DJ Kool Herc to be celebrated on the 'First Coast'

Myself and Inztinkz of The Council during our presentation First Coast: The Jamaican and wider Caribbean involvement in Hip Hop
at the Trinity International Hip Hop Festival in Hartford, Connecticut on Friday, March 29, 2019. (Photo by Greg Schick)

Hip Hop comes full circle in Jamaica

DJ Kool Herc to be celebrated on the ‘First Coast’

You would have to know me to understand the joy I felt when I caught wind of the upcoming University of the West Indies (UWI) conference The Legacy of DJ Kool Herc: Celebrating the Jamaican Roots of Hip Hop. The event, to be held April 16-18, 2020, is intended to address the gap in scholarship about the local influence on the genre while focusing on its global significance.

DJ Kool Herc has always been of particular importance to the Hip Hop community in Jamaica. Herc, born Clive Campbell in Kingston, Jamaica, is credited as the genre’s forefather, starting with his back-to-school jam in the Bronx, New York, in 1973. Many of us Jamaicans who love Hip Hop and know its history find the local connection very interesting, even assuring and empowering.

This led to The Council, a Kingston and New York-based collective of which I am one-fourth, to coin and spread the term ‘First Coast’. After all, if there was no Kool Herc, perhaps, there may be no Hip Hop as we know it today. Therefore, we argue that Jamaica is the ‘First Coast’.

This piece of history – the influence of Jamaica’s sound system culture on Hip Hop – is not only a point of discussion within our community, but it arises in interactions we have with other people in social, and, definitely, ‘industry’ settings.

I can use my experiences with the media as examples since these are conversations where I am sometimes questioned extensively. I have done countless interviews about my music for every form of media. International outlets are often intrigued by the existence of boom-bap Hip Hop in Jamaica, and, moreso, impressed by the quality. Some local media, especially in the past, would initially question the choice of genre and seem oblivious to the quality and the obvious story in this music being done well in an unexpected location that actually has a strong claim to its foundation.

Naturally, the story of DJ Kool Herc would come up in some interviews with certain local press, as in casual social conversations, and I found that many Jamaicans, including those who should be more knowledgeable about music, really did not know much about the Jamaican contribution to Hip Hop, or the genre in general. Hence, they viewed the music as ‘foreign’ while many of us in the local community have always known it as an extension of our sound system culture and that we have a rightful place in it. ‘First Coast’ is our way of asserting that, educating and reminding people.

DJ Kool Herc sits for an interview with the Jamaica Music Conference in New York on Saturday, January 11, 2020. (Photo by Kwasi Bonsu)

With all of this in mind, you will better understand why I welcome the UWI conference. It is fulfilling to see local academia embrace Hip Hop culture and begin to study DJ Kool Herc and the Jamaican contribution. In March 2019, The Council appeared at the Trinity International Hip Hop Festival in Hartford, Connecticut, where we performed and also delivered a presentation titled First Coast: The Jamaican and wider Caribbean involvement in Hip Hop. We have submitted the presentation’s abstract for consideration at UWI’s conference and it would be an honour if we get to speak to our home audience this time. Whether we are invited to present or not, we will definitely be in attendance. Just a week after submitting our abstracts, I came across more exciting news. International Reggae Day, the 24-hour global media festival celebrated every July 1st, will be honouring DJ Kool Herc this year! Coincidence? I think not. This is synchronicity and a sort of ‘holy trinity’ because Herc himself has just been confirmed to attend the Jamaica Music Conference (JMC) on February 13-16!

The JMC is a forum which allows independent music professionals to network and learn best practices. I fully endorse this recurring event and was privileged to be part of it in 2016 when The Council and Canadian rapper Michie Mee had a panel. I’m happy that DJ Kool Herc will be participating and that there will also be a discussion titled The Rise of First Coast: Marketing Jamaica’s Hip Hop. While I am not a panelist, I will surely be present.

So... three events honouring DJ Kool Herc, all in the same year... the JMC, UWI’s conference and International Reggae Day. This is all very exciting to me and I am wondering what it could mean for the future of Hip Hop in Jamaica. Of course, my agenda is to strengthen the culture here and forge a path for the Hip Hop artists from Jamaica. My interest is not merely from an academic or cultural standpoint; it is also artistic and commercial.

Earlier, I mentioned my experience speaking with some local media in the past. The response I used to receive from some has changed over time, for many reasons, one being that they have become more familiar with my work and have come to respect it. For a very long time, we, in the local Hip Hop community, have heard that Jamaicans should not rap or cannot rap. Now, in 2020, I cannot remember the last time I heard that. I suspect Hip Hop’s rising popularity, the existence of local rappers all over the island and our most celebrated Dancehall and Reggae artists fusing forms of Hip Hop, from boom-bap to trap, with Jamaica’s traditional sounds, have played a part in what may be a shift in thought for some. There are still people, however, that do not know we exist and there are others that simply ignore or overlook us.

I do not know exactly what the future is for Hip Hop in the traditional Jamaican music industry, or if it will ever have a place there. What I know, however, is that Hip Hop made in Jamaica, will spread further and nothing will stop it. With changing sentiments on the island, and more artists finding international success, particularly through the internet, what’s to stop Hip Hop? Nothing.

Last modified on Friday, 17 January 2020 04:10