birthplace of hip hop

Where it all began. (Al Pereira/Getty Entertainment/Getty Images)

When people think about the Bronx hip-hop scene today, Big Pun and Cardi B may come to mind. But the musical style of rapping over breakbeats originated all the way back in 1973, at an apartment building in the West Bronx neighborhood of Morris Heights.

DJ Kool Herc Coke La Rock

Coke La Rock and DJ Kool Herc at the Birth of Boom Festival. (Johnny Nunez/WireImage/Getty Images)

Hip-Hop Began With DJ Kool Herc at 1520 Sedgwick Ave.

It all started in the apartment building where DJ Kool Herc lived, at 1520 Sedgwick Ave. On Aug. 11, 1973, Herc — born Clive Campbell in Kingston, Jamaica — threw a back-to-school party with his sister Cindy Campbell in the building’s ground-floor recreation room, drawing friends and neighbors. While DJing, Herc showed off a method he’d been developing for extending the drum break in funk records by using two turntables, with a copy of the same record on each. This created a longer break beat for the “break boys” and “break girls,” as he labeled them, to show off their dancing skills. In a New York Magazine interview, Herc referred to those drum breaks — common sections of songs by James Brown and Incredible Bongo Band — as “the get-down part.”

As Herc spun breakbeats, Herc’s pal Coke La Rock started talking over the beat, shouting out friends — not realizing that this would not only make him present at hip-hop’s creation, but also its first MC. Check the first rap he remembers performing in the video above.

Herc’s Party Influenced Early Pioneers of Hip-Hop

grandmaster flash furious five

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. ( Takeshi/ Flickr Creative Commons)

The style developed by Herc and Coke La Rock spread quickly within the South Bronx, then around NYC. Many rappers would later claim to have attended Herc and Cindy’s famous party in 1973.

One of the most important turntablists early in the scene was South Bronx native Joseph “Grandmaster Flash” Saddler, who refined Herc’s technique of mixing records and was the first to use a drum machine live.

Harlem rapper Kurtis Blow was the first rap artist signed by a major label, inking a deal with Mercury Records in 1979. But it wasn’t until the Sugar Hill Gang released “Rappers Delight” in 1980 that the genre began to go mainstream.

1520 Sedgwick Ave. Nearly Became Market-Rate Rentals

In 2008, an investor bought 1520 Sedgwick Ave., intending to turn it into market-rate rentals. After the housing market crashed, the new owner could no longer afford the mortgage payments, and the building quickly fell into disrepair.

Although they hadn’t lived in the building for decades, DJ Kool Herc and Cindy Campbell kept in touch with some of the tenants, who filled them in on the dilapidated status of the building. Residents went for months without heat or gas, upkeep of the grounds wavered, the roof leaked, and the elevators often didn’t work — a major inconvenience in an 18-story, 101-unit building.

Herc and Cindy partnered with the tenants and the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board in order to help tenants stay in their homes. Having a hip-hop pioneer championing the cause caught the attention of the media and eventually the city, which helped sell the building to the Workforce Housing Group in 2011.

The building underwent some much-needed renovations, including the famous recreation room where Herc made history. Under its new ownership, the units are once again affordable, rent-subsidized apartments for residents who meet certain income requirements.

While there currently aren’t any available rentals listed at 1520 Sedgwick, hip-hop enthusiasts can take a “birth of hip hop” tour from Hush Tours, which regularly stops by the building for photos.

Hip Hop Boulevard

A section of Sedgwick Ave. was renamed Hip Hop Blvd. (Google)

Hip Hop Boulevard

Although Herc hasn’t reaped the same financial success as his hip-hop brethren for creating what has ballooned into a billion-dollar industry, a section of Sedgwick Avenue was renamed Hip Hop Boulevard in 2017 to honor him.

Herc was also named an honorary advisory board member for Universal Hip Hop Museum, which will be the first brick-and-mortar hip-hop museum in the nation. The project is set to break ground this winter and open in 2023, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the genre’s creation.

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