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Bronx Times
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Hip hop, hooray!

The building where the genre was birthed is still kicking.

Tenants at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in Morris Heights —home of the first-ever hip-hop party— can now move back into renovated digs after a $16.8 million restoration by the high-rise’s new owners, city officials announced.

The hip-hop landmark’s 102 apartments were bought out of the Mitchell-Lama affordable housing program in 2008. Since then, the new owner of the high-rise along the Major Deegan Highway had allowed the complex to fall into disrepair amid the burst of the housing bubble, city officials said.

The building was brought back to life with a boost from a hip-hop legend. Clive Campbell, also known as DJ Kool Herc, ignited a ‘back-to-school’ party in August 1973 in 1520’s first-floor rec room with a new DJ style.

Working on a turntable with two copies of the same record, Kool Herc isolated a track’s drum instrumentals, or “breaks,” and then switched back and forth between them, creating elongated breaks that took on a life of their own.

“That was the kind of thing that drove the party goers crazy. It was a sensation,” said Mark Naison, a professor of African-American Studies at Fordham University.

Herc’s parties quickly spread through the neighborhood’s grapevine. Herc started taking his music to the streets, plugging his stereo system into light fixtures in local parks, said Naison.

Soon hundreds of people were showing up, and other DJs were emulating his style, including Grandmaster Flash, who would go on to hip hop stardom.

Verbal rhyming over the recorded tracks, the “rapping” that today dominates the hip-hop scene, came into play a few years later, Nailson said.

Most hip-hop historians agree that rapping evolved from the age-old West Indian practice of speaking, or “toasting,” over music.

Kool Herc’s souped-up “breaks,” on the other hand, were the dawning of a new world of music production. None of what hip hop is today would be possible without what Kool Herc invented that August night in Morris Heights, Nailson said.

“That was the big bang,” he said. “No one knew at the time that it would be so important.”

With Herc’s help, the tenants and city officials launched a publicity campaign that resulted in a slew of city organizations combining to subsidize a new developer who promised keep the high-rise affordable.

Sovereign Bank had foreclosed upon the property, and Winn Residential and Workforce Housing Advisors took over the mortgage and began repairs in February 2012, according to the New York City Housing Development Corporation (HPD).

Herc and his sister Cindy Campbell were on hand at a ribbon cutting on September 27 to celebrate the revamp of their former home.

“Even though it was a struggle, we never gave up,” wrote the siblings in a statement. “This is the home of Hip Hop and its home to a lot of people who were here in the good times and when things got bad. Through it all we fought hard to make this a better place, and today we’re seeing that work pay off.”

Ben Kochman can be reach via e-mail at BKochman@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3394
Posted 12:00 am, October 14, 2013
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