Childhood and Early Life
DJ Kool Herc, originally known as Clive Campbell, is the eldest of six children. He was born on April 16, 1955. His parents, Keith and Nettie Campbell, raised their children in Kingston, Jamaica. While there, Clive was exposed to dance halls, which are popular neighborhood parties in the Caribbean. He also was exposed to toasting. Toasting is when the DJ talks/chants over a beat and originated in Jamaica. The family lived in Kingston until November of 1967, when the family moved to The Bronx in New York City. There, Clive went to the Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education High School. He received the nickname, “Hercules” because of his frame. Clive Campbell spent a lot of the time in the wight room, so that as well as his where his height and demeanor on the basketball court helped other students come up with the nickname. He also began running with a crew who drew graffiti. They were called the Ex-Vandals, and there he received the name Kool Herc. At the apartment, Herc and his sister would throw back-to-school parties that ultimately became so popular they had to be moved to new spaces.
Keith Campbell was a sound technician in a local band, so he allowed his son to have access to the sound equipment used. In 1969, 2 years after moving to New York, Herc was partying regularly at local clubs. He was a breakdancer and often frequented clubs to perform. But he noticed that the crowds he danced with weren’t a fan of the DJ’s. So he moved from the dancefloor to the DJ booth. Herc wanted to become the best and most unique so he often tried to find records that no one else owned, to distinguish himself. For example, he persuaded his father into buying a copy James Brown’s “Sex Machine” in 1969. Because it couldn’t really be found in a lot of places,People would come to his parties to hear it. Herc also researched what was being played on local jukeboxes to test a song’s popularity and picking up rarities at Downstairs Records on 42nd Street and the Rhythm Den. Herc observed that the breakdancers enjoyed instrumental breaks in the records, and he began searching for the tracks to please them.
Clive figured out a way to make his setup the loudest by using two turntables, plus a mixer to switch between records. He also soaked the labels off the records to protect his secrets.
By he end of 1973, Herc could no longer DJ in the apartment and he moved into bigger clubs and the Bronx’s Cedar Park. He was the Dj with the loudest sound system and popular break beats.
By 1977, his popularity was dwindling due to other rival New York DJs taking the forefront, notably the South Bronx’s Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash. These artists had multiple groups with polished emcee styles and it put Herc at a disadvantage and his popularity suffered.
In 1979, popular DJ’s were being signed to record companies to become “commercial”. DJ Grandmaster Flash was DJing for Enjoy Records and even Afrika Bambaataa was recording for Winley Records in 1980. Because DJ Kool Herc’s popularity had already reached its peak, he wasn’t signed to a record company and eventually stopped DJing in 1980.
The Founder of Hip-Hop
DJ Kool Herc was popular due to his origination of break beats. DJs all over started usnig his technique once they saw how popular it was.Herc used the record to focus on a short, heavily percussive part in it, called the “break”. Breakdancing was heavily popular, so he focused on music that they would like. Since the breaks were the part of the record was the one the dancers liked best, Herc made it longer by changing between two record players. As one records was close to the end of its break, the second record would be played back to the beginning of the break, which helped him make the short section of music into almost the length of a whole song. Herc named it “The Merry-Go-Round” because according to Herc, it takes one “back and forth with no slack.’
It was first introduced into his sets in 1972. The earliest involved playing James Brown’s “Give It Up or Turnit a Loose” then switching from that record’s break into the break from a second record, The Incredible Bongo Band’s, “Bongo Rock”.
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!
DJ Kool Herc on how he created Merry-Go-Round
Jazzy Jay Story about Herc
Herc was late setting up and Bam continued to play longer than he should have. Once Herc was set up he got on the microphone and said “Bambaataa, could you please turn your system down?” Bam’s crew was pumped and told Bam not to do it. So Herc said louder, “Yo, Bambaataa, turn your system down-down-down.” Bam’s crew started cursing Herc until Herc put the full weight of his system up and said, “Bambaataa-baataa -baataa, TURN YOUR SYSTEM DOWN!” And you couldn’t even hear Bam’s set at all. The Zulu crew tried to turn up the juice but it was no use. Everybody just looked at them like, “You should’ve listened to Kool Herc.”
Inspiring the Future
In 1975, the young Grandmaster Flash began DJing in Herc’s style. He often considered DJ Kool Herc a hero. Just one year later in 1976, Flash and his crew, known as the Furious Five were playing to packed audiences in Manhattan.
Afrika Bambaataa first head DJ Kool Herc in 1973. After obtaining his own soundsystem in 1975, he also began to copy DJ Herc’s style. Afrika was a general in the Black Spades gang and eventually converted his followers to the Zulu Nation, a non-violent group.
Steven Hager, a popular journalist described what was happening in this period as:
“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.“
In 1977, Herc retreated from the music industry after being stabbed at the Executive Playhouse while trying to intervene in a fight. Also, the burning down of one of his venues helped solidify his decision to stay away. By 1980, DJ Kool Herc stopped Djing and worked in a record store.
In 1984, DJ Kool Herc’s father died and DJ Herc became addicted to crack-cocaine to help deal with the pain of his loss.
DJ Kool Herc then fell gravely ill in early 2011 and didn’t have healthinusrance. He eventually had surgery for kidney stones. DJ Kool Herc and his family established the DJ Kool Herc Fund to help with providing long-term health care solutions. In April 2013, Campbell recovered from surgery and moved into post-medical care.
TV, Books, & Film
He appeared as himself in the film Beat Street. He has also appeared on Terminator X’s release “The Godfathers of Threat” and with the Chemical Brothers on their album “Dig Your Own Hole.”
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)”.
In 2006, he became involved in getting Hip Hop commemorated at the Smithsonian Museum museums. Then, 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. 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” for the first time