cover image When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop

When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop

Laban Carrick Hill, illus. by Theodore Taylor III. Roaring Brook, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-59643-540-7

Here’s a twofer: an expert biography of a hip hop and rap pioneer, and a not-to-be-missed picture-book debut by Taylor, a Washington, D.C.–based artist. Herc, an aspiring DJ and reluctant immigrant from Jamaica to the Bronx, was working a house party at his Sedgwick Avenue housing project when inspiration struck: he put the same record on two turntables to extend the break in a song (“when the lyrics ended and the music bumped and thumped”) and added verbal riffs drawn from Jamaican chanting and toasting. “Kool Herc’s music made everybody happy,” writes Hill (Dave the Potter). “Even street gangs wanted to dance, not fight.” Hill walks the fine line between knowledgeable reporter and passionate fan (as is clear in his vivid author’s note), and Taylor does the same, using a meticulous inkline and washes of textured earth tones to convey both a sense of observational precision and a mural-like expressionism. Whether Taylor is zooming in on Herc’s dexterous hands manipulating the turntables or pulling back for a birds-eye view of the first break dance performances, he makes readers feel like they’re present at hip-hop’s inception. Ages 6–10. (Aug.)