Kool Herc (Clive Cambell, born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1955) emigrated to the Bronx in 1967 when he was 12 years old. While attending Alfred E. Smith High School he spent a lot of time in the weight room. That fact coupled with his height spurned the other kids to call him Hercules.
His first deejay gig was as his sister’s birthday party. It was the start of an industry.
1520 Sedgwick Avenue. The address of Herc’s family and the location of the recreation room where he would throw many of his first parties as the DJ.
Herc became aware that although he knew which records would keep the crowd moving, he was more interested in the break section of the song. At this point in a song, the vocals would stop and the beat would just ride for short period. His desire to capture this moment for a longer period of time would be a very important one for hip hop.
Herc would purchase two copies of the same record and play them on separate turntables next to each other. He would play the break beat on one record then throw it over to the other turntable and play the same part. Doing this over and over, he could rock any house in NY. (Not to mention it being an early form of looping that would be made easier through electronic sampling.)
He would dig in crates and look everywhere to find the perfect break beat for his parties. He didn’t care what type of music, because he only needed a small section of a song for his purposes.
His first professional DJ job was at the Twilight Zone in 1973. He wanted to get into another place called the Hevalo, but wasn’t allowed…yet.
His fame grew. In addition to his break beats, Herc also became known as the man with the loudest system around. When he decided to hold a party in one of the parks, it was a crazy event. And a loud one. At this time Afrika Bambaataa and other competing DJ’s began trying to take Herc’s crown. Jazzy Jay of the Zulu Nation recalls one momentous meeting between Herc and Bam.
Herc was late setting up and Bam continued to play longer than he should have. Once Herc was set up he got on the microphone and said “Bambaataa, could you please turn your system down?” Bam’s crew was pumped and told Bam not to do it. So Herc said louder, “Yo, Bambaataa, turn your system down-down-down.” Bam’s crew started cursing Herc until Herc put the full weight of his system up and said, “Bambaataa-baataa -baataa, TURN YOUR SYSTEM DOWN!” And you couldn’t even hear Bam’s set at all. The Zulu crew tried to turn up the juice but it was no use. Everybody just looked at them like, “You should’ve listened to Kool Herc.”
Finally his fame peaked and at last, in 1975, he began working at the Hevalo in the Bronx. He helped coin the phrase b-boy (break boy) and was recently quoted as saying he was “the oldest living b-boy.”
The official ITUNES Music Award winner 2012 Oddisee, the son of Sudanese and American parents, Amir Mohamed, was born and raised in the United States capital city of Washington DC, spending hot summers in Khartoum learning Arabic and swimming in the Nile. Growing up amidst the sounds of New York hip hop, his father playing Oud, Go-Go, and gospel, Amir took his first steps as an MC producer in the analog basement studio of his legendary neighbor, Garry Shider (Parliament Funkadelic).
Though Oddisee has gone on to perform with The Roots, produce for Freeway, Jazzy Jeff, Little Brother, De La Soul & Nikki Jean, and has MC’d on production from Flying Lotus, Hudson Mohawke and Kev Brown, his proudest moment was the birth of his critically acclaimed group The Diamond District with fellow Washingtonians X.O. and yU.
Oddisee’s debut album “People Hear What They See” (released 12 June 2012) is a culmination of the duality of his life experiences, from DC internal politics to third world struggles, the line between love and selfishness, and the personal conflict between self-sabotage and progress, set to a backdrop of intricate drums, lush instrumentation, and soul-stirring harmonies.
‘The Good Fight’
Oddisee makes music that rattles in your bone marrow. It’s imbued with love, honesty, and selflessness. It’s virtuosic in its musicality, direct in its language, and infinitely relatable.
In a landscape overrun with abstract indulgence and shallow trend-chasers, the Prince George’s County, Maryland artist has created ‘The Good Fight’, a record that reminds you that it’s music before it’s hip-hop. Released on Mello Music Group, it’s for the fans and for himself. It finds the musical heavyweight balancing between craft, career, and successfully growing into the world around him.
