Concert Benefits DJ Kool Herc, Focuses on Health Care

24 02 2011

Friday, February 18, three of the city’s leading DJs performed at a benefit concert for hip-hop music pioneer DJ Kool Herc.  DJ Pillo, Apryl Reign and Mista Rare Groove headlined the affair at Main Event in downtown Cincinnati. The event was the second collaboration between the three artists as par of a regular show they have begun called “Selectas Choice.”

With the aid of both turntables and laptops, the DJs kept their audience dancing as they spun and scratched records all night from 10pm until after 4am. The set list drew from a variety of hip-hop, R&B and soul musicians including A Tribe Called Quest, Prince, Salt-N-Pepa, Cee Lo and the Jackson 5. Both the music and the cause attracted a lively crowd that included a few influential names in the Cincinnati hip-hop scene like musician Marvin Hawkins, author Kathy Y. Wilson and radio personality Perry Simmons.

But this party was thrown for a special purpose. The proceeds from the event, which organizer Mildred Fallen said totaled more than $500 — after expenses — went toward helping DJ Kool Herc with his mounting medical bills.

Kool Herc, also known as Clive Campbell, is widely cited as one of the primary founders of hip-hop culture. A native of Jamaica, Herc immigrated to New York and started hosting his own parties in the Bronx. The forceful sound system tradition Herc brought from his homeland, his innovative use of break beats and the way he basically invented what is now known as a DJ  — it was all instrumental in creating the hip-hop culture that stretches across the globe today. His block parties were among the first places were break-dancers, rappers and DJs came together to form a cohesive tradition. Many people — including some of the DJs involved in the event – refer to Kool Herc as the “father of hip-hop.”

News recently broke that Kool Herc was in poor health and was hospitalized last month. (Reports claimed that his illness was related kidney stones.) But he doesn’t have health insurance, so Herc is in dire financial straits due to his mounting medical expenses.  ABC News reported that he has already amassed more than $10 in medical bills. Famous friends like DJ Premier and author Jeff Chang spread the news online and a viral campaign to raise money to help Herc swelled throughout the hip-hop world.

Mildred Fallen decided to do her part by helping to organize the benefit concert here in Cincinnati. The $5 cover charge from each attendee at the benefit concert went toward the medical relief fund set up to help Kool Herc with his bills.

Many of the people who came through the door at Main Event didn’t know what the benefit was about or why Kool Herc was important. But “It matters because this is one of the founding fathers of hip-hop,” Fallen says.

The DJs involved echoed a similar attitude. “I believe that if Kool Herc was not alive, there probably wouldn’t be hip hop,”says Apryl Reign, also known as April Carr. “It’s only right to do what you can to help a brother in need.”

“Nobody would be DJing… if it wasn’t for what [Kool Herc] did,” says Mista Rare Groove, also known as Daryl Henderson. “It’s just a no brainer to pay tribute and homage to the person who created what you live off of and what you love and what is your passion.”  He laughs about how little some of his daughter’s friends know about those early days of hip-hop in the ‘70s and ‘80s. “They think it all started with Tupac.”

Kool Herc had a profound personal effect on Fallen, Apryl Reign and Mista Rare Groove, as well.  All three met Kool Herc personally when he performed at Top Cats in 2006. “We all just sat around him like a sponge,” Mista Rare Groove says.

In addition to shedding light on hip-hop’s origins, the organizers hoped that the event would inspire deeper discussions about health care. Younger musicians, Fallen says, often ignore issues like health insurance because they feel healthy at the moment. She says that when she met Kool Herc in 2006, he was still a very fit, healthy man.  “In his day, getting health care was thought of as your own responsibility,” Fallen says. But without insurance, any sudden health problem can leave artists like Herc, they are vulnerable to financial disaster. “The financial situation he [Kool Herc] is in right now could happen to anyone,” she said.

“A lot of our architects aren’t taken care of,” Mista Rare Groove says. He thinks that if anyone in the hip-hop industry deserves a retirement fund, it is Kool Herc. “Nobody cares until it hits our backyard… It’s a constant slap in the face. It’s like ‘How does this dude not have healthcare? How is this dude not taken care of when so many have profited from what he created?’ ”

After the show, Fallen chatted with a few people who just finished break-dancing inside. “You were working it girl!” Fallen told a break dancer named Mira. “I was glad to see a real B-girl in the place.”

“I felt like if I don’t stop by here, then I’m a sell out,” a smiling Mira said.

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