When the Beat was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop
by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III
Roaring Brook, 2013
“Clive loved music.” So begins this spirited, affirmative biography of the inventor of Hip Hop, and right from the start we are primed for an exposition of how that love would manifest itself, on Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx, and around the world. The story offers a straightforward, linear account of DJ Kool Herc’s childhood in Jamaica, move to NYC, and self-propelled rise to prominence as DJ and legend, noting such innovations as inviting rapper friends to “MC” his parties, using dual turntables to extend the “break” between songs, and encouraging break dancing, calling out the b-boys and doing play-by-play of their acrobatic moves. The color quality of the illustrations is decidedly dark, with a predominance of murky grays,greens and browns, and strong, definitive shadows. Yet the book itself is remarkably positive and bright. On court, in line, and around the park, smiles abound. Indeed, everything we learn about DJ Kool Herc, from his devotion to his little sister and party partner, to the way his friendships played such a central role in his music, gives us a picture of an artist excited to share his world, replacing fighting with dancing, and loneliness with community. Ultimately, this is an affectionate portrait of an affectionate man, someone who loves his music and loves his people, all at once.