The start of hip-hop dates to Aug. 11, 1973, when DJ Kool Herc created continuous break-beats by working two turntables during a party in a rec room at 1520 Sedgwick Ave in the Bronx. On Friday night, exactly 50 years later, a concert was held at Yankee Stadium — roughly a mile and a half from hip-hop’s birthplace — to honor the occasion, featuring Run-DMC, Slick Rick, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Lil’ Kim and Nas. DJ Kool Herc, 68, also appeared onstage to accept an award.
Before the show, which was billed as “Hip Hop 50 Live,” the scene outside the stadium was heavy with fans of the sounds from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Middle-aged couples on date nights arrived wearing matching Adidas track suits. A man strolled the promenade carrying a boombox and wearing a Kangol hat. Hawkers sold pins with pictures of Biz Markie and The Notorious B.I.G.
Outside a McDonald’s opposite the stadium, a street musician performed Tupac Shakur hits, while an in-line skater entertained the crowd with basketball tricks. Stationed beside a subway entrance was an 8-year-old rapper, Hetep BarBoy, who, accompanied by his father, was selling CDs of his album. “I prefer old-school hip-hop,” Hetep said. “I like Rakim because of his flow and the clean message he was putting into the world. He rapped about positivity, and that’s also what my music is about.”
In the edited interviews below, attendees reflected on hip-hop’s 50th. Some recalled witnessing the park jams and parties that defined the genre’s beginnings.
Pick a side: Old-school hip-hop or new? Old-school all day. I was at the rap battles in the parks. Hip-hop came from the dirt. You had to be a lyrical assassin then. If you weren’t, you were trash. I feel if you have something to say now, you’re seen as wack. Back then your flow had to be intact.
Your old-school hero? Big Daddy Kane was once the prince of hip-hop. He had crazy lyrical flow. He was super-duper fly. He was unmatched.
Which old-school hero are you here to see? Ice Cube. To me he represents the beginning of hip-hop’s renaissance. But I’d never use the term “old-school.” I call artists like him “true-school.”
Old-school or new? I saw the birth of hip-hop as a kid growing up in the Bronx. I was at those Sedgwick Avenue parties. I saw Cold Crush Brothers and Afrika Bambaataa. So this all goes way back for me. It’s amazing to see how hip-hop has become a global force, but when I was a kid, it was just about having fun in the park. It wasn’t about how nice your car was or how much money you had.
Do you ever boast about seeing hip-hop’s birth? I do sometimes tell young people that I saw the beginning of all this, but it usually falls on deaf ears, and they don’t get it. But that kind of response is also part of hip-hop to me, because it’s a genre that’s supposed to be always evolving from its past.
Old-school or new? For me it’s still all about Melle Mel, the Sugarhill Gang and Kurtis Blow. They’re the originals. Back in the day hip-hop was wholesome and fun. I don’t even understand it now.
What’s a significant hip-hop history moment for you? I remember seeing “Beat Street” in the movie theater in the 1980s. It was a world I already knew from seeing B-Boys on University Avenue, but for many people, that was the first time they ever saw break dancing culture.
Mary Olivette Bookman
Fordham University music student
Who do you consider a pioneer? Missy Elliott. She had something to say. What she was doing was sonically unique, and her skill and individuality were always immediately visible in her rap style.
Who are you here to see tonight? I’m here to see them all. I want to see hip-hop history. Tonight is music education for me.
Music marketing professional
What’s a significant hip-hop moment for you? I can still remember riding in a car with my friends when I heard “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang for the first time.
Old-school or new? I love the old-school. I feel like the new school is about all the wrong stuff, like buying jewelry and expensive cars. Grandmaster Flash was reaching the kids in a good way. Old-school rap was about community and where we came from. It changed our lives.
Street ball entertainer
Your old-school hero? Snoop Dogg. When he and Dr. Dre came out with “The Chronic” it shook the world. Everyone followed their way after that.
What’s a significant hip-hop moment for you? An important artist who I feel is too little known now is Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam. Her hit “Can You Feel the Beat” was impossible to not want to sing and dance to when it came out.
Who do you want to see tonight? Lil’ Kim. She’s a pioneer. She’s from the block. She’s the queen of everything. She was the blueprint. If it wasn’t for her, there would be no Nicki Minaj.
Old-school or new? I grew up in the boogie-down Bronx, so I went to all those legendary park jams. They’d hook up the turntables and speakers, and the cops would eventually come to turn it all off. You’d see Biz Markie and Doug E. Fresh. It was a good time. It all started from nothing and became something. But it all began with us just saying to each other: “Yo, they’re having a party on Sedgwick Avenue tonight. Want to go?”