The Birthplace Of Hip-Hop Gets Historic Props. Or Does It?
In real estate, there has always been one big unanswered question: Where did hip-hop originate? Perhaps, in truth, this question has been more frequently asked by music aficionados. But the question remains, did it start in the hood or in a plush Manhattan recording studio?
Most people widely accept that the reclusive DJ Kool Herc (Clive Campbell) invented hip-hop on a summer night in 1973 when he DJ’ed a party for his sister, Cindy. This potentially historic moment happened in the rec room of the apartment building where they lived at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the West Bronx. Herc’s claim to hip-hop fame was looping the “break beat” part of the same record on two turntables for an MC to rhyme over. Herc’s input was the theory behind hip-hop, distilled into its basic elements—a beat and a rapper. So monumental has been the mild mannered DJ’s contribution to the global phenomenon that his old apartment building has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
But Herc wasn’t a record producer or rapper so he didn’t make hip-hop records. The first hip-hop record to gain widespread popularity in the mainstream was “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang in 1979. That song, famously, uses a sample of Chic’s anthemic disco hit “Good Times”. It was recorded in the relatively plush environment of The Power Station recording studio at 441 West 53rd St in Manhattan which and written and produced by native New Yorkers Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers. So should that be the building in the National Register?
Musicologists, though, may take issue with both of the aforementioned scenarios. They will be quick to mention the Last Poets, a East Harlem group of MC’s which arose from the late 1960’s Civil Rights and black nationalist movement. It’s been said their politically charged raps laid the ground work for the emergence of hip-hop. The group actually formed on May 19th 1968 at Marcus Garvey Park in East Harlem, pre-dating both Kool Herc and Chic.
Whatever your take on the birthplace of hip-hop, what cannot be denied is the fact that it started in New York—an older, more creative, vibrant and dangerous city than the New York of today. While respect has been granted by the National Register of Historic Places to Herc’s pad, let’s not forget the other factors that New York contributed to this pivotal advent in music history.
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