Keeping it Right

DJ Kool Herc

When I started DJing back in the early '70s, it was just something that we were doing for fun. I came from “the people's choice,” from the street. If the people like you, they will support you and your work will speak for itself. The parties I gave happened to catch on. They became a rite of passage for young people in the Bronx. Then the younger generation came in and started putting their spin on what I had started. I set down the blueprint, and all the architects started adding on this level and that level. Pretty soon, before we even knew it, it had started to evolve.

Most people know me as DJ Kool Herc. But sometimes when I introduce myself to people, I just tell them that my friends call me Herc. Later on, they might ask, “Are you that Herc?” My thing is: come and meet me as who I am. My head is not swollen, I don't try to front on people. If you like what I do, if you like me playing music or giving parties, hey, that's what I do for my friends and people. It's what I've always done.

To me, hip-hop says, “Come as you are.” We are a family. It ain't about security. It ain't about bling-bling. It ain't about how much your gun can shoot. It ain't about $200 sneakers. It is not about me being better than you or you being better than me. It's about you and me, connecting one to one. That's why it has universal appeal. It has given young people a way to understand their world, whether they are from the suburbs or the city or wherever.

Hip-hop has also created a lot of jobs that otherwise wouldn't exist. But even more important, I think hip-hop has bridged the culture gap. It brings white kids together with Black kids, brown kids with yellow kids. They all have something in common that they love. It gets past the stereotypes and people hating each other because of those stereotypes.

People talk about the four hip-hop elements: DJing, B-Boying, MCing, and Graffiti. I think that there are far more than those: the way you walk, the way you talk, the way you look, the way you communicate. Back in my era, we had James Brown and civil rights and Black power; you did not have people calling themselves hip-hop activists. But these people today are talking about their era. They have a right to speak on it the way they see it coming up.

Hip-hop is the voice of this generation. Even if you didn't grow up in the Bronx in the '70s, hip-hop is there for you. It has become a powerful force. Hip-hop binds all of these people, all of these nationalities, all over the world together.

But the hip-hop generation is not making the best use of the recognition and the position that it has. Do we realize how much power hip- hop has? The hip-hop generation can take a stand collectively and make a statement. There are a lot of people who are doing something positive, who are doing hip-hop the way it was meant to be done. They are reaching young people, showing them what the world could be — people living together and having fun.

But too often, the ones that get the most recognition are those emphasizing the negative. And I think a lot of people are scared to speak on issues. “Keeping it real” has become just another fad word. It sounds cute. But it has been pimped and perverted. It ain't about keeping it real. It's got to be about keeping it right.

For example, rappers want to be so “bling-bling.” Are you really living a luxurious life? Don't you have other issues? What things touch you? That's what we'd like to hear rappers speak about. Start a dialogue with people. Talk about things going on in the neighborhood.

Music is sometimes a medication from reality, and the only time you get a dialogue is when tragedy happens. When Tupac or Biggie or Jam Master Jay died, that's when people wanted to have a dialogue. It was too late. Not enough people are taking advantage of using hip-hop as a way to deal with serious issues, as a way to try to change things before tragedy strikes.

We have the power to do that. If Jay-Z comes out one day with his shirt hanging this way or LL Cool J comes out with one leg of his pants rolled up, the next day everyone is doing the same thing. If we decide one day to say that we're not gonna kill somebody senselessly, everyone will follow.

I don't want to hear people saying that they don't want to be role models. You might already have my son's attention. Let's get that clear. When I'm telling him, “Don't walk that way, don't talk that way,” you're walking that way and talking that way. Don't just be like a drug dealer, like another pusher. Cut the crap. That's escape. That's the easy way out. You have the kid's attention. I'm asking you to help me raise him up.

You might be living lovely. But if you came out of the neighborhood, there was somebody who was there to guide you when you needed it, someone that said, “Son, here's two dollars.” You might have to beat up on the ghetto to get out of it, but what have you done for the ghetto lately? How can you come from nothing to get something, but yet the same time, still do dirt to tear it all down?

Hip-hop has always been about having fun, but it's also about taking responsibility. And now we have a platform to speak our minds. Millions of people are watching us. Let's hear something powerful. Tell people what they need to hear. How will we help the community? What do we stand for? What would happen if we got the hip-hop generation to vote, or to form organizations to change things? That would be powerful.

Hip-hop is a family, so everybody has got to pitch in. East, west, north, or south — we come from one coast and that coast was Africa. This culture was born in the ghetto. We were born here to die. We're surviving now, but we're not yet rising up. If we've got a problem, we've got to correct it. We can't be hypocrites. That's what I hope the hip-hop generation can do, to take us all to the next level by always reminding us: It ain't about keeping real, it's about keeping it right.