Interview w/ DJ Kool Herc
1989 New Music Seminar
by Davey D

If there was ever a case of being at the right place at the right time. The day I ran into DJ Kool Herc at the 1989 New Music Seminar was that time. It was a controversial yet electrifying seminar. I was attending a panel on Hip-Hop and hanging out with fellow journalist Harry Allen the Media Assassin. Toward the end of the panel Kool Herc walked into the room yet no one seemed to know, understand and to a certain degree care who he was. His name was mentioned and his contributions to Hip-Hop were uttered, but he was clearly not given the proper respects. Whoever was moderating the panel didn't really know or understand who Kool Herc was. I hadn't seen him in a long time and was a bit taken back, but I immediately grabbed my tape recorder and seized the moment. This was history. This was the Godfather of Hip-Hop. This was the man who started it all and here I was in a room with a bunch of folks who were so caught up in themselves that they neglected to let this brother drop science. Here's the transcript of our interview that took place in June 1989...

Davey D: Herc. Legend has it that you're the one that started hip-hop. How did this come about?

Kool Herc: Hip-Hop started when my father brought a PA system and didn't know how to hook it up. I was messing around with the music and I started out by buying a few records to play at my house. When I was doing that I saw a lot of kids playing outside in the backyard. My sister asked me to give a party one day. Actually, she wanted me to play at a party [1520 Segdwick Ave] and I went out and got around twenty records that I felt was good enough and we gave a party and charged about twenty five cents to come in and made 300 dollars.

At the time I was into graffiti so there was a lot of curiosity was about who I was. And so when they came there they saw who I was and what I did, I fulfilled their expectations on me. Herc could talk and play good music and people didn't mess around in his party. The ‘babes’ [fine women] were there and he [Herc] might call your name on the mic. In those days ain't no body know about calling your name on the mic or hearing records back to back...

Davey D: Ok when you say call your name on the mic and go back to back, what exactly did you mean by that?

Kool Herc: I was like hailing my friends that I knew out there in the party. That would keep my head going. The homeboys that I played basketball with, not the curiosity seekers, not the party goer that come into see or hear me play, but friends that when the party's over is gonna be there. That's who I was calling out..people like that. I'd say things like, 'There goes my mellow Coke La Rock in the house' 'There goes my mellow Clark Kent in the house', 'There goes my mellow Timmy Tim in the house', 'There goes my mellow Ricky D', 'There goes my mellow Bambaataa'. People like that acknowledgment that they hear from their friend.

Davey D: So how did that style lead to the actual rhyming style that encompasses rap music today?

Kool Herc: Well the rhyming well you know, I like playing lyrics that was saying something. I figured the people would pick it up me playing these records, but at the same time, I would say something myself with a meaningful message to it. I would say things like:

Ya rock and ya don't stop
And this is the sounds of DJ Kool Herc
and the Sound System and you're listening to
is what we call the Herculoids.
He was born in an orphanage;
he fought like a slave fuckin' up faggots all the Herculoids played
When it come to push come to shove
the Herculoids won't budge
The bass is so low you can't get under it
The high is so high you can't get over it
So in other words be with it

Davey D: Did you get the rhyming style from Jamaica?

Kool Herc: Hip-Hop, the whole chemistry of that came from Jamaica, cause I'm West Indian. I was born in Jamaica. I was listening to American music in Jamaica and my favorite artist was James Brown. That's who inspired me. A lot of the records I played were by James Brown. When I came over here I just had to put it in the American style and a drum and bass. So what I did here was go right to the "yoke". I cut off all anticipation and played the beats. I'd find out where the break in the record was at and prolong it and people would love it. So I was giving them their own taste and beat percussion wise. Cause my music is all about heavy bass.

Davey D: What year did this happen?

Kool Herc: 1970

Davey D: Who were the original Herculoids?

Kool Herc: My man Coke La Rock, He was the first A-1 Coke. Then he was Nasty Coke and finally he just liked the name Coke La Rock. There was Timmy Tim and there was Clark Kent. We called him the rock machine.

Davey D: Is this the same Clark Kent who DJs for Dana Dane?

Kool Herc: No! No! Impostor! I repeat he's an impostor. The real Clark Kent was called Bo King and he knows what that means. There was only one original Clark Kent in the music business. This other guy is carrying his name. I guess he respects Clark Kent.

Davey D: How did the whole party scene start with hip-hop?

Kool Herc: It started coming together as far as the gangs terrorizing a lot of known discotheques back in the days. I had respect from a lot of the gang members because they used to go to school with me. There was the Savage Skulls, Glory Stompers, Blue Diamond, Black Cats, Black Spades. Guys knew me because I carried myself with respect and I respected them. I respected everybody. I gave the women their respect. I never tried to use my charisma to be conceited or anything like that. I played what they liked and acknowledged their neighborhood when they came to my party. I never gave a party without the public asking me when is the next party. If I went to the East side it would be 'Hey Herc when's the next party?' On the west side it'd be 'When's the next party?'. So when I felt the symptoms or felt the right urges, that's when I'd give the next party. I never gave a party just to be giving a party unless the people asked me when is the next one cause they telling me they like it and that's what kept me going. I was the people's choice. I was their investment. They made me who I am and I never fronted on them. No matter how big my name got, I was always in the neighborhood. They could see and touch me. The people have a way of showing they want or don't want you. Right now they want me to get out.

