The event was held at the Andrew Freedman Complex, a retirement home built by a sports franchise financier back in 1924. It was intended as a safety net for financiers who lost their fortunes in stock market crashes, but in 1960, the Freedman trust went broke. Now the building serves as a daycare center and artist studio space. In fact, Kool Herc is one of many artists-in-residence.
I brought presents for the three birthday OGs, including a Pot Illuminati hat, pin and t-shirt, copy of my new book, Hip Hop: The Complete Archives, and some assorted other goodies compliments of WeedTees in Alma, Colorado. I called Coke to see what time he was showing up and he told me emcees were showing up early for a meeting, so I arrived a hour before showtime, and they were still setting up systems. There were three ballrooms on the ground floor, and a deejay system was being installed in every one, although the biggest was reserved for Herc’s massive system. I knew this was probably going to be one of the loudest parties in hip hop history.
Coke was overjoyed to see me and get his PI gear. While I was talking to him, Herc walked by us, recognized me and scoffed. I held my hand out and offered him a copy of my new book as a present with the other, but Herc refused both. “Where’s my royalties?” he said before walking away. Herc has never forgiven me for not cutting him into my original hip hop book deal. It’s funny because I interviewed 40 people for that book, but Herc was the only one who felt he deserved to be paid. I did get a $5,000 advance from St. Martins’ but I spent most of it buying photographs for the inside. The book went out-of-print after a year or two, and I never saw more than a few hundred dollars in the way of royalties. But a few years later, copies were trading hands on ebay for $500.
That was 31 years ago, and I touch base with Herc every decade or so. I invited him to receive an all-expense-paid trip to the Cannabis Cup and get a Counterculture Hall of Fame Award, but he turned that offer down, probably because he doesn’t want to be identified so closely with weed. So the original hip hop emcee Coke La Rock got that perk. Coke has to be the most over-looked person of the first generation. There was a giant mural of over a hundred hip hop stars. “Can you believe it,” said Coke looking at it. “I’m not even in it.”
“Nobody even knows what you look like,” I said. There were few photos taken of the original parties when Coke was the main dude on the mic, inventing phrases like: “you rock and you don’t stop,” which would go on to become a hip hop staple.
Grandmaster Caz arrived in stealth mode, not doing interviews or even having his picture taken, so I couldn’t get the story behind how he and Herc finally made up after their long feud. I am sure the whole thing boiled down to Herc being pissed about something. But if they can bury the hatchet after all these years it means there’s still hope Herc might forgive me some day. Maybe in another 30 years, when we are in our 90s.
The one person who wanted to be interviewed was an artist named Space Craft 1, who gave me a tour of his studio. The work was amazing. Check out the video if you don’t believe me.