3 DJ Pioneers of Hip Hop Culture

Hip Hop culture originated in the Bronx during the 1970s.

DJ Kool Herc is credited with throwing the first hip hop party in 1973 in the Bronx. This is considered the birth of hip hop culture.

But who followed in DJ Kool Herc's footsteps?

DJ Kool Herc

DJ Kool Herc

Astrid Stawiarz / Stringer / Getty Images

DJ Kool Herc, also known as Kool Herc, is credited for throwing the first hip hop party in 1973 at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx.

Playing funk records by artists such as James Brown, DJ Kool Herc revolutionized the way records were played when he began isolating the instrumental portion of a song and then switching to the break in another song. This method of DJing became the foundation for hip hop music. While performing at parties, DJ Kool Herc would encourage the crowd to dance in a method that is now known as rapping. He would chant rhymes such as "Rock on, my mellow!" "B-boys, b-girls, are you ready? keep on rock steady" "This is the joint! Herc beat on the point" "To the beat, y'all!" "You don't stop!" to get partygoers on the dance floor.

Hip Hop historian and writer Nelson George recalls the feelings DJ Kool Herc created at a partying by saying "The sun hadn't gone down yet, and kids were just hanging out, waiting for something to happen. Van pulls up, a bunch of guys comes out with a table, crates of records. They unscrew the base of the light pole, take their equipment, attach it to that, get the electricity – Boom! We got a concert right here in the schoolyard and it's this guy Kool Herc. And he's just standing with the turntable, and the guys were studying his hands. There are people dancing, but there are as many people standing, just watching what he's doing. That was my first introduction to in-the-street, hip hop DJing."

DJ Kool Herc was an influence on other hip hop pioneers such as Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash. 

Despite DJ Kool Herc’s contributions to hip hop music and culture, he never received commercial success because his work was never recorded. 

Born Clive Campbell on April 16, 1955, in Jamaica, he migrated to the United States as a child. Today, DJ Kool Herc is considered one of the pioneers of hip hop music and culture for his contributions. 

Afrika Bambaataa

Afrika Bambaataa

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When Afrika Bambaataa decided to become a contributor to hip hop culture, he drew from two inspiration sources: the Black liberation movement and the sounds of DJ Kool Herc.

In the late 1970s, Afrika Bambaataa began hosting parties as a way to get teenagers off the streets and end gang violence. He established the Universal Zulu Nation, a group of dancers, artists, and fellow DJs. By the 1980s, the Universal Zulu Nation was performing and Afrika Bambaataa was recording music. Most notably, he released records with electronic sounds.

He is known as “The Godfather” and “Amen Ra of Hip Hop Kulture.”

Born Kevin Donovan on April 17, 1957, in the Bronx. He currently continues to DJ and works as an activist. 

Grandmaster Flash

Grandmaster Flash, 1980

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Grandmaster Flash was born Joseph Saddler on January 1, 1958, in Barbados. He moved to New York City as a child and he became interested in music after leafing through his father’s extensive record collection.

Inspired by the DJing style of DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash took Herc’s style one step further and invented three distinct DJing techniques known as the backspin, punch phrasing, and scratching.

In addition to his work as a DJ, Grandmaster Flash organized a group called Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five in the late 1970s. By 1979, the group had a recording deal with Sugar Hill Records.

Their biggest hit was recorded in 1982. Known as “The Message,” it was a harrowing narrative of inner-city life. Music critic Vince Aletti argued in a review that the song was “a slow chant seething with desperation and fury.”

Considered a hip hop classic, “The Message” became the first hip hop recording to be chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry.

Although the group disbanded soon after, Grandmaster Flash continued to work as a DJ.

In 2007, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five became the first hip hop acts to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

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Lewis, Femi. "3 DJ Pioneers of Hip Hop Culture." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/pioneering-djs-of-hip-hop-culture-45322. Lewis, Femi. (2021, February 16). 3 DJ Pioneers of Hip Hop Culture. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/pioneering-djs-of-hip-hop-culture-45322 Lewis, Femi. "3 DJ Pioneers of Hip Hop Culture." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/pioneering-djs-of-hip-hop-culture-45322 (accessed June 8, 2023).