Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

From a DJ's Closet

February 24, 2023 Think THF

The Henry Ford acquires artifacts that help tell the tale of hip-hop’s birth

Caransa Sweater Worn by DJ Kool Herc, circa 1975

Caransa Sweater Worn by DJ Kool Herc, circa 1975 / THF191962

On Aug. 11, 1973, Jamaican immigrant Clive Campbell and his sister Cindy rented their apartment building’s recreation room at 1520 Sedgwick Ave. in the Bronx, New York. They were throwing a party to raise funds for Cindy’s back-to-school wardrobe. By this point, Campbell, better known as DJ Kool Herc, had amassed a loyal following using his father’s sound system to DJ at block, house and basement parties. The two siblings gave out hand-drawn index cards as invitations and packed the room. That night, Herc’s performance techniques coalesced into something new, and by most accounts, hip-hop was born.

Using two turntables, Herc cued and repeated percussion “breaks” in soul and funk music to extend the high-energy moments dancers craved. He called this his “Merry-Go-Round” technique, and with it, he could make the breaks last as long as he wanted. This was the invention of the “breakbeat,” and the crowd went wild. Herc punctuated these beats with a version of the Jamaican dancehall “toasting” of his youth — only now, it was permeated by NYC slang, including terms of his own that would become pervasive in the hip-hop scene, like “b-boys” and “b-girls.” Herc’s spin on toasting paved the way for MCs and, eventually, rappers.

DJ Kool Herc at Nightclub, Bronx, New York, circa 1981

DJ Kool Herc at Nightclub, Bronx, New York, circa 1981 / THF191961 


In those early years, hip-hop was a lifestyle more than a music genre, and live performance was king. Herc, for instance, didn’t record an official album of his own until 2019. Although bootlegs of performances exist, we are reliant on objects and ephemera to properly tell the story of this then-nascent movement that would dominate American culture. Items of clothing and photographs serve as vital traces of the elusive history of the hip-hop genre and all that it encompassed.

In September 2022, The Henry Ford acquired two photographs, a wool and leather sweater, and a few pairs of shoes owned by Herc. Some items were worn at the legendary T-Connection club in the Bronx, where iconic bootleg recordings of his DJ sets were captured on tape. In one photo, we see Herc posted up in the club, decked out in that same sweater, purchased at A.J. Lester’s department store, and a pair of PRO-Keds Super “69er” shoes — exactly like the ones included in this acquisition. A must-have in the early hip-hop scene, the “69er” or “Uptowner” was worn by the likes of Herc, Afrika Bambaattaa and KRS-One.

Converse and Sedgwick & Cedar Limited Edition Shoes, Worn by DJ Kool Herc, 2007

Converse and Sedgwick & Cedar Limited Edition Shoes, Worn by DJ Kool Herc, 2007 / THF191942

Though Herc’s seminal performances were fleeting, they would reverberate across the histories of recording technology, electronic instrumentation, dance, fashion and art. Acquisitions like these can take us back to the T-Connection, back to 1520 Sedgwick. They can help us pinpoint the source of these reverberations, making the history of hip-hop tangible.

Kristen Gallerneaux, Curator of Communications and Information Technology

This post was adapted from an article in the Winter-Spring 2023 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

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