The most intriguing thing about hip hop music is that for at least the first 3 years of it’s existence, it was not professionally recorded. Unlike any other genre of music created since recorded music became a commodity, in the very early days of it’s existence, there are no known surviving recordings of hip hop. That is because during the formative years of hip hop you needed to go to a party to hear it spun by a DJ.
DJ Kool Herc was essentially the creator of this new form of music and his main source source were the “breaks” in funk records. I know, everyone knows this and no one needs a lesson on the origins of hip hop and break-beats. But it was more than just breaks. DJ’s scoured for funky records that they could incorporate into their set along with the break-beats. Some of these records came from different genres but all had in common the funk that made the people dance. Kool Herc’s first park Jam took place at 1520 Sedgewick Avenue in the Bronx in 1973. A teenager at the time, Herc was creating the music that would influence the entire globe for generations to come.
But what did this music sound like? It surely sounded nothing like Hip Hop as we know it today. Hearing this early Hip Hop would be like watching the baseball played in the 1800’s. There are some resemblances, but it doesn’t really look like the modern game. The genius of the music was that bits and pieces of other music were the building blocks of this new sound. At this early stage of Hip Hop there were not rappers as we know them today, just DJ’s who would occasionally MC. It was just party music primarily played in the Bronx and unless you were there at the time you wouldn’t hear it. It would be a few years before Disco Wiz created the first “mixed dub” recording of Hip Hop in 1977, which was pressed to 10 inch vinyl. Though at the time he did this, rappers were primarily rhyming over instrumental Disco records.
Before this recording, “Party Tapes,” the ancestor of the “Mixtape” circulated around the five boroughs and were sold by business minded DJ’s to lots of people who wanted to take the sound with them in their cars and homes. Unfortunately I have never come across one of these tapes and whether or not there are any that have survived is unknown. Whether or not Disco Wiz’s 10 inch vinyl or the tape he created to put on that historic recording is still in existence is also unknown to me. I’m sure somewhere in a shoebox in the Bronx is a treasure trove of cassettes, documenting the history of one of the most important musical movements in history.
In the early days of Hip Hop DJing, there was no seamless record blending, characteristic of the Disco DJ’s of that time until Grandmasterflash did it. So what did Kool Herc have in the crates he brought with him to the park jams? Lucky for you, I have been obsessed with this question for a long time. These records were a part of what the music sounded like, a million miles from the sound of the hip hop we know today. Enjoy.