Today, August 11, we celebrate Hip Hop’s 39th birthday! Back in 1973, DJ Kool Herc held the first house party, thrown by his sister Cindy, in a rec room at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in The Bronx, New York. Over time, these house parties became more popular, later moving to Cedar Park in the same neighborhood. Creation of the term hip hop is often credited to Keith Cowboy, rapper with Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. However, Lovebug Starski, Keith Cowboy, and DJ Hollywood used the term when the music was still known as disco rap. It is believed that Cowboy created the term while teasing a friend who had just joined the U.S. Army, by scat singing the words “hip/hop/hip/hop” in a way that mimicked the rhythmic cadence of soldiers marching. Cowboy later worked the “hip hop” cadence into a part of his stage performance, which was quickly used by other artists such as The Sugarhill Gang in “Rapper’s Delight”. Because the percussive breaks in funk, soul and disco records were generally short, DJ Kool Herc and other DJs began using such techniques with two turntables to extend the breaks. Turntablist techniques, such as scratching (attributed to Grand Wizzard Theodore, beat mixing/matching, and beat juggling eventually developed along with the breaks, creating a base that could be rapped over, in a manner similar to signifying, as well as the art of toasting, another influence found in Jamaican dub music. DJ Kool Herc and Coke La Rock provided an influence on the vocal style of rapping by delivering simple poetry verses over funk music breaks, after party-goers showed little interest in their previous attempts to integrate reggae-infused toasting into musical sets.
DJ Disco Wiz (Luis Cedeño) recalls that Herc‘s parties offered positive alternatives for many inner-city youth. Cedeño says,
“We weren‘t socially accepted at disco joints; we were pretty much segregated. I was looking for an outlet to express myself. I was young, thuggish, and just looking for something to do besides getting into trouble, so we used to throw house parties: one turntable, three-room apartment full of people…. When Kool Herc finally hit the scene, we started getting the buzz that something was different. Herc became known not only for having the biggest sound system and the hottest records, but also for creating a safe zone off the streets. At Herc‘s parties, rival gang members called a truce. Hip-hop promoted a sense of community and its ―crews‖ of fans, artists, musicians, and dancers provided non -violent protection.”
Grandmaster Flash resolved to do Herc‘s act better. With no source of sophisticated turntables, needles, and mixers, Flash cobbled together
components from abandoned cars and discarded stereos. He says, ―I went to junkyards, abandoned car lots. I asked supermarkets for the big jugs they put pig guts
in, to make cabinets for my bass speakers.‖ At block parties, Flash and other DJs hacked wires at the base of city streetlights for a power source. Even the slipmat (the removable turntable covering that enables DJs to stop or turn a record while it is playing) that today‘s DJs take for granted did not yet exist. Flash says, ―I needed a way to have the platter continuously spinning while I‘m moving the record back and forth…. I went to a fabric store. When I touched this hairy stuff—felt—I found it. I rubbed spray starch on both sides and ironed it until it became a stiff wafer.
Hip-hop‘s pioneers—the DJs, MCs, dancers, artists, and their supporters—imposed their creative will on a marginalized landscape with minimal resources. Before anyone considered making and selling a rap record, the early hip -hop movement appealed to youth who wanted to express their individuality and transcend a hopeless situation. The birth of hip hop relied on shared, local experiences of a place and time that formed a surprising incubator for innovation.
Now, decades later, Sedgwick & Cedar has launched as a clothing brand rooted firmly at this intersection. Thanks to Sedgwick & Cedar, the founders of Hip Hop culture (including DJ Kool Herc and Grand Master Caz) are telling the untold story of that era’s origin: genres that contributed to the music, and to its icons. They even have archives that include the actual flyer used for the party back in ‘73.
Let’s celebrate by taking it back, paying respects, saluting the originators and most importantly SUPPORTING true, real hiphop!