LL Cool J honored DJ Kool Herc as “one of the great founders of hip-hop” when the pioneering musical visionary received the Musical Influence Award at the 2023 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. During his speech, the rapper recounted the legend of the party Kool Herc DJ’d in 1973 to help his sister, Cindy Campbell, raise money for back-to-school clothes, charging 25 cents for women to enter and 50 for men. “We don’t know how much money Cindy managed to raise that day or what clothes she managed to buy but we know she changed the course of history, of music history,” LL Cool J said. “That party has come to be known as the birthplace of hip-hop.”
The rapper described Kool Herc, whose real name is Clive Campbell, as “larger than life” and praised how he took his record collection and “molded it into a new form of music” that has impacted the world ever since. “It’s a culture that changed my life obviously,” he said. “It changed the lives of millions and millions of people.”
When Kool Herc ascended the dais with his sister, he was overcome with emotion. LL Cool J helped him find his place in front of the mic. “I got tears in my eyes,” he told the audience. He called out the people who were no longer alive, like James Brown and Harry Belafonte. He also credited his parents, Keith and Nettie Campbell, and he gave the mic to his sister, Cindy, to speak. “Do your thing,” he told her, smiling, as he stepped aside and marveled at the statuette he received with LL Cool J.
“LL, you gave a heartfelt introduction, thank you, we love you,” Cindy said. “We always did, and I want to congratulate my brother DJ Kool Herc for staying on that path and getting where he is today. Congratulations to my brother.”
Herc’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year is particularly fitting as hip-hop celebrates its 50th anniversary. And, as the legend famously goes, Kool Herc was at the center of its creation with the party he hosted in the rec room of his apartment complex on Aug. 11, 1973, a date, as LL Cool J noted, that is now celebrated as hip-hop’s birthday. There, the core elements of hip-hop coalesced as Herc spun funk records on two turntables, with a particular focus on the drum breaks, while incorporating his love of reggae and toasting with shoutouts to his friends.
While the party has gone down in music history, Herc himself admitted to Rolling Stone this summer that his memories of it are fuzzy. “I remember the equipment, the turntables,” he said. “We weren’t a band. But we’re DJs. We’re rock stars now.”
Along with Herc, this year’s other Musical Influence Award recipient was late surf rock legend Link Wray. Meanwhile, Chaka Khan, Al Kooper, and Bernie Taupin will receive the Musical Excellence Award; Don Cornelius will be honored with the Ahmet Ertegun Award; and the class of 2023 in the Performer category boasts Kate Bush, Sheryl Crow, Missy Elliott, George Michael, Willie Nelson, Rage Against the Machine, and the Spinners.