Monday, January 31, 2011

Why Kool Herc is a Big Deal

I recently found out via the internets that DJ Kool Herc was suffering from a major illness and was just released from the hospital due to what some people are saying was kidney problems. Currently, he's home, but he's in need of further surgery and still has outstanding hospital bills. The problem is that he doesn't have the money to pay them.

For those that don't know, DJ Kool Herc (born Clive Campbell) is the man widely credited for originating the sound that we now know as hip-hop. At 1520 Sedgwick Ave. in the Bronx, NY, Herc looped beat breaks in old records to create the first semblance of the boom-bap sound that has come to define hip-hop music. Basically, he's the James Naismith of this hip-hop sh*t.

As someone who is passionate about hip-hop music, it obviously bothers me that Herc is in this position. However, I understand that hip-hop in the late 1970s was not as lucrative as it is today, especially not for DJs who weren't even vocal artists. In fact, I don't even think this is the first instance we've seen of a rap pioneer being financially strapped. But my issue isn't so much with the fact that he needs the money. My real problem is that we even know about it.

The fact that his sister had to publicly ask for donations over the internet lets me know one thing: people in hip-hop are not doing a sufficient job of preserving the history and respecting the legends. With people like Jay-Z and 50 Cent literally becoming millionaires because of hip-hop, it should have taken no more than a few phone calls to solve whatever financial problems Kool Herc has. Given that a lot of new artists have benefited greatly from a genre that Herc created, they owe him that. Using the Naismith analogy once more, this situation is no different than if Dr. Naismith were strapped for cash and Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James sat back and did nothing. There's something wrong with that.

Let me refer back to sports once more. There is a common practice among sports franchises when a team has any type of internal argument or conflict called "keeping things in house." This basically means that whatever problems a team has needs to be handled internally without the involvement of the press or any outside sources. They need not know of the team's problems, because the problems should be handled before they ever become a bigger issue. Similarly, I feel like the Kool Herc situation should have been handled "in house" within the hip-hop community.

I have to be fair and admit that a few artists have done their part. DJ Premier has posted donation information on his blog. DJ Tony Touch has planned a charity event for Herc. Artists like Diddy and Crooked I have promised to donate money via Twitter. But I think the greater issue inherent in all of this is hip-hop's refusal to properly acknowledge its history. Five years ago, Nas made an album called Hip Hop Is Dead. He received some backlash within the hip-hop community because of this, but the content of the album couldn't have been more on point. One of the common themes throughout the album was that artists nowadays have no appreciation and/or knowledge of the people responsible for originating the genre. To compare, can you imagine if President Obama wasn't aware of the contributions of Martin Luther King Jr., and didn't care to find out? And then what if Martin Luther King didn't know who W.E.B. DuBois was? I firmly believe that historical knowledge is necessary in order to fully comprehend your current place in society. In order to fully understand where you're going, you must first understand and appreciate that from which you came.

I also think back to the Jena 6 controversy that sparked a few years ago. After the issue became national news, thousands of people went down to Jena to protest, including rappers Mos Def and Bun B. While there, Mos Def did an interview that I never forgot. He basically went on a rant complaining that although he reached out to plenty of people, almost no one from the hip-hop community showed up. He made the point that rappers always want to make their voice heard when they have an album coming out or when they want to brag about how much money they have, but rarely ever step up when it comes to important issues. This made me love Mos even more than I already did, because he was absolutely right. I feel like this Kool Herc situation is another instance of the same problem. Rappers need to put their money where their mouth is and stand for something important for once.

No matter how successful you become, you are nothing if you can't appreciate the people who helped you get there. I hope a few rappers end up reading this, because they don't seem to know it yet.

1 comment:

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