Tonight at downtown club Main Event, three of Cincinnati’s best DJs will perform at a benefit to assist the musical pioneer who made their DJ careers possible. When news hit late last month that DJ Kool Herc was in the hospital, bleeding internally and enduring massive pain, many Hip Hop lovers with an understanding of the music’s origins and originators began plotting ways to help. Tonight’s event featuring Mista Rare Groove, Apryl Reign and DJ Pillo is one of several efforts across the continent (and probably globe) organized by appreciative fans to lessen the financial burden of Herc's mounting medical bills.
Besides highlighting Herc’s crucial role in shaping Hip Hop (he’s widely credited with inventing the genre in the early ’70s while spinning at parties in the Bronx), the incident has become fodder for the contentious healthcare debate. The man responsible for a musical style, lifestyle, cultural movement and billion-dollar industry apparently didn’t have the means to maintain a personal insurance plan, which has reportedly made Herc’s dealings with the hospital a drawn-out, frustrating exercise in red-tape clusterfuckery, something almost anyone who's had any medical treatment surely has experienced in some form.
The groundbreaking DJ is out of the hospital now, but will reportedly require more surgery and treatment for what was determined to be a kidney stones-related ailment.
Herc’s struggles are a healthcare debate piñata, but the better story is in the instant response by passionate music lovers who recognized that what Herc gave them and the world has incalculable worth. It’s unfortunate when those who blaze trails for others don’t themselves get to travel down them, but it’s inspiring to see the spontaneous support. Though, as many online commentators have remarked, there are some major superstars who owe even more to Herc and actually have the power to make the medical bills disappear instantly, but have yet to step up.
Even if the big shots don’t get involved, like those involved in tonight’s local benefit, there are people all over finding ways to help. In Toronto, a handful of Canadian Hip Hop artists organized a benefit concert for the cause. Elsewhere, The New York Times reports that writer Jeff Chang — who wrote the Hip Hop history book, Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop (for which Herc provided the foreward) — helped set up the DJ Kool Herc Fund to enable donations.
Kool Herc is trying to channel his difficulties into something positive, calling on the Hip Hop community to unite and try to come up with solutions to assist other artists put in a similar situation (or worse). A quote on his site says, “I see this situation as another quest for me to shine light on a sensitive issue for the community.”
Cincinnati has been home to similar efforts designed to provide assistance during financial and medical crises to the full-time musicians who sacrificed a more secure “real job” in favor of providing entertainment for all of us. Local radio legend (and musician) Gary Burbank and a group of working artists and music devotees formed the Play It Forward organization to provide relief for artists in times of “extreme need” (Read about PIF and donate here). And the Bootsy Collins Foundation created the Catfish Nation Musician’s Fund following the death of Bootsy’s brother, legendary Funk guitarist Catfish Collins, to help artists and their families with things like medical expenses and funeral costs. Find more info on Collins’ charitable efforts here.
Tonight, local club fave DJ Pillo turns his monthly “Selectas Choice” night at Main Event into a “Hercules Benefit,” a night of dancing and mingling to a mix of classic Hip Hop, Funk, Rock, Reggae and other vintage party-starting sounds, a tribute to Herc’s revolutionary house/block parties. Cincinnati’s “Red Bull Thr3e Style”-winning DJ Apryl Reign and Rare Groove, who has been tour DJ for indie Hip Hop greats like Atmosphere and Blueprint, join Pillo for the 10 p.m. tribute/fundraiser. Admission is $5, a portion of which will be donated to help with Herc’s medical expenses. Main Event is in the space downtown previously occupied by Lava and other clubs (it has been a regular participating MidPoint Music Festival venue, as well) at the corner of Ninth and Main streets. Visit the Main Event site here for directions and more club details.
Check out the clip below for Herc's explanation of how he came up with a style that changed culture and music around the world.