New York City’s SummerStage commemorated 40 years of hip-hop yesterday (August 10) with a jam-packed free show in Central Park.  Part of SummerStage’s “This is Hip-Hop” series, the birthday bash featured and honored DJ Kool Herc, the legendary Bronx DJ and founder of hip-hop culture.

An all-star lineup of hip-hop luminaries took the stage to pay tribute to Herc and dish out more than four hours of old-school flavor.  Roxanne Shante performed and hosted the event, and told XXL that, “It was an honor for me, because some of us don’t even get a chance to celebrate 40 years of life.  Especially with the backgrounds a lot of us come from—we come from the urban projects, we come from a really rough time.  A lot of people didn’t make it through the ’80’s.  So to stand here and say that we were here to celebrate 40 years of hip-hop was phenomenal; just to be there with Kool Herc, and to know that he’s one of the originators, if not the originator.”

The day kicked off with Grandwizzard Theodore and Soul Sonic Force.  Pow Wow of Soul Sonic Force told XXL: “We travel all over the world, many stages, but there’s nothing like performing in New York.  This is the birthplace of hip-hop, and there’s nothing like being on that stage.”

Coke La Rock, widely considered to be the first-ever hip-hop MC, was among yesterday’s honorees.  When asked by XXL how it felt to be onstage 40 years after helping lay the foundation, he said, “I feel great—I mean, I started it.  We killed disco.  I never could have imagined hip-hop would get this big.  If I had, I woulda made records, I woulda stayed in the game.  I left before guys got powerful.”

The audience moved and cheered to high-energy sets from legendary DJs Marley Marl, Premier and Red Alert.  Skoob from Das EFX burst onstage for a quick number, and the crowd danced and sang along with Fonda Rae’s “Over Like a Fat Rat.”  With so many performers, the sets were short and largely focused on the classics, creating a solid greatest-hits afternoon for old-school fans.

Toward the end of the show, hip-hop heavyweight Rakim stormed onstage, blazing through “I Know You Got Soul”, “I Ain’t No Joke”, and “Paid In Full.”  As Rakim rapped, Kool Herc simply could not have looked happier.  Smiling ear-to-ear, he swung a towel and danced across the stage, matching the awestruck, ecstatic energy of the crowd.

Erika Elliott, SummerStage’s Artistic Director, explained to XXL that the idea for the show came from Kool Herc himself.  “Last summer he came to me and said that he really wanted to do something big in Central Park next year because it's the 40th anniversary of this culture that he helped create. And I was on board as soon as he said it.”

Big Daddy Kane wrapped up the celebration in classic style, bringing out Lil’ Rodney C and dropping favorites like “Raw” and “Ain’t No Half-Steppin.’”  Kane told XXL afterwards:  “I had a great time up there.  I’ve always had nothing but the utmost respect for Kool Herc.  I love hip-hop, and just seeing so many of the artists that I grew up listening to—Cold Crush, Lil’ Rodney C, all these cats out there—I mean, it was just beautiful.  I had a great time; the crowd was live.”

Kane went on to say that even in the early days, he could see the path to hip-hop’s explosion: “When hip-hop began, they talked about it like it was just some little phase that would fade away eventually, and that it was ignorant.  That’s the same thing they said about rock ’n’ roll, and look what that became.  So I already knew that hip-hop was gonna do the exact same thing.”

Not surprisingly, some recognizable hip-hop figures were part of the audience.  XXL caught up with Sway after the show, who said, “It’s an honor being here today, just as a spectator, as a fan, and as somebody who’s been immersed in hip-hop since as long as I can remember.  I got to hang out with some legends that inspired me, like Spoonie Gee.  Seeing Kool Herc, someone I grew up watching and reading about and researching, and just seeing people assembled like this—the pioneers that laid the building blocks for the people like Jay-Z, Nas, A$AP Rocky, Drake, Wayne, all these people who are benefitting from this platform.”

Spoonie Gee told XXL: “I’m the first rap solo artist in the whole wide world on wax.  When I did it, I did it just to be doing something, to have fun.  And then before you know it, somebody made a record after me, then another record and another record, and then before you know it, it’s in the Grammies.  So I never expected hip-hop to be this big, but thank God it did get this big.”

Throughout the show, the stage backdrop featured photos and memorabilia from the early days of hip-hop, including a shot of the actual flyer that Clive Campbell (Kool Herc) and his sister Cindy passed around to advertise that first, history-making party on August 11, 1973.  Many of the featured photos were courtesy of Joe Conzo, a photographer credited with documenting the birth and growth of hip-hop.  He told XXL yesterday that he first met Herc in the late ’70s, and that at that time, he could not have imagined what hip-hop would become.  “As a kid growing up in the south Bronx, growing up with the Cold Crush Brothers and Afrika Bambaataa…we were just young Latinos and blacks, having a good time.   Our thing was the next party, next Friday, next Saturday.  Never in our wildest dreams did we think it would get this big.” ─Katie Moore

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