DJ Kool Herc knows the truth.
"How can you say you love hip-hop if you don't know who created it?" he asks, calling from his home in the Bronx. "That's phony."
There are bigger hip-hop stars than Kool Herc. There are more influential ones. But without him, hip-hop as we know it wouldn't exist.
Born Clive Campbell, he invented it 40 years ago this August in the rec room of the high-rise at 1520 Sedgwick Ave. in the Bronx, at a party for his sister Cindy Campbell, now a curator at Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington. Kool Herc used two turntables playing the same record to create what he called "the yoke," a piece of music built by joining the instrumental break on one of the records to the same break on the other. That became a party-starting groove that never ended, as well as a platform for rappers to rhyme over, B-boys to breakdance to, and artists of all sorts to gather around.
"I'm the George Washington of this," said Kool Herc, who has been making more appearances recently discussing his role in founding hip-hop, as he will at Cinema Arts Centre Wednesday with Grandmaster Melle Mel for a special screening of the 1984 movie "Beat Street." "The first name is me. I'm not fighting, but people need to know. Google it."
When you showed off your new DJ technique that night at your sister's party...
I wasn't there to show off a technique. I like to dance. I like my music. That's why I was there. I gave it to and they liked it.
Did you know how special it was?
Yeah, I realized that. I didn't play the stuff from the radio... I was the people's choice. They gave me love and I gave it back. I was like a big brother. Or a shepherd.
Where did the idea come from to play two copies of the same record?
I like certain parts of records and I would wait for certain parts of records. So I applied the idea of what I would want to hear. I liked the breakdowns, so I decided I would extend it by getting another record... I went right to it. I took the anticipation off. I made it long and funky enough for them to ride. Then, I turned it loose.
Did you practice it a lot first?
No, I did it right on the job. It came straight from my heart and from what I was feeling around me.
What do you think of today's DJs who spend so much time practicing?
Well, there's all different types of DJs. It's like there's all different types of basketball. You got the NBA and you got the street ball, closer to the [Harlem] Globetrotters, where you don't have to be perfect and you bring some laughter to it, where it's not that serious... There are turntablists and battle DJs and they're not about trying to maintain a dance floor from 9 to 4 [a.m.]. What I do is a different look when it comes to showmanship or tricks like that -- like the Globetrotters. I judge on "Can you rock the party?"
When you were doing "Beat Street," did you think it would be part of history, a movie still talked about today?
Yes, because it was first and it was authentic. You had up-and-coming hip-hoppers scattered among up-and-coming Hollywood kids.
Did they get it right -- what hip-hop was like at that time?
No, no, no. A lot of it was overtold. But hip-hop was introducing itself to the media, so it should get some credit for it. It had Hollywood's stamp on it.
What was it really like?
We were having fun. There wasn't a color barrier, either -- I had white friends in it, Latino friends, African friends and every other. It was a melting pot of people and we all had mutual respect and let the music play... The rest is history.
WHAT "Beat Street" and in-person appearances by DJ Kool Herc and Grandmaster Melle Mel
WHEN | WHERE 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington
INFO $15; 631-423-7611, cinemaartscentre.org