Hip Hop Wiki
DJ Kool Herc
Kool Herc.jpg

Birth name

Clive Campbell

Also known as

Kool Herc, Kool DJ Herc


April 16, 1955 (1955-04-16) (age 67)
Kingston, Jamaica


The Bronx, New York, U.S.


Hip hop

Years active


Clive Campbell (born April 16, 1955), better known by his stage name DJ Kool Herc, is a Jamaican-born American DJ who is credited with originating hip hop music in the mid-1970s in The Bronx, New York City. His playing of hard funk records of the sort typified by James Brown was an alternative to the violent gang culture of the Bronx and the nascent popularity of disco in the 1970s. Campbell began to isolate the instrumental portion of the record, which emphasized the drumbeat - the "break" - and switch from one break to another to another.

Using the same two turntable set-up of disco DJs, Campell used two copies of the same record to lengthen the break. This breakbeat DJing, using hard funk, rock, and Latin percussion records, formed the basis of hip hop music. Campbell's announcements and exhortations to dancers helped lead to the syncopated, rhymed spoken accompaniment now known as rapping. He called his dancers "break-boys" and "break-girls", or simply b-boys and b-girls. Campbell's DJ style influenced figures such as Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash. Unlike them, he never made the move into commercially recorded hip hop and has not released any albums.


Early life and education[]

Clive Campbell was the first of six children born to Keith and Nettie Campbell in Kingston, Jamaica. While growing up, he saw and heard the sound systems of neighborhood parties called dancehalls, and the accompanying speech of their DJs, which was known as toasting. He and his family moved to the Bronx, New York on November 1967, where they lived at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue.

His family encountered social disruption following the construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway. It uprooted thousands in stable neighborhoods, displacing communities and caused many white people to leave the city when property values dropped near the roadway. Many landlords resorted to arson to recoup the money they needed. A violent new street gang youth culture emerged around 1968 and spread quickly throughout large parts of the Bronx in 1973.

Campbell attended the Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education High School in the Bronx. His height, frame, and demeanor on the basketball court prompted kids to nickname him "Hercules". He began hanging out with a graffiti crew called the Ex Vandals, taking the name Kool Herc. Herc recalls persuading his father to buy him a copy of "Sex Machine" by James Brown, a record that not a lot of his friends had, and which they would come to him to hear. He and his sister, Cindy, began hosting back-to-school parties in the recreation room of their building. Herc's first sound system consisted of two turntables, a dual-channel guitar amplifier and PA speakers. With Bronx clubs' struggling with street gangs, uptown DJs catering to an older disco crowd with different aspirations, and commercial radio also catering to a demographic distinct from teenagers in the Bronx, Herc's parties had a ready-made audience.

The break[]

DJ Kool Herc developed the style that was the blueprint for hip hop music. Herc used the record to focus on a short percussive part in it: the "break". Since this part of the record was the one the dancers liked best, Herc isolated, changed to the other, and later, prolonged it. As one record reached the end of the break, he cued the other record back to the beginning of the break, thereby extending a relatively small part of a record into a "five-minute loop of fury". This innovation had its roots in what Herc referred to as "The Merry-Go-Round" - a switching from break to break done at the height of the party. Herc told The New York Times that he first introduced the Merry-Go-Round into his sets in 1972.

Kool Herc also contributed to developing the rhyming style of hip hop by punctuating the recorded music with slang phrases, announcing: "Rock on, my mellow!", "B-boys, b-girls, are you ready? Keep on rock steady.", "This is the joint! Herc beat on the point!" and "You don't stop!". For his contributions, Herc is called a founding father of hip hop, a nascent cultural hero and an integral part of the beginnings of hip hop by Time.

11 August 1973[]

On the 11th of August 1973, Cindy Campbell, Herc's sister, rented the recreation room of 1520 Sedgwick Avenue for

A flyer for Kool Herc's party.

$25 to host a back to school party. Herc had brought new records from a shop called Sounds and Things and had practiced for most of the week on his father's Shure speakers. While Herc was performing, Coke La Rock picked up a microphone and started rapping to Herc's music. This venue has been referred to by many as the start of hip hop music.

B-boys and b-girls[]

The "b-boys" and "b-girls" were the dancers to Herc's breaks, who were described as "breaking". Herc has noted that "breaking" was also street slang of the time meaning "getting excited", "acting energetically" or "causing a disturbance". Herc's terms "b-boys", "b-girls" and "breaking" became part of the vocabulary of hip hop culture before that culture had a name. Early Kool Herc b-boy and later DJ innovator Grandmaster DXT describes the early evolution as, "...[E]verybody would form a circle and the b-boys would go in the center. At first, the dance was simple: touch your toes, hop, kick out your leg. Then some guy went down, spun around on all fours. Everybody said wow and went home to try to come up with something better."

In the early 1980s, the media began to call this style "breakdance". Since the overall emerging culture was yet to be named, its followers were identified as "b-boys" even if they were not a dancer.

Move to the streets[]

With the power of his graffiti name, his physical stature, and the reputation of his small parties, Herc became a folk hero in the Bronx. He began to play at nearby clubs and high schools such as Dodge and Taft. Rapping duties at his concerts were delegated to Coke La Rock. Herc's collective, known as the Herculoids, was augmented by Clark Kent and dancers The Nigga Twins. Herc took his sound system to the streets and parks of the Bronx.


In 1975, the young Grandmaster Flash began DJing with Herc's style, as Herc was a hero of Flash. Afrika Bambaataa first heard Kool Herc in 1973. Bambaataa, at that time a general in the infamous Black Spades gang of the Bronx, obtained his sound system in 1975 and began to DJ in Herc's style, converting his followers to the non-violent Zulu Nation in the progress. 

Kool Herc began using The Incredible Bongo Band's "Apache" as a breakbeat in 1975. It became a firm b-boy favorite and is still used in hip hop music production today.