DJ Kool Herc, born Clive Campbell, may not have left behind a recorded catalogue of classic singles or albums nor produced memorably innovative videos. However, his influence on the musical genre of hip-hop cannot be overstated. For over five decades, hip-hop has dominated global pop culture, and it is in large part due to Herc’s contributions.
In recognition of his immense impact, Herc will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in November. He will receive the esteemed Musical Influence Award, honouring artists whose music and performance style have directly influenced, inspired, and evolved rock and roll and music, impacting youth culture.
Hailing from Jamaica, Herc immigrated to the United States and began hosting block parties in the Bronx during the 1970s. He played funk and soul records and drew inspiration from the Jamaican Sound System culture. Herc used two turntables to keep the music flowing, and he had Masters of Ceremonies talk into the microphone, often using catchy rhymes and call-and-response chants to keep the crowd hyped and involved.
Herc was also a skilled DJ who introduced new techniques to the art form, such as the “breakbeat.” This involved isolating and repeating the instrumental section of a song, which created a new sound perfect for breakdancing. The breakbeat became the foundation of hip-hop music, and Herc’s use of it during his block parties helped to ignite a cultural revolution.