Kool Herc

Not long after, the family home and tenement building was burnt out due to his younger brother’s pyrotechnics. He sat at the window lighting matches and throwing them outside until one flew back inside from the wind and lit the place up. Before eventually relocating out to West Bronx, at a new housing complex at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, two miles north of the Yankee stadium at the Cross-Bronx Expressway, they temporarily called the Concourse Plaza Hotel on Grand Concourse and 161st street home. The venue was used as a refuge for families made homeless due to the fire. Herc frequented the hotel’s downstairs disco the Plaza Tunnel where his high school friend Shaft and John Brown spun records. Unlike most clubs on the circuit the vibe of this place was rawer playing James Brown’s, "Give it Up or Turn it Loose" and "Get Ready" by Rare Earth. This latter track was a huge hit across the Bronx due to it being 21 minutes in duration allowing hot-steppers to get into their dance grooves with a two minute drum solo which saw them displaying their flashiest James Brown-esque moves. This may have been the pivotal juncture in developing the break beat. About this time James Brown’s commercial career was in steep decline due to a change in political and racial climate across the country, his moves and records became outlaw cult-favourites by a fresh budding hip-hop generation thanks to DJs from the Plaza and Herc adopting his energy. The atmosphere at the Plaza set the bar for Herc to hurdle at his own house parties and park jams. 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.

His father had a sound system used by a local rhythm and blues band for which Keith was the soundman for. He invested in a brand new Shure P.A. system. Clive had soon started hosting his own house parties which managed to fall on the same time as his father’s events which made it impossible for Clive to borrow his father’s system for these parties. Huge Shure columns sat in his room while Clive was forced to borrow a neighbour’s equipment. Keith was unable to utilise the speakers at its maximum potential. Clive wanted to squeeze more juice out of them and make them peak much louder. Other people in their building had their speakers pumping at a greater volume but this would be a well-kept secret, hidden with decoy wires entangled at the back to stop someone figuring out how they did it. Clive was left to his own initiative. Fiddling with his father’s columns behind his back he worked it out and had 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. 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. When his father came home to catch him at it he couldn’t believe what he heard through his own equipment. Keith’s system was a monster stomping on everybody’s set up. Father and son came to an arrangement of sharing the system, with Clive playing intermission records at Keith’s band nights and Clive borrowing them for his house parties. They made business cards entitled ‘Father and Son’ and they became the local pulse of the night. Early house parties were held downstairs at Sedgwick’s recreation room with crowds of dominantly high-school kids who generally lived outside the reaches of gangs and criminal activity. Some parents even attended as supervision and had their moment when Herc would play slow jams for them to dance to while kids escaped round the block to puff on joints and sneak sips of liquor. Keith was always in attendance, again a well-respected man of the borough held it down without any violence. It became an accepted monthly social occasion on the calendar for young meet and greets. The buzz had spread wide about a going-back-to-school party for his younger sister Cindy to be held at the rec-room at Sedgwick Ave.

On late August, 1973 Cindy’s organised Dodge High School event would later become one of the single-most pivotal moments in hip-hop’s early timeline staining Kool Herc in history forever as the foremost revolutionary hip-hop DJ and on this night hip-hop’s ball of culture started rolling. The purpose of this party was for Cindy to raise money for the fashionable purchases for school down Delancey Street instead of Fordham Road. The Neighborhood Youth Corps provided $45 paid fortnightly which according to Cindy was pathetic. For half the paycheck she could rent the rec-room and bulk buy Olde English malt liquor, Colt 45 beer and soda, advertise the event and the DJ and speaker system were already assumed thanks to her local legend brother and father. They hand-wrote on index cards to hand out and post on neighbourhood streets song titles to entice, ‘Get on the Good Foot’ or ‘Fencewalk’. Cindy calculated if she charged a quarter for the girls, two quarters for guys she would reach profits to boost her wardrobe, hardly a charitable cause but the event itself shone light on many darkened youths for following generations. Herc brought the sound system down from their second floor apartment and set up in the rec-room dance floor. The size of the speakers was unimaginable to most eyes and set the tone of the night. He opened up with some dancehall tunes to rock any yard party, unknown sound to the Bronx, they wanted the breaks. He gave them what they wanted and blasted the ever-popular heart of funk and soul. The energy exploded leaving no elbow room on the dance floor as everyone bopped together in waves to the beat. Herc elevated it once more by adding his vocals on the mic, stealing the show forever with his voice heavily echoing through the speakers. With no money for a strobe light, they utilised the most basic form of atmospherics switching the house light on and off with a guy named Mike in control. “Okay Mike, Mike with the lights!” roared Herc from the speakers and Mike was paid for his efforts. 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.

Herc continued to host regular parties to a following cast of supporters through the summer of 1974. He built a name for himself from using Reggae records with Jamaican artists U-Roy and I-Roy creating the catalyst between Reggae and Rap. However after word spread and his reputation grew the Sedgwick rec-room was proving to be too small now and Herc decided to hold free block party events in the nearby Cedar Park where Herc could peak out his massive speaker system and play his signature tastes and placate to the popular demand of his crowd. Herc noticed construction workers hooking up power from tapping into the power source from lamp posts. He attempted this and his 300 watt per channel Mackintosh amp sucked so much juice the lights dimmed. Adding to that he had the Tehchnics 1100A turntable which needed its own source of power, he plugged it into a nearby tool shed and hey presto. Setting up outdoors he knew he was putting his electrical equipment at risk from weather and break-out fights. He always warned the crowd not to start any trouble or else he would pull the plug on the entire event. He catered for the older generation as well as the up-n-comers. Again it was a trouble-free event to a three-thousand thick crowd that grooved the neighbourhood till daylight the next morning.

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