For Oddisee, ‘The Good Fight’ is about living fully as a musician without succumbing to the traps of hedonism, avarice, and materialism. It’s about not selling out and shilling for a paycheck, while still being aware that this is a business requiring compromise and collaboration.
It’s music that yields an intangible feeling: the sacral sound of an organ whine, brass horns, or a cymbal crash. It’s not necessarily the syllables, but rather what they evoke. A song like “That’s Love” is more than a declaration; it’s a meditation on our capacity to love and the bonds binding us together. Ambition and greed war with our sense of propriety. “Contradiction’s Maze” offers a list of paradoxes we all face (“I want to tell the truth when it hurts/but when it comes to me, I want the blow softened.”)
Oddisee’s production simmers in its own orchestral gumbo. You sense he’s really a jazzman in different form, inhabiting the spirit of Roy Ayers and other past greats. The Fader’s compared him to a musical MC Escher, calling hailing his “grandiose and symphonic sound” and “relevant relatable messages.” Pitchfork praised his “eclectic soulful boom-bap.”
‘The Good Fight’ acknowledges the stacked odds, but refuses to submit.
It’s both universal and personal. The child of a Sudanese immigrant highlights the rigors of his own upbringing: his pregnant mother working the register until she was about to burst, his pops’ shuttered diner that couldn’t survive Reaganomics—the one that Oddisee drives past every time he returns home, just to remind him how quickly the world can turn bad.
It’s these minor details that add into something major. It’s testament to the indelible nature of art: when you can turn what you love into something that lasts.
Oddisee’s new album, The Good Fight, will be available May 5th.
Jeff Chang has written extensively on culture, politics, the arts, and music.
His first book, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, garnered many honors, including the American Book Award and the Asian American Literary Award. He edited the book, Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop.
His new book, Who We Be: The Colorization of America, was released on St. Martin’s Press in October 2014. He is currently at work on two other book projects: Youth (Picador Big Ideas/Small Books series), and a biography of Bruce Lee (Little, Brown).
Jeff has been a USA Ford Fellow in Literature and a winner of the North Star News Prize. He was named by The Utne Reader as one of “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World”. With H. Samy Alim, he was the 2014 winner of the St. Clair Drake Teaching Award at Stanford University.
Jeff co-founded CultureStr/ke and ColorLines. He has written for The Nation, the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Believer, Foreign Policy, N+1, Mother Jones, Salon, Slate, Buzzfeed, and Medium, among many others.
Born and raised in Honolulu, Hawai’i, he is a graduate of ‘Iolani School, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of California at Los Angeles.
He serves as the Executive Director of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford University.
Wild Style directed by Charlie Ahearn was first screened in 1982 and went on to become the classic Hip Hop movie. After directing other films such as Fear of Fiction and artist documentaries Ahearn co-authored book Yes Yes Y’all, released in 2002 was an oral history of the first decade of Hip Hop with many photos by Ahearn. Wild Style The Sampler by Ahearn was published in 2007 on the 25th anniversary of that movie. Ahearn has been producing documentaries such as Richard Hunt Sculptor 2010, Jamel Shabazz Street Photographer 2011 and Hip Hop musical shorts, his latest being All City Take It To The Bridge. Ahearn resides in New York City.
Brian Coleman is a journalist and historian who is the author of three acclaimed nonfiction music books: Check the Technique Volume 2: More Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies (Wax Facts Press, 2014); Check the Technique: Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies (Villard / Random House, 2007; Shinko [Japan], 2008); and Rakim Told Me: Hip-Hop Wax Facts, Straight from the Original Artists. The ‘80s (Wax Facts Press, 2005).
In the 1990s and early 2000s, he promoted avant garde jazz and, starting in the mid-‘90s, moonlighted as a hip-hop journalist, contributing hundreds of articles and reviews to publications including XXL, Scratch, Wax Poetics, URB, CMJ, the Boston Herald, Metro Newspapers, and many more.
Ben Ortiz is the assistant curator of the Cornell University Library Hip Hop Collection. He devotes his time to promoting and providing access to the growing Hip Hop Collection, focusing on teaching, outreach, archival processing, and curatorial support.
