child at his native Kingston Yard parties. Cindy and Clive counted their success at the end of the night and opened a new future.
Soon Herc's reputation would out-grow the recreation room of his building, he carried a strong local following behind his Jamaican soundtrack of U-Roy and I-Roy records which became an early cross pollination of reggae and rap music. Herc took his new brand of Saturday nights out to hosting free block party events held nearby at Cedar Park, providing the environment for Herc to max out his massive speaker system, (later renowned as the 'Herculoids') as well the crowd in attendance. He connected his speakers up by tapping into the power source from lamp posts. He sucked the juice right out of the lights with his 300 watt per-channel Mackintosh amp. Adding to that he had the Technics 1100A turntable which needed its own source of power, he plugged it into a nearby tool shed. It was a trouble-free event to a three-thousand thick crowd that grooved the neighbourhood till daylight the next morning. This too would flourish into a regular fixture in the neighbourhood. The balance of energy of the Bronx had shifted toward the west, Sedgwick and Cedar was The Shit!
Herc’s concentration was too intensive on the turntables alone he couldn’t find the time to hype the crowd with his chanting and rhyming over the mic like in the rec-room. He employed local emcee, Coke La Rock to become the Master of Ceremonies, thus becoming the first ever hip hop MC. Herc introduced his fellow immigrant friend Coke La Rock as an MC and he began to send shout-outs or toasts over popular yard-classic Jamaican records such as Count Machuki, Big Youth, King Stitt and U-Roy and hooked up his mic to a space echo box. This element of vocal support over the break beat heightened the crowd onto another platform. The pair developed their own slang to use. Soon after at an after-hours spot a drunken regular would verse “To my mellow! My mellow is in the house”. Herc soon developed a new revolution in DJing as he noticed the crowd of dancers fading down through verses, waiting for short instrumental breaks giving way to the rhythm section to spring back into life and ignite their dance moves. Herc learnt to manipulate this and isolate this section to repeat or loop over, allowing the dancers to have their way for longer stints. Now he owned the 'Break'. He would start to favour records based on their break potential. Songs like the everlasting conga classic, "Bongo Rock" and "Apache" from the Incredible Bongo Rock album and James Brown’s "Give it Up or Turn it Loose" live version from the Sex Machine album, Johnny Pate’s theme to Shaft in Africa and Dennis Coffey’s "Scorpio" as well as experimenting with soul and white rock records depending on their funk-influenced back-beats. Then in true Jamaican DJ style he soaked off the LP labels to hinder the competition’s chance of stealing his beats. He introduced a new arsenal to his repertoire where he used two copies of the same record placed on each turntable back-cueing one copy to the start of the break section ready to take over once the other had finished, looping the break over stretching it from several seconds to a five minute moment of madness. He focused all his efforts on this new weapon of choice sending dancers into ecstatic fits of fury. Too excited for routine grooves and moves befitting the slow jams, these kids would break out wildly, trying to outmanoeuvre each other in fight-like dances. This he dubbed the ‘Merry-Go-Round’ and the hot-steppers for whom he adopted as his “Break Boys” or “B-Boys” for short. Hip-hop was growing into a multi-talented circus performance.