1520 Sedgwick Avenue in Morris Heights was the site where DJ Kool Herc, real name Clive Campbell, became known as the founding father of hip-hop after making his debut at a party in 1973. However, what started out just as a back-to-school party turned out to be one of the most significant moments in music history.
Cindy Campbell, his sister, came up with the idea of throwing a back-to-school party in the recreation room of her Bronx apartment building and decided to book her 16-year-old brother, Clive, to spin the decks. Fliers were handed out through NYC advertising a “Kool Herc Party” priced at $0.25 for ladies and $0.50 for guys and the party ended up being attended by over 300 people.
Yet DJ Kool Herc did not end up playing the mainstream disco pop and psychedelic rock that was popular at the time, instead opting for funk and soul cuts setting the course for a new direction away from the world of disco. With his roots in Jamaica, Herc brought some Jamaican flavor to New York, yet it was not so much his good sound system that broke the norm but how he read and understood the crowd, chopping and changing depending on the feel of the room.
Joseph C. Ewoodzie, author of Break Beats in the Bronx: Rediscovering Hip-Hop’s Early Years, tells us, “This was the Bronx, and people wanted something different, not dancehall or even what was on the radio.” So Herc started playing the funkiest portions of the sounds with the best drum beats and switching between in a way that had never been done before.
From there, Herc went on to carve out a new genre that became known as hip hop from which break dancing, graffiti, scratching, and rapping were to be born. While it is difficult to pinpoint just one, specific occasion that gives life to a new idea, Herc’s debut at the recreation room of 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in Morris Heights provides a starting point from which a new genre was created.
Hip-hop historian, Jeff Chang, says, “I think the story of Herc and Cindy’s party speaks to the need for joy amidst the turmoil, the power of creativity against destruction, the ‘started from the bottom ethic that youth will always find a way to express itself.”