Part One: The Birth of Hip-Hop in the South Bronx

New York in the 1970s

To truly understand the birth of Hip-Hop, let’s transport ourselves to the turbulent landscape of 1970s in  New York City. The South Bronx, a borough reknown for its vibrant culture and tight-knit communities, was in the midst of a radical transformation. Economic shifts in the late 1960s led to businesses deserting the area, leaving behind a trail of abandoned buildings and vacant lots. In 1973, the Vietnam War came to an end, and many were returning to an uncertain future.

Brooklyn in the 70s, child walking in the street, rubble from burned down apartment complex , and old car on the left, a gloomy scene

This is an AI generated photo depicting what Brookyn might have looked like during the early 70s. 

As the neighborhood grappled with the business exodus, it confronted an even graver challenge—crime rates skyrocketed, and a pervasive sense of fear gripped the residents. The Bronx, once a thriving community, had now morphed into a symbol of urban decay. Its streets bore the scars of discrimination, racism, economic disparities, and a profound absence of opportunities, creating an environment that felt stifling.

The Innovative Sounds of DJ Kool Herc

Amidst this chaos and adversity, a young DJ known as DJ Kool Herc (Clive Campbell) stepped forward as a beacon of hope. He came from the very heart of the South Bronx, a neighborhood where block parties didn’t merely serve as social gatherings but rather provided an escape from the harsh realities of daily life. People tended to stick close to their communities, making neighborhood dances primarily attended by locals. Information about a party would rapidly circulate through word-of-mouth.

One pivotal moment in the birth of Hip-Hop occurred during a back-to-school party that DJ Kool Herc organized for his sister in 1973. This event took place on August 11, 1973, at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx. If you were fortunate enough to attend this historic gathering, you would have witnessed the dynamic duo of DJ Kool Herc and Coke La Rock in action.

Post card announcement of the party reads "DJ Kool Herc party, back to school Jam 1220 Sedgwick ave. Rec Room, Austin 11, 1973, 9:00 Pm to 4:00 Am, Kool herc, has fees , special guest coco, cindy c, klark k, Timmy T, Schools still out

Back-to-school Party announcement

The Birth of Breakbeats: Building the Hip-Hop Sound

At this groundbreaking party, Kool Herc showcased his innovative use of two turntables. He extended the instrumental sections of funk and soul records, creating a dope continuous rhythm that pulled people to the dance floor like a magnet.  What set Kool Herc apart was his ability to seamlessly switch between the turntables, ensuring that the music never stopped—a technique that would later be known as “breakbeats.”

Breakbeats were more than just a musical innovation; they were the heartbeat of Hip-Hop. These rhythmic sections, where the beat “breaks” free from the rest of the song, provided the perfect canvas for MCs (Master of Ceremonies) to showcase their lyrical prowess. It was here that the art of rapping found its footing.

The Unsung Legend: Coke La Rock

One of the attendees at Kool Herc’s party was Coke La Rock, often considered the first hip-hop MC. Coke La Rock’s role as an MC at parties was pivotal. He had a knack for using rhymes and wordplay to engage the crowd. In those early days, before the term “rap” was coined, Coke La Rock laid the foundation for the lyrical aspect of rap music.

Interview with Coke La Rock and Djvlad:

His performances also introduced the concept of rap battles and competitive MCing, creating an environment of friendly rivalry that would become a central element of Hip-Hop culture. Despite his contributions, Coke La Rock did not receive the recognition he deserved, remaining an unsung hero of Hip-Hop’s birth.

The Legacy of DJ Kool Herc

DJ Kool Herc, often referred to as the “Father of Hip-Hop,” had laid the groundwork for a cultural revolution. His visionary use of turntables and breakbeats not only ignited a musical movement but also gave a voice to a community that had long been marginalized. DJ Kool Herc’s legacy continues to inspire generations of artists and enthusiasts, reminding us of the power of creativity in the face of adversity.  Sadly, in the modern era of hip hop, even some of the most avid rap connoisseurs are unfamiliar this rich history.    

Conclusion of Part One

In part one of this series, we’ve embarked on a journey to 1970s New York City, where the South Bronx’s tumultuous landscape gave birth to Hip-Hop. We’ve witnessed the innovative sounds of DJ Kool Herc and the lyrical prowess of Coke La Rock. Their contributions laid the foundation for a cultural revolution that would captivate the world. In part two, we will continue this journey, exploring how Hip-Hop emerged from the shadows of the South Bronx and transformed into a global cultural phenomenon in the 1980s.

young man wearing hip hop hoodie that celebrates 50th year anniversary of hip hop.  Thats what the art says with man dancing
man pointing to hoodie, hip hop 50th artwork on hoodie with artwork of man dancing from hip hop days of old
man holding mug that says the break through star of hip hop, vintage cassette tape pictured

Artwork by Cara Harpole, commemorarying the 50th anniversary of Hip Hip.  Your purchase supports our website.