Hip-Hop 50: Kool Herc and The Herculords – That Night at The Hevalo

Dynamite and Kool Herc (1)

Roosevelt “Dynamite” Simmons provides valuable insight into the early days of hip-hop and Kool Herc’s role in shaping the culture.

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a B-Boy. I wanted my pants to hang off my ass like Eldorado Mike’s. I mean, I just wanted to fly through the air like Sa Sa and burn my opponents like The N#### Twins. To me, that was the joint.

I can vividly remember the first time I ever heard Kool Herc. It was the summer of 1974. My family had just moved Uptown from Boston Road in the South Bronx to 181st in the Grand Concourse and its Art Deco-lined buildings. I learned to breakdance that year from a guy in my building named Clifford Miles.

He also taught me how to boost, but that’s neither here nor there.

We would hang with this real black kid from Burnside Ave in Twin Parks who called himself Slick Watts, but we called him “Black Ass Slick.” Now, in my mind, my B-Boy skills couldn’t be touched until I met Slick. Slick Watts was the greatest B-Boy you had ever heard of. Nobody was f###### with Slick Watts. He would say he was Burnside, and that’s why he burned n#####.

From there, we would venture a few blocks up Valentine Ave to E.B.B Park to hear these guys with a rag-tag ass sound system put together with pieces of what looked like somebody’s mom’s stereo set. Nothing matched. The s### was just thrown together. He called himself Casanova Fly, and his man’s name was Disco Wiz.

I met three other B-Boys at these early block parties: Ace La Rock, Velvet Vinny Vin, and James Bond. (Is it me, or did BX cats all have cool names?) These four cats would become the greatest B-Boys from the Westside of the Bronx, and they would go on to have epic battles against Herc’s crew, The N#### Twins, Sa Sa, Clark Kent, Trixie, and Eldorado Mike.

All these cats kept talking about that fateful day was going to the Kool Herc party that night at The Hevalo on Burnside and Jerome Ave. So, of course, me being me, I had to see this s### for myself, and so later that night, we all slipped into our Pumas, Lee’s, and Moc Necks and marched our a#### down the block to Hevalo.

What I mostly remember about that night was that I knew I would never be an official B-Boy. I didn’t have the moves, and neither did my man Cliff. We were gonna stick to boosting, so we stood in the back and watched as Kool Herc played all the songs the real B-Boys could get down to.

I saw Eldorado Mike do the Hustle vs. James Bond; I saw Vinny Vin get his groove on; I saw Sa Sa. I saw Slick Watts and Ace LaRock get burned by The N#### Twins. And that night, most importantly, I saw and heard Kool Herc.

The Hevalo Club, located at 2062 Jerome Avenue, just off the intersection with Burnside Ave on the Westside of The Bronx, has long been torn down, but it remains an important site in the history of Hip-Hop and Breaking.

The Hevalo Club

Kool Herc was the resident DJ here, and it was one of the few clubs that, at 14 and 15 years old, we could get into. This is also the club where I first witnessed breakdancing.

To witness “Kool Herc, Coke La Rock, Clark Kent, and Timmie Tim, collectively known as The Original Herculords, was akin to witnessing the advent of Rock and Roll. So, it’s only fitting that Kool Herc will be inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, the 50th anniversary of the culture he founded. No one there that night could have possibly known that these parties would be the start of a culture that has now outlived every other genre of music.

Now, I have to admit. I’m a Grandmaster Flash guy. Contrary to popular belief, I idolized Herc’s crew. Although, I don’t refer to Coke La Rock as Hip-Hop’s first emcee (that would be Cowboy). He is the first DJ to pick up a mic at a Hip-Hop Party. He didn’t rhyme in the cadence of a Mele Mel or a Hollywood or what we would call an Emcee today, but more like Hank Spann from WWRL NY.

Nevertheless, he had his own way of getting the party started, and with that said, he had the right to call himself the first emcee if he wanted to. I don’t recognize DJs as Emcees. Coke La Rock is a DJ. He mostly catered to the hustlers when he got on after Kool Herc.

Many failed to realize that at those early Kool Herc parties, most people were not breaking but did the Hustle. Coke La Rock brought that smooth vibe to the party with songs like “T Plays It Cool,” Eddie Kendricks’s “Body Talk,” Booker T, and The MG’s “Melting Pot.” Coke La Rock did all that.

We all owe him a debt we can never repay. You should never mention the name Kool Herc without immediately following it with Coke La Rock because that’s how important his contributions are to this culture. So, I considered a more fitting title for my brother, The Co-Founder of Hip-Hop.

Clark Kent was the B-Boy King. He would get on and cater to the B-Boys as he was one of the greatest himself. He would then get on the mic and intimidate any B-Boy in his vicinity. It was he and the Twins, formally known as The N#### Twins, who would start and finish most of the battles.

To witness a B-Boy battle firsthand in the early 70s was akin to watching a soldier at war. You had these noble figures, best described as chess figures. Think about it. You had these Grandmasters, the Emcee, and the B-Boys. The B-Boys were more like the protectors of the throne. You had to battle the B-Boy. These mythical figures were legends in their own right. If Kool Herc or Coke La Rock said your name on the mic at one of these parties, you instantly became famous throughout The Bronx.

Eldorado Mike, James Bond, The N#### Twins, Trixie Sa Sa, Clark Kent, Slick Watts, Vinny Vin, Bo Bo, Crazy Eddie, and Dancing Doug are all legendary figures who gained notoriety because of their B-Boy skills. You came to the party to hear music, but the highlight of the evening was the B-Boy battles. Breakdancing became an art form within itself at these early Hevalo parties.