Davey D: Over the years did you think that rap music or Hip-Hop was gonna become the big million-dollar industry that it is today?

Kool Herc: No. Little did anybody know we were making history by creating our own culture for our unborn family or unborn child to be coming up into. Nobody knew. A lot of people knocked it, but I stuck with it. I even got stabbed trying to bring peace to a discrepancy at a party. They didn't know. Right now they know it's out and the people are saying 'Hey you should get something for being out there Herc. You started this for Run and Kurtis Blow. It started here. They came to my parties. They heard what I played. They went out there and put other things to it. Hey it's only right when anything gets created there's gonna be somebody else creating something to enhance it. I like it. But when they ask the question of where it comes from. It started here.

Davey D: Pioneers like Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash and others all went on to stay visible beyond the music just being stuck in the Bronx. How come Kool Herc never put out a record? How come Kool Herc wasn't out there in the limelight?

Kool Herc: The thing is.. I carried hip-hop. I dominated this in the '70’s. Then the whole volcano erupted around this with 'Rapper's Delight' with Big Bank Hank. Hank knew me personally. He knew where it came from because he was the doorman at our parties at the Executive Playhouse that later changed its name to Sparkle. When he had the impact of bringing it to the public, knowing it was the real deal. They didn't know who he was. Right around there I got hurt. I got stabbed...

Davey D: Because Big Bad Hank never gave you any credit?

Kool Herc: No! I got stabbed up physically and that backed me up. It killed the juice in me. When your life gets damn near snuffed out and your up there lying in the hospital bed for weeks, you got time to think. I kept visible. I was about my own thing. I rented the space, I spun the music and I promoted the place. I didn't have too many people around me with more motivation to help. It was my business and I sat back and watched to see where it was going. And where ever rap is going I'm gonna be there. There's always gonna be a part there for me. Don't let me forget. I didn't want to be in it like that.. A lot of them pioneers no matter how their names were out there wasn't getting paid. I didn't want to get on that bandwagon because I was about my own thing and nobody ever approached me about that perspective of letting me be my own man. Let me run whatever part I'm supposed to run and have authority. Don't let me be like some sort of puppet. I wasn't with that...

Davey D: You've followed rap over the years. What do you think about the changes?

Kool Herc: I wanted rap to always be a positive, beautiful music. I wanted it to be political. I want it to stay that way. We got kings, queens and jokers. There was some women complaining about the lyrics of a Slick Rick, but she gotta understand that he's like a Eddie Murphy in our business and there are selective people out there that want that. It's not like he’s gonna go to play in front of the youngsters. The radio is not supposed to give a lot of air time to records like that. That's the people's choice. That'll spread like wild fire through word of mouth. It don't need no airtime...

Davey D: Back in the days, you heard stories about Bambaataa not getting along with Flash and other rivalries. Did you get along with everybody and what about all these stories?

Kool Herc: I got along with everybody 'cause I gave respect. A lot of things happened at certain guy's parties that I didn't tolerate. People always like to put things into it. For example, they were always trying to put Bam against me. What they didn't know was that me and Bam had already met. I told him the public had this idea and that there were all types of scrutiny but this is me. I respected Bam from the day I went to a party and rode into Bronx River. I met Bam and was talking to him on the bench and he told me he had a lot of music. When I first came to the neighborhood and I was waiting for the person I was supposed to meet, I didn't go to his house. But I rode back to Bronx River one summer and Bam had his equipment set up and was playing music and I knew in a way who inspired him. And he gave the respect of playing records that I played for me or for my fans. He had his own style and I loved that. He had records I never heard before. Some in fact that could help my mixing gap then and I loved that. I didn't want to hear the ‘same ole same ole’.

Back then, crews were gangs. Get that straight. Crew was another name for gang. So therefore when you heard about Flash and Bam It was really about the Black Spades (Zulu Nation) and the Casanovas. So therefore you were going to have friction besides the DJs. That tension was already there.

Davey D: Are you gonna be making a comeback?

Kool Herc: I was never away. I would like to be a part of a production that my musical ear could give a hand to. As far as what I know and seen move the crowd or break it. And that's all I've been hearing, what moved the crowd already. A lot of music I've already heard or I've played already. I've come down here (New Music Seminar) to make some connections. This is really a move out. I never left New York and I want to see how Hip-Hop effects other states and the world by my own eyes. You see I'm a freestyle DJ. I like to play something that the radio should be playing that they're not playing. That's where my music always comes from. I'd like to get my sound system back in shape and go on the road and play during the intermission of these groups shows.

Davey D: Any last words?

Kool Herc: Well, no matter what rumors you've heard, I'm still built like a twenty five/forty five frame. I still weigh 230 pounds and I'm in love with a beautiful young lady from Corpus Christi Texas named Wanda. I pledge to marry that lady pretty soon.

c 1989

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