A Brief History of Hip-Hop – Part 1 The DJ

Read The Introduction

It is hard to define the exact time that hip-hop was created. There are so many influences that came together to form the culture and many of them far pre-date hip-hop.

Where did it come from? It was born out of dancing and the love of music.

DJs began to play parties and realized that partygoers liked dancing to the breakdown of the record. A break is the part of a song where there is no singing and the rhythm is stripped down to a simple drum pattern and some back up. DJs soon learned that they could use two record players playing the same song in order to prolong the break. As soon as the breakdown ended on one record, the DJ would time it so that it would immediately play again on the other record. This way, the DJ could extend a thirty-second break indefinitely. Thus breakdancing was born.

One DJ is credited as starting up the culture of hip-hop in the Bronx. While it can be argued that a lot of elements came together to form the culture, his contributions cannot be ignored. His name was Clive Campbell, better known as Kool Herc. In 1973 he deejayed his first block party. These parties were held outside and were the starting point of hip-hop.

You didn’t need money to be part of this. All you needed was one DJ, two record players, a mixer, and two copies of a record. Hip-hop wasn’t even used to describe this cultural phenomenon until years later.

It moved beyond the DJ just playing a record and kids dancing. Kool Herc brought a new element to it from his native land of Jamaica. It started out simple enough. He would try to hype up the crowd by saying short, pithy rhymes over the sound system. He adapted this technique from the reggae style known as toasting. At this point, rapping still did not exist. The DJs played music, occasionally talked in rhyme to hype up the crowd, and people danced.

It was a great equalizer because DJs could plug into streetlights for power. They didn’t need to pay money to go to a club to listen to and enjoy music. Block parties became a cultural phenomenon in the 1970s and quickly developed into something more. In 1974 Lovebug Starski started to refer to this culture as hip-hop but the term didn’t catch on for a while.

Next up

PART 2 – Rap is Born

2 responses to “A Brief History of Hip-Hop – Part 1 The DJ”

  1. Hi: My name is Mary Ellen Lepak and I am a grad student writing my thesis about hip hop lyrics. I also want to do either a podcast or digital history of my thesis. You can reach me at marylepak@att.net

  2. Hi Mary Ellen,

    Good luck with your thesis. If you need any help with it, don't hesitate to ask. You can get at me on Twitter by clicking on the sidebar.