Today, August 11th, marks the 48th birthday of hip-hop, a culture that has grown from a grassroots scene in the Bronx to a global phenomenon that impacts, informs and influences numerous facets of society. It all started from an apartment building at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx, where DJ Kool Herc hosted a back-to-school party for his younger sister that would spark an unforeseen, yet historic chain of events. That party is where DJ Kool Herc, who is from the island of Jamaica, first popularized the extension of the breakbeat in a song, enabling attendees of the party to dance along to their favorite portions of records for longer periods of time. This would lead to the emergence of breakdancing while placing the DJ squarely at the forefront of the culture, both of which can largely be credited to that first back-to-school dance back in 1973.
To commemorate this pivotal day not only in music but history as a whole, LL COOL J’s Rock The Bells – the digital destination dedicated to classic hip-hop – has teamed up with DJ Kool Herc to stream a DJ set from the iconic pioneer live on its official Instagram account @rockthenells and on the Rock The Bells SiriusXM radio station.”The celebratory stream will benefit New York Edge, a non-profit organization with a mission to raise awareness and provide resources to assist students from underprivileged communities across New York City.
Rock The Bells and DJ Kool Herc will also celebrate the first year of hip-hop being honored with an official holiday designation in the United States called Hip-Hop Celebration Day, which has garnered several nods to the culture’s contributions, including emojis created by Fab 5 Freddy and Twitter.
VIBE spoke with DJ Kool Herc about the birth, growth and evolution of hip-hop and where he hopes to see the culture going moving forward.
VIBE: On Wednesday, August 11, Rock The Bells is celebrating the birth of Hip-Hop by having you spin a set live from the Bronx on the actual date that you held you and your sister Cindy’s iconic Back To School party on Sedgwick Avenue. How does it feel to return back to your roots and be able to commemorate the culture that you both helped create?
DJ Kool Herc: It’s incredible! 1520 Sedwick is such a special place to me and it always feels great going back. I LOVE the Bronx and go back to visit whenever I can.
How did this opportunity to work with Rock The Bells come about?
I love what LL Cool J is building with Rock The Bells, paying homage to the pioneers that started this Hip-Hop movement and giving fans a place to celebrate the culture. So when Tracey Smith, head of talent for RTB came to me with the opportunity to celebrate Hip-Hop’s birthday with this live DJ set at 1520 Sedwick, I was in.
Rock The Bells places an emphasis on celebrating the pioneers and icons of hip-hop culture. How do you feel about the importance of having a platform dedicated to showcasing and highlighting the creatives that came before us?
I think it’s incredibly important. I give LL COOL J and Rock The Bells much love and respect for campaigning for the pioneers and icons of Hip-Hop Culture and giving us a place for our voices to continue to be heard.
Will you be spinning live from the original Sedgwick Avenue location?
Yes, that is the plan!
What are some of the songs you remember playing during the original back to school Jam back in 1973?
Hey……Everyone has been trying to get my playlist for years! While I can’t fully reveal my secrets, I will share these three artists with you; James Brown, Rare Earth, and the Isley Brothers.
Being that it’s been 48 years since the first party, how has it been seeing hip-hop blossom to where it is today?
It has been great. Hip-Hop has given me a passport to travel the globe and see it blossom all over the world.
How do you feel about the current climate of hip-hop culture and the music? What aspects of rap music today do you appreciate the most and what critiques or issues would you like to see addressed in the future?
Just keep it clean and family-oriented. Hip-Hop came from humble beginnings and is deep-rooted in family and community.
What can listeners expect when listening to your set? Will it be strictly records released around the time of the first back to school jam or will you play songs from throughout the genres whole history?
I am a DJ. I have the Disc to make you Jockey. I’ll play music throughout the genre’s whole history.
When you and your sister did the first party, the DJ was the central figure in the culture. Now, rap artists and even producers receive a significant amount of the praise and credit for the growth of hip-hop. What would you say about the evolution of the role of the DJ in hip-hop today?
When my sister, Cindy asked me to DJ at her back to school party, the DJ’s music was the central figure. I think the evolution to a more rapper-producer centric genre makes sense and has been good for keeping Hip-Hop alive, as they’re the ones that are constantly pushing the genre forward and coming up with new sounds.