On August 11, 1973, DJ Kool Herc and his sister Cindy threw a back-to-school jam at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx. This party, held in the rec room of the apartment building, is widely considered the birthplace of hip-hop.
Herc had ingeniously rewired his father's equipment into a sound system that allowed each turntable to have its own channel. Through it, he tried to get the people dancing but was having trouble keeping the momentum going — until he focused on isolating and repeating the most danceable parts (or the "breaks") of the funk and soul records he was playing, a technique that became the foundation for not just the genre of hip-hop as we understand it today, but the craft of DJing in general.
It was this technical innovation that has long marked this occasion as the birth of hip-hop, and cemented Kool Herc as its father. But the culture in all its aspects is built on original ingenuity that stretches back to time immemorial — from the powerful soundsystems of the Jamaican scene that Herc knew from his youth, to the West African oral tradition of the griot.
That the 1973 back-to-school jam at Sedgwick is the first documented hip-hop party is indisputable, representing a standout benchmark when musical influences were melding, and experimentation and systems were king. It represents a point in a continuum of brilliance that extends back to the continent, a mastery of expressive technologies — audio, linguistic, artistic — that has since touched every corner of our world and evolved into one of the most significant cultural forces today. Hip-hop has given marginalized peoples a microphone, changed how music is made, spawned new forms, and become a multi-billion dollar industry.
2023 marks 50 years since Kool Herc's party. We'll be celebrating the anniversary all year long, focusing on a different year in its half-centennial each week. Expect personal reflections, iconic tracks and albums, and conversations around the genesis of the culture, everywhere you find KEXP.
A party in the Bronx on August 11th, 1973 is widely considered to be the birthplace of hip-hop. The art form has since touched every corner of our world and evolved into one of the most significant cultural forces today. 50 Years of Hip-Hop, hosted by KEXP’s Larry Mizell Jr, celebrates the anniversary by highlighting a different year of its history each week. Jumping around the timeline from 1973 to today, expect personal reflections, iconic tracks and albums, and conversations around the genesis of the culture.
Check out a few of the most recent episodes below, and the entire series here.
Dusty Henry revisits 1989 with the track “Cha Cha Cha” by MC Lyte.
Janice Headley revisits 1981 with the track “Rapture” by Blondie, who leveraged their celebrity to shine a spotlight on hip-hop.
Dusty Henry and Martin Douglas team up to revisit the 2003 double album 'Speakerboxxx/The Love Below' by Outkast.
Larry Mizell Jr. revisits 1985 with the track "I Can't Live Without My Radio" by LL Cool J.