This West Bronx apartment building is the former home of the legendary DJ Kool Herc, who was central in the birth of hip-hop. The recreation room at 1520 Sedgwick Ave saw some of the genre’s most defining and pivotal block parties in the 1970’s.
On a summer night in ‘73, Cindy Campbell threw a block party to raise some money so she could buy new clothes for the upcoming school year. She rented out the rec room of her apartment building, 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the west Bronx, her father bought beverages, and her mother made some snacks. She asked her brother, Clive, to be the party’s DJ.
Clive, who had emigrated from Jamaica with the rest of the family, had grown up seeing Jamaican dancehalls and the toasts that DJs would make to accompany the music at these parties. When the Campbells moved to the Bronx in 1967, Clive was 12. After joining high school, Clive’s height and demeanor on the basketball court prompted his fellow students to give him the nickname “Hercules.” Cindy and Clive, as a result, dubbed their block party “A DJ Kool Herc Party.”
The party was not simply a huge success: it was iconic. Though the party’s location and size, a few hundred attendees, were not particularly remarkable, the next day Kool Herc’s name was resounding across the Bronx. Herc’s technique was an innovation that would become the blueprint for hip-hop music. He noticed that dancers particularly liked the part of the song which was heavily percussive–the “break”–so he used a two-record turntable to spin two copies of the same record in order to elongate the “break.” At the height of a party, he would cut from “break” to “break,” using a formative technique known as the “Merry-Go-Round.” Alongside Herc’s new style, his friend Coke La Rock demonstrated another innovation–rapping.
Herc, along with Africa Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash, are considered to be the ‘Holy Trinity’ of hip-hop. In 2007, Kool Herc successfully campaigned to have the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation recognize 1520 Sedgwick Avenue as the official birthplace of hip-hop.
Although 1520 Sedgwick is not the only place which formed the genre in the Bronx, it was certainly one of the most pivotal. As Kool Herc said in a recent statement, “this first hip-hop party would change the world.”