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40th Anniversary

The Holy House of Hip-hop

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Herc's sister Cindy Campbell in front of the rec room at 1520 where the party took place, in the early seventies.  

These days, Herc won’t talk to journalists without being paid for his time. “Herc is not bitter, he’s just tired,” explains Cindy. Sitting in a garment-district coffee shop downstairs from her office, she sipped steaming tea. “He doesn’t know if you’re going to take his story and write a book about it or maybe make a movie.

“Hip-hop was Herc’s baby. But imagine that all of a sudden somebody snatched your baby from you and killed it. That’s how Herc feels sometimes.”

“I’ll be honest with you, if I was Herc, I’d be mad, too,” says D.J. AJ Scratch. Former D.J. for rapper Kurtis Blow (whose 1984 hit “Basketball” is still played at NBA games), AJ now promotes parties. “People like Grandmaster Flash and myself all took bits and pieces from him and put together our own styles. But Herc’s style of mixing records was the foundation for the entire movement.”

According to Nelson George, Herc has always been indignant toward the competition. “I remember him having resentment toward Grandmaster Flash when I first interviewed him in 1977.” Years later, when George campaigned to have Herc included on the Hip Hop Honors of 2004, he was annoyed that D.J. Hollywood was also included. “Herc was very upset.”

The day I was talking to La Rock, we ran into Herc, standing in front of his car. Herc glared at us. “I hope you’re getting paid, Coke!” he screamed. (He wasn’t.)

“What’s his problem?” I asked La Rock. “Why does he have such a bad attitude?”

For the first time during our interview, La Rock didn’t look jovial. Indeed, what kind of fool am I to attack another man’s best friend—especially in the Bronx?

“I don’t feel none of that you’re saying, because y’all didn’t make him,” he says. “All of a sudden people acting like they made Herc, but Herc is in a class of his own. No disrespect, but Grandmaster Flash, Jazzy Jay, and all those guys used to come watch us. Herc was first, and we held it down for four years. Like Frank Sinatra, me and Herc did it our way.”

The war for the future of 1520 continues, in court. When the tenant activists originally realized the building’s significance, they applied to have it landmarked, on the thought that it might keep 1520 from being moved out of the affordable-housing program. But the landmarking has been stymied so far, and wouldn’t have kept the building from being taken out of Mitchell-Lama anyway. But thanks in part to the media attention, activists did manage to get the city’s Housing Preservation Department to rule that it’s unacceptable to sell a Mitchell-Lama building for more than what its Mitchell Lama rents could support. Then the tenants tried to buy the building themselves, but they were outbid. While a restraining order keeps the sale in stasis, the activists are hoping that the economic downturn will cause the buyer to back down.

At the press conference in August, Herc stood under a handmade sign reading save the home of hip-hop. “This is not just about 1520, this is going on throughout the city,” he said, his accent thick. He might’ve lost hip-hop, but he’s trying to hold onto this. “I lived here once, and we’re not going anywhere. I’m here for the fight, and I’m not giving up.” As though it was 1973 again, and he was spinning till dawn, the crowd broke into applause.


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