All About the Benjamins


On Sunday afternoon, I finished reading the last few chapters of Dan Charnas’s The Big Payback, tales of million, nay, billion dollar deals as men born of hip-hop moved from patronage and endorsement to co-ownership.

By Sunday evening, word hit the web that DJ Kool Herc, the father of hip-hop as we know it, was recuperating from surgery for kidney stones. A surgery he currently will not be able to pay for, as he lacks health insurance.

Your history lesson: Kool Herc [born Clive Campbell] threw popular neighbourhood parties in the Bronx during the 1970’s. Already renowned for knowing which records would make the kids dance [and for having the loudest sound system around], Herc realized the kids were often most interested in the instrumental portions, or breaks, found at the start or bridge of a song. He figured that if he bought two copies of the same record and moved between his two turntables, re-cueing the break each time, he could extend them from 30-second clips to five minute movements. He called it the ‘Merry Go ‘Round.’

And it’s the cornerstone of not only everything that became hip-hop, but DJ culture as a whole. You can’t overstate that contribution. End Lesson

Twitter wasted no time blowing up with calls for the hip-hop community to help out the guy responsible for the art form that puts food on their tables [and really,there’s only one guy people are talking about when they get on about ‘the hip-hop community’]. For a minute I was one of them, and while I still think it would be great for people like Jay and 50 Cent and Russell Simmons to step up for Herc, Roots bandleader ?uestlove summed it up well earlier this morning: ‘It would be nice, but I don’t expect Jay-Z to respond every time the hip-hop bat signal comes a’calling.’ Personally, I think if anyone should step up for Herc, it should be the corporations that appropriated the culture to sell their products. Forget Hova, Sprite should be ponying up .

Because it will come calling again, and Herc’s situation is a prelude to what will be a problem of ever increasing frequency: the founders are getting older, and hip-hop has no benefits package. It’s a problem the comics industry sussed out early, forming The Hero Initiative to provide assistance for aging comic creators. The time might be coming to start a similar initiative for hip-hop pioneers [as suggested by Herc’s sister to the NY Times City Room blog].

I consciously try not be political here. Frankly, I don’t know enough about enough issues to speak competently on most of them so I remain engaged observer instead of active commentator. But as the American courts start ruling against the latest attempts to provide basic care for its citizens [statement of fact, no argument for or against the reasoning behind the decision], I can’t help but muse about an America where Herc [or ideally anyone] wouldn’t be in this position. But anyway, enough from the dirty socialist Canadian.

Hip-hop, more than other pop cultures, has a worrysome habit of neglecting its history. The people who profit from it need to figure out how to protect the people who made that profit possible.

Should anyone be feeling altruistic, donations can be made to Herc at the following address:

P.O. BOX 20472


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