But Kool Herc set the tone with his vast playlist of rare records with secluded instrumentals or breakbeats as they later came to be known. Of all the disc jockeys in New York then, none exclusively played breakbeats Apache, Give It Up, Turn it Loose, Just Begun, Baby Huey. Don’t get that twisted. That was all Kool Herc.

His clientele were these cool ass kids from different Bronx neighborhoods. When you heard Mele Mel say, “Smugglers, Scramblers, Burglars Gamblers, Pick Pockets (Jostlers), Peddlers, and even Panhandlers,” throw in “The Boosters, Dust Heads, and The 3 Card kids,” and that’s who attended these early Herc parties. You have to understand this was The Bronx in the ’70s. We grew up faster than the average teen because we came from less. We came from broken group homes, our parents depended on social services, and times were hard. There was nothing else to do in The Bronx but steal s### and go to Kool Herc parties.

While violence has become rap’s defining theme these days, Hip-Hop back then was the total opposite. It gave us something to do that brought Black people and Puerto Ricans together. Before that, the two groups fought each other and partied separately. And mind you, this happened right after the gang truce in ’71. Hip-Hop did that.

And so it began.

Herc went from The Twilight Zone and The Hevalo to The Executive Playhouse, where his crowds are growing, so everyone in The BX is coming. He then starts playing The Clairmont Center or The Nine in the middle of The Projects in The South Bronx, and not near a n#### tried anything. He played The T Connection Uptown in The North Bronx, too. Kool Herc’s reign was from 1973 to 1977, and as Kool Herc grew, so did the culture alongside him.

Now all upstart DJs in The Bronx are sticking to Kool Herc’s playlist of Break Beats. B-Boys became a popular term to describe a person from The Bronx who goes to Kool Herc parties. Although others would come along and improve on his sound and playlist, Kool Herc remains known as The Father of Hip-Hop.

As the decade drew to a close, the party ended early for The Herculords. The culture they founded continued to take on a life of its own. Clark Kent found a career in the military while, with the advent of cocaine, Coke La Rock, the Hustler, was making more money than his alter ego and returned to the streets as the great Kool Herc trudged on.

Herc was becoming increasingly bitter as the culture continued to move past him. Finally, one night at a University Ave ballroom, Herc was stabbed at his own party, and after that, he disappeared from the scene for a long time. The ’80s continued to be hard on our hero, and he ended up incarcerated with Cowboy from The Furious 5 on Rikers Island for a short time.

Upon his release, he resurfaced on the scene as a bitter man. He felt he was owed something, and the same people who reached back to lend a hand paid dearly. One well-known old-school manager relays that he was just difficult to deal with. You would get him to work overseas, and he would make outlandish demands or, once he arrived, demand more money. He once showed up at a mixtape event and took the turntables with him when he left.

First off, I think we can all agree if Kool Herc doesn’t know you or doesn’t f### with you, he’s not the most agreeable, or, I’ll even say, likable person. So if people can avoid dealing with him, they will. They’ll keep waving that Hip-Hop flag right around his ass. 

But let me ask you. 

Is it fair or even proper to speak callously about the man who made it possible for you to eat and expect him not to be mad that something he invented passed him by and has become a multi-billion dollar industry that he reaps what from? Nothing! Wouldn’t yo ass be mad too?

I heard some pioneers state, “How can he get credit for Hip-Hop just for throwing one party?” Let me help you get it. It wasn’t just one party. It was a culmination of parties after that party where the music selection was different from anything anyone else did at the time. No one was playing records that accentuated the breakdown, whether it was a drum beat or a bassline. Breakbeats. Seventy-five percent of every record we now classify as a Break Beat was a staple of Kool Herc’s playlist. The man (along with Coke La Rock and Clark Kent) gave us all a Breakbeat playlist. They were the first to introduce us to the records we still sample today!

Kool Herc is the Program Director of Hip-Hop.

No other DJ from the seventies played specific music geared toward the instrumental break. Not Flowers, not Maboya, not Plummer, not Pete, DJ Jones, not Hollywood. No DJ was playing what we now call Break Beats. Then along comes Flash, who goes to your party, listens to the Break Beats playing, takes what you invented, and not only expands on your playlist but, in the process, comes up with his Quick Mix theory. He then hooks up with The Furious 5; the rest is history. Back then, we all stopped going to Kool Herc parties and started following Flash. I’d be livid if I were Herc.

This man has had to endure insult after insult over something he created. I’d want to choke the s### outta somebody. (He and Flash don’t like each other, you know). Breakdancing. You didn’t see people breakdancing at clubs in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The people who attended Kool Herc parties invented that dance. Kool Herc was a known graffiti artist. And cats like Phase 2, 2 Kool, and Stay High attended Kool Herc parties. He brought all the principles of Hip-Hop together before they were principles. How dare you say, “How can it be Hip-Hop if the term to describe what he was doing wasn’t coined until four years later,” because that’s how long it took Cowboy to make up that chant in ’77? Stop looking for excuses to discredit this man.

Kool Herc deserves better. He should be treated as a god among us. Why do other genres and races treat their artists so well? Whether Rock & Roll, Jazz, or Soul, people like The Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, and Coltrane are all revered. Hip-Hop treats its founders like s###. Let’s face it, they do. Half the people that call themselves fans of this music have yet to learn who Kool Herc is.

How is that even acceptable?

So here we are, 50 years in. He’s now 71, and his health is fading. The building where he and his sister held that first party on August 11, 1973, is now a historical landmark. The street in front of it has been renamed Hip-Hop Blvd. His original system was recently sold at a Christie’s Auction for $200,000 to The National Hip Hop Museum in Washington, DC, and this year, Kool Herc was nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Some might say too little, too late, while others might say better late than never. I’m sure he still feels a certain type of way. I would. When you see Kool Herc, ask that man how he can help you instead of saying thanks.


Your Hip-Hop Aficionado,