The Hip Hop Collection is part of Cornell Library’s Division of Rare & Manuscript Collections, Cornell’s primary repository for rare books, manuscripts, photographs, archives, and more. More information is available here: PreservingHipHop.org The mission of the collection is to collect and make accessible the historical documents of Hip Hop culture and to ensure their preservation for current and future generations.
Msia Kibona Clark is an assistant professor at California State University, Los Angeles. Originally from Tanzania, she earned her BA in Political Science from Johnson C. Smith University, an MA in International Studies from American University, and a PhD in African Studies from Howard University.
Msia Kibona Clark specializes in African migration and identity studies as well as studies of hip hop culture and social movements in Africa. Msia was a 2013/2014 Fulbright Scholar to Tanzania where she taught courses at the Department of Fine and Performing Arts at the University of Dar es Salaam and researched the use and effectiveness of social media as a tool of engagement by hip hop artists.
Her scholarly publications include several articles such as: “Questions of identity among African immigrants in America”, “Identity Formation and Integration among Bicultural Blacks”, “Hip hop as social commentary in Accra and Dar es Salaam”, “The Struggle for Authenticity and Against Commercialization in Tanzania”, and “Gendered Representations among Tanzanian Female Emcees”. She also guest edited a special issue of the Journal of Pan African Studies on hip hop in Africa and co-edited the book Hip Hop and Social Change in Africa: Ni Wakati.
An accomplished photographer, Msia Clark has also done photographic exhibitions and photographic examinations of hip hop in Africa.
Dr. Clark is also a community and human rights activists, serving as the Uganda Country Specialist for Amnesty International USA. She also a member of the Tanzanian Women’s Association, the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), and serves as a board member for the Association of Social and Behavioral Sciences.
Mejah Mbuya is a pioneer on multiple fronts. as an artist, he is largely responsible for re-introducing graffiti art, known locally as ‘chata’, and shining a light on its history and socio-political relevance within Dar Es Salaam over the past ten years. Mejah and his team of fellow graffiti artists – Local, Medy, Kalasinga and Mizani 86 – make up the Wachata Crew, founded in 2007. The crew focuses on creating socially conscious graffiti art, developing a local taxonomy of graf images and symbols, and working on commission for companies, NGOs and artists of other mediums.
Meryem Saci is a singer/songwriter/MC from Algeria. At the age of 13, Meryem and her single mother were forced to flee the country due to its civil war. After several weeks of moving underground, her and her mother finally immigrated to Montreal, Canada as political refugees.
While struggling to adjust to a new country, culture and language, Meryem found release in music and hip hop. In the year 2005, she joined multi-cultural super group Nomadic Massive and has recorded 2 albums, 1 EP and 2 mix tapes with the group. Nomadic Massive has been rated the #1 Hip Hop Act in Montreal for five years in a row, and they have opened for Georgia Ann Muldrow, Mos Def, Deltron 3030, Wyclef Jean, Public Enemy and Busta Rhymes to name a few.
Meryem has performed internationally both with Nomadic Massive and as a solo artist in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, Canada and the United States. Her solo music has been featured in several TV Series and Cartoons as well as top grossing Canadian films such as Derapage, Omertà, Sur le Rythme. Her single, “One More Chance” from the Sur le Rythme soundtrack was #1 in the Top Montreal Music Channel Hit-list for 2 weeks. Meryem has also been working with Iraqui MC The Narcicyst for the Medium through features and tours. She recently came back from a residence in Marseille for Babel Med Festival with Beatmaker Imhotep from the legendary french hiphop group IAM, more collaborations ahead.
This year Meryem will release her first solo project.
Butta Beats is one part of the Nomadic Massive crew. He is a beatboxer, emcee, multi-instrumentalist, producer, song writer and independent educator plus he is tri-lingual (English, Spanish and French)
His participatory workshop will take the class through a brief history summarizing the political and socio- economic history that led to the development of beat boxing, its role in Hip-Hop culture, whilst placing an emphasis on its connection to other genres of the African-American musical experience. The participants will be guided through basic technique, counting, and listening exercises, and then perform a series of collaborative exercises in order to help create a final choral piece with the instructor.