Thursday, April 17, 2014

When the Beat Was Born by Laban Carrick Hill

When the Beat Was Born: DJ Cook Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Theodore Taylor, III

Rating: 4 stars

Ben is sure he can breakdance, so I figured this book was perfect for him.  I definitely stepped out of my comfort zone to grab it; I don't know anything about DJ Kool Herc and my favorite station is country, not hip-hop.  But that's one of the best things about books: you can easily read about and learn something totally and completely new.

Even a picture book!

DJ Kool Herc was born as plain old "Clive," and was living in Kingstown, Jamaica, when he realized he had a big, deep love for music.  "He loved the way the music made his feet go hip hip hop, hippity hop."  Right in his neighborhood there was someone else who loved music like Clive: a DJ nicknamed "King George."  Clive was too young to watch King George perform at parties, but Clive watched him set up and listened to the music from afar.

When he was 13, Clive moved to New York City with his family.  He didn't fit in anywhere except the basketball court, where he quickly got the nickname Hercules because of his tall frame.  Clive cut that name in half and added "Kool" and he was quickly called Kool Herc more often than Clive.  Around that same time, his father bought a stereo system with enormous speakers.  Clive thought the sound coming from them should be bigger, deeper, richer.  So he spent time rearranging the wires until the sound matched what he thought should come out of them.
DJ Kool Herc noticed that dancers danced crazy hard during
the breaks in the song when the lyrics ended and the music
bumped and thumped.

And then, he and his sister did what any teenagers would do in that era, with their moxie and new huge sound system (I guess!): they threw a big party, and Clive performed, for the first time, as DJ Kool Herc.  Not only did he give his dancers a "hip hip hop, hippity hop beat" to dance to, he also sang/rhymed out their names and what they were doing on the dance floor.  The coolest dancers--he called them break-dancers or b-boys--showed up to do what my kids call them "rad moves." People soon lined up around the block to get in.

With that first party and the others that followed, Kool Herc became a sensation as DJ Kool Herc.

Okay, confession time: I really am unclear about what a DJ does. I don't really know what a turntable is.  I still read this book to Lorelei and Ben and fielded their good, honest questions as best as I could.  I don't really know what a turntable is.  Sometimes I worry that they'll look back and roll their eyes and ask, "Mom, do you know anything?!" (Ben is asking me lots of sports questions these days and MAN I'm lucky to get one out of ten right!)  But I'd rather not be limited by my knowledge and limit them by my limited knowledge.

I'm not afraid to say, "I don't know!  Let's find out the answer together."

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