Patrick Kyle recently wrote a great article on how reggae birthed rap. The article is titled “When Reggae Roamed the Earth” It explores the past and how the 2 genres have now reconnected. Below is a snippet of the article. Read the rest here.
As the story goes, hip-hop was born on a summer night in 1973 in a rec-room on the ground floor of 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the West Bronx when Clive Campbell, better known as Kool Herc, hosted a party with his older sister Cindy. Campbell was born and raised in Kingston, where nearly 20 years prior sound system operators like Clement “Coxsone” Dodd and Duke Reid first dreamt the revolutionary idea of playing records to people—interactively. In the 1950s the idea that a sequence
of records could soundtrack a party, rather than a live band, was hardly imaginable outside of American sock hops or the first French discothèques. But through the magic of easy, one-off record pressing and multitrack r ecordings, those same Kingston selectors could rinse instrumental versions of popular tunes while, inspired by African-American radio disc jockeys, jive-slanging “deejays” like King Stitt and U-Roy toasted in a local, cosmopolitan tongue. To make the very long story unforgivably short, Kingston record selectors, the new mixing technologies that they developed, and the jive-talking deejays who chatted over their records to hype the crowd, helped light the spark that eventually led to the state of party-rocking as we know it today.
Moving to the Bronx from Kingston at 12 years old, Kool Herc was well familiar with Jamaican dance party protocol and the importance of a customized—and loud and clear—sonic experience. For the party, Herc borrowed a powerful PA from his father, a soundman for local R&B acts. He played dual roles: as a selector, he hand-picked and cued up records; as MC, he used a mic to praise partygoers with rhyming routines and hyped musical selections, made announcements, and encouraged dancing.
Like any good DJ, Herc responded to the demands of his audience. Given the context, this entailed using certain sound system techniques—especially the license to manipulate a recording in realtime—while departing from what one might have heard at a dance in Jamaica. Despite borrowing liberally from sound system culture, Herc didn’t play reggae at the party. Among his local peers, Jamaican music and style had yet to undergo the cool recuperation that eventually followed Bob Marley’s success and, more important in New York, the violent dominance of the drug trade by Jamaican gangs, or “posses,” in the mid-80s. Just as Herc swapped his Jamaican accent for a Bronx brogue, he played soul, funk, and driving disco tracks—especially records with stripped-down, percussion-led breaks—in place of reggae anthems.
Herc and Cindy began throwing parties regularly, and the audience steadily grew—as did Herc’s crew, including dedicated MCs like Coke La Rock and a coterie of flashy dancers. Running out of room at 1520 Sedgwick, they relocated to nearby Cedar Park and repurposed what little civic infrastructure remained in a place haunted by the politics of neglect. Electricity from a utility pole powered the sound system. In contrast to clubs where cover charges and age restrictions kept teenagers out, the “park jams” were active incubators, stylistically and socially, of a new kind of public youth culture. Herc and his burgeoning audience co-produced a remarkable phenomenon: a vibrant party scene where local creativity thrived as DJs, MCs, and dancers wrested new forms out of the resources at hand.