Did hip-hop really begin in the South Bronx in 1973, or is that just a myth put forth by guys like Kool Herc, and further propagated by guys like Jeff Chang, who of course are gonna be easily duped by black people?
This has been on my mind lately for a couple of reasons.
First of all, a few weeks ago, I read a story in New York Magazine where Kool Herc came off as kind of a douche. He refused to comment for the story – about the fight over 1520 Sedgwick, the supposed birthplace of hip-hop – without being paid. Then he had the sheer balls to try to convince Coke La Rock not to comment for the story either without being paid.
His sister, who was quoted in the story, claims he wasn’t trying to be a douche, he’s just concerned about people trying to profit off of his story, when he’s hardly made any money himself. It makes me wonder if Jeff Chang, who quoted Kool Herc extensively in his book Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, had to make a donation to Herc’s freebase fund. Probably, right?
Which would explain Herc having written the foreword for that book. The publisher probably wasn’t about to give Chang any money to pay for quotes. They might even have some sort of policy against that. So Chang, with his Asian resourcefulness, must have come up with the idea of Herc writing the foreword, for which he’d receive a fee.
I remember wondering, at the time, why in the world Jeff Chang would have a guy who’s obviously barely literate write the foreword to his book? I figured it may have just been a matter of him being deferential to a fault to a pioneer. It just goes to show how dense I can be at times. (For what it’s worth, you weren’t on to this either.)
Also, there was a part of the story that just seemed false to me. I’m not saying it definitely was. I’m just saying.
In particular, there’s a part where it talks about how Kool Herc came up with the idea one night to extend breakbeats using two turntables. Then Coke La Rock, at the very same party, seemingly inspired by Herc’s innovation, grabbed the mic and starting rapping. I don’t doubt that Coke La Rock did some rapping at this party. But the way it’s put in the story, it makes it seem as if he invented rapping right there on the spot.
I was reminded of those old Sprite commercials that supposedly depict how Grand Wizard Theodore invented scratching one day when he had to put his hand on a record to stop it from spinning while his mom yelled at him. Basically, it sounded like a bunch of bullshit. And while it might seem harmless enough, how long will it be until some Chinese kid reads it and becomes convinced that’s how rapping was invented?
You know those Chinese kids like to research pop culture.
Fast forward a few weeks to the other day, when I picked up a copy of the Riverfront Times in the doorway of a place where I go to get pork fied lice and chicken wings.
The cover story had to do with the origins of the hip-hop scene here in St. Louis, and I was surprised to see how much of a role St. Louis played in early hip-hop in general. For example, as I mentioned on my own site yesterday, St. Louis was the first city where “Rappers Delight” became a hit on the radio.
I was reminded of the story in New York Magazine re: Kool Herc when I read this part about how one of the guys profiled in the story claims that, way back in the 1960s, he would run a James Brown record back to let the breakbeat repeat, using one turntable.
Now, I don’t mean to suggest that this guy deserves any credit for Kool Herc’s innovation. I just thought it was fascinating that he had the same impulse, years earlier. It makes you wonder how many other people had the idea to extend breakbeats, years before Kool Herc figured out how to do it using two turntables.
I’d also suggest that it goes to show how arbitrary it is that the birth of hip-hop is pinpointed as the moment when Kool Herc invented a certain DJ technique. Was a party held, say, two weeks prior really all that less hip-hop just because the breakbeats didn’t last as long? And did Coke La Rock really invent rapping at that same party, or had that been going on before?
The story in the RFT says that guys here in St. Louis had been rapping on the radio as far back as the early 1970s.
Gates, the man who hired Jockenstein in 1979, says DJs on black radio stations had been rhyming over intros to songs since the early 1970s. One of his DJs, the Original Godfather, even performed entire rap sets for audiences while live on the air.
“The Original Godfather was the first DJ to rap, period,” seconds G. Wiz. “He was doing both: He would mix, he would get on the mic and rock a crowd. He was live from the club and he’d be killing it.”
It’s too bad we don’t have any recordings of the Original Godfather doing his thing back in the early ’70s. I’ve heard recordings of DJs rapping on the radio here in the early ’80s, and if what they were doing in the early ’70s is at all similar, I think a case could be made that the Original Godfather invented hip-hop more so than Kool Herc.
As it turns out, KRS-One might have had a point in his hilarious beef with Jeff Chang a couple of years ago.
You’ll recall that the beef began when Kris got all salty that someone had the sheer balls to write a book about hip-hop without interviewing him. Also, Chang fucked up the part about how “Stop the Violence” was a tribute to Scott La Rock, when “Stop the Violence” was actually recorded while Scott La Rock was still alive.
So KRS-One spent a few weeks talking shit about Jeff Chang in interviews to promote Hip-Hop Lives. He also did that song on the album about how he was there when hip-hop began, but where was Jeff Chang? Fortunately, he never threatened to jump over a table during a panel discussion and break his foot off in Jeff Chang’s ass, like he did Adisa Banjoko that time.
The tendency at the time was to want to think that KRS was just a salty old crackhead, like Kool Herc, but I remember he really broke it down in this one interview about how the origin of hip-hop story that we all know and love is actually just a myth, and how Jeff Chang let Kool Herc sell him a line of bulllshit.
Then he went on to cite specific examples of how dudes were kicking rhymes way before that party at 1520 Sedgwick, including the one that I found the most fascinating – that H. Rap Brown used to rap (hence the name) way back in the 1950s, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He quoted one of his old raps in his autobiography, published in 1969, and it’s the exact same rhyme that Big Bank Hank kicks on “Rappers Delight.” What’s more, another guy kicks that same rhyme in a film called Five on the Black Hand Side, released in 1971.
What do you fruits think? If guys were rapping on the radio here in the early ’70s, then Coke La Rock did it in New York and it became this huge international phenomenon, does Kool Herc really deserve credit for having invented hip-hop? Isn’t that kinda like Christopher Columbus claiming that he discovered America? Could Kool Herc’s reputation be due for reconsideration, similar to how Columbus’ was in the 1980s? Speak on it.