30 years ago this month hip hop made its way onto vinyl for the very first time. It was the start of a process that would replace the music’s original stars, the DJ, with a new one, the MC, who would be rechristened the rapper. This process would allow the music to have the stars that pop marketing campaigns could recognise, and from which international superstars could emerge. It was on the streets of New York and especially the Bronx that hip hop culture emerged in the previous six or so years. It emerged from a single man, whose DJ-ing style not only created the constituent parts of hip hop, but also for much of the dance music that has dominated musical culture in the last two decades. Clive Campbell was a Jamaican who went by the name of DJ Kool Herc. He started to DJ, influenced by the sound system parties that he had seen in Jamaica before his family moved to New York in 1967. The towering system he created gave him an advantage but he found that island sounds were not popular in the Bronx, where they preferred raw funk. He also discovered that certain parts of records raised the atmosphere in the dance. When he had the idea to just play these bits, strung together in a section of his set he called the merry-go-round, he had created the breakbeat. His MC-ing over the tunes, in a rhythmic style influenced once more by island systems, formed the basis of rap.
His unique style was a success and for the next few years he was one of the leading figures in the Bronx. His popularity meant that others copied and refined what he was doing. Grandmaster Flash brought a new level of technical expertise to the mix process, whilst Afrika Bambaataa brought a depth of record knowledge that spurred on a searching mentality and one-upmanship in the search for the ultimate break. The search would be based in the world of black music but would cross over into rock, easy-listening, children’s records and pop. Each DJ had their own specials but a series of anthems started to appear that would become the basis of hip hop’s rise to world domination. A cover of the Shadows UK pop hit ‘Apache’ by a US studio group called the Incredible Bongo Band became “the hip hop national anthem” according to Bambaataa, and no dance would be complete without the blast of James Brown’s ‘Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose’ from the “Sex Machine” LP.
“Super Breaks: Return To The Old School” pays tribute to those early days and the early breaks that rocked the clubs and block-parties of the Bronx and Harlem. We have gathered a selection of cuts that would have been played by Herc, Flash and Bam and also by the likes of Charlie Chase and Grand Wizard Theodore. We also pay homage to the original compilations such as Paul Winley’s “Super Disco Breaks”, which helped spread the message and opened the biggest breaks up to young kids on the streets who were influenced by the big names. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the release of the first rap record than by celebrating the culture that went before it.
By Dean Rudland