A tribute to the DJ, the foundation of hip hop

Hip Hop means something different depending on who you ask. For the uninitiated, "hip hop" is just some other category of music that occasionally comes on other people's radios, pounding with heavy beats and unintelligible profane lyrics. These are the same people who think that Iggy Azalea and Lil' Wayne are faces of hip hop. These are the people who think that baggy jeans and snapbacks are symbolic of hip hop; those who think that it exists only in the impoverished ghettos of American urban areas.

But the truth is that hip hop is a global culture that has been a positive influencing force, giving children an outlet for their passions and a set of tools for them to flex their creativity. It has been a vehicle that allowed an oppressed minority to expose the issues in their community to a larger mainstream audience through their music (Think about N.W.A.'s "Fuck tha Police" and Tupac's "Brenda's got a baby.") 

For a high school me, hip hop was a culture of self expression, and exposure to this culture is what gave me the confidence to become an individual despite the ever present pressures of conformity. The Wu-Tang Clan, with their gritty early 90s delivery of references to ancient Chinese mysticism laid over dirty instrumentals, resonated with my ears at a time when I was surrounded by pop-country and classic rock at school and classical at home. To me, 36 Chambers was a window into a new culture that I was insulated from, both intentionally and by means of geography - I lived in a small town in the South. 

The innovations of DJ Kool Herc, the father of the hip hop movement, was one of my first exposures into the culture. As the legend goes, Kool Herc's parties featured music from the first two-turntable set up. Like a merry-go-round, his command over vinyl allowed him to loop the instrumental section (in music, this is called "the break") from the end of a James Brown funk track indefinitely. Hype ensued. 

As the child of the 80s-90s, my dad had a turntable that I was allowed to play with once it had been outdated by two generations of technology - the cassette and the CD. So, I bought a basic mixer with an aux input that I could connect my walkman, and learned to scratch over whatever instrumental beats I could download off Napster. Vinyl was cheap, but the prize of my collection was a record we bought at full price: a spoken adaptation of The Return of the Jedi. That had some of the most bangin samples imaginable.

This piece is a tribute to the DJ Kool Herc, and all he did for the hip hop movement. This is the first in a series I am called "4Elementz." Keep an eye out for my other tributes to all the elements of Hip hop, coming soon.