The Sound System Reverberates – NYC73

Starting in the 1950‘s the promise of new lives, and better opportunities led many families to up sticks and emigrate from the West Indies. IN 1967 a young jamaican, Clive Campbell found himself transported form his home in Jamaica to New York City.

His mother had previously left the family home to work on a degree in nursing, the first part of her plan to try and offer her children more prospects that those back home. The family were now reunited but Clive found the transition hard. He felt his clothes made him stick out and few of his new school friends could understand his accent.  At least the family were together again. Hi father was a keen music fan, something he passed on to Clive form a young age. Back in Jamaica Campbell senior had been involved to some extent with the sound systems and again in New York he beagn to steadily build hi sown PS system. Clive helped out. Whilst not old enough to have attended the dances back home he had never forgotten them or the excitement they had created:

“I was too young to go in. All we could do is sneak out and see the preparation of the dance through the day. The guys would come with a big old handcart with the boxes in. And then in the night time, I’m a little itchy headed, loving the vibrations on the zinc top ‘ cause them sound systems are powerful.

“We just stay outside like everyone else, yo know, pointing at the gangsters as they come up, all the famous people. And at the time they had the little motorcycles, Triumphs and Hondas. Rudeboys used to have tho souped up. They used to come come up four and five six deep, with them likkle ratchet knife.”

A love of music and with a firm belief in the power it could transmit was deep within him. In the Bronx he attended blues parties, gatherings of fellow Jamaicans, coming together to party. At its centre music. The sound system. Clive continued to work on improving his father system, investigating, tweaking and working on the set up until it boomed.

Meanwhile , his sister had another problem, an age old problem. You know how it is everyone wants to look their best, boast of  the very best wardrobe as a means of elevating themselves from their surroundings. The Teds dressed up above their status to brighten their lives in post war Britain, the Mods sought to leap forward, and engage with the very latest styles, styles that originated far way form their surroundings. The centrepiece of all youth cults is looking good making a statement.

In 1973 Cindy Campbell needed new clothes for back-to-school. As always money was tight, so how to get them? Her brother Clive had been collecting and spinning discs, working on establishing his sound system. Cindy guessed that if she invested her meagre bi-monthly pay cheque in hiring the local community hall, installed her brother and his sound system she could be on to a winner. By charging a nominal entrance fee and selling soda and beer she could just make out with enough money to to kit herself put in the very latest fashions for the coming school year.

Fuelled by Hercs love of music, the memory of the dances he had been unable to attend back home in Jamaica and his sisters guile and entrepeneur spirit the party went OFF! It was a pretty DIY affair, Hercs homebuilt system – a tribute to the sound systems from jamaica, handwritten flyers but there was a twist in how Herc was playing a whole bunch of hard funk and classic soul records. Having noticed that the “break” sections (the bit where everything breaks down and the drummer hits the spotlight)  in these old funk records were the bits that sent the dancefloor crazy Herc hit upon the idea of getting two copies of the same record and mixing the “break” sections together. In doing so he was able to extend these portions of certain tracks and a cornerstone of hip hop culture was born.


Much of the info above was taken from Jeff Changs exceptional book ‘Can’t Stop Won’t Stop’. Chang offers up a history of New York that takes in city planning decisions, street gangs and the pioneers the four pillars of hip hop (MC’ing, Graffiti, B-Boying,and DJ-ing) It’s simply the best book on hip hop available and comes highly recommended.





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