Hip-Hop pioneer MC fights to get recognition, royalties for his iconic lyrics
A non-profit fund has been established to give some older artists' support.
While history remembers many of hip-hop's artists who laid the bricks for the foundation of the genre, there are some, like Coke La Rock, who say they've been kept from reaping the rewards.
The 68-year-old Bronx native claims he was at the party at the rec room on Sedgwick Avenue on Aug. 11, 1973, where Clive Campbell, aka DJ Kool Herc, made history by mixing records to a beat that got everyone dancing and coming back for more. It was here at this party that many hip-hop experts say the genre was born.
La Rock claimed he got on the mic at the party, making him the first MC of hip-hop.
La Rock would continue to perform at subsequent parties and underground shows and claimed during that time he coined lines and phrases that many now associate with other artists.
For example, La Rock said he came up with the lyrics, "You rock and you don't stop," from being on the mic at a party and watching people bounce to the music.
It's a phrase often associated with the Afrika Bambaataa and Soul Sonic Force's 1982 song, "Planet Rock."
He also told a story of how he says he came up with the track, "Hotel, motel, you don't tell, we won't tell," part of which was immortalized on the first Sugarhill Gang single "Rapper's Delight," often considered one of the first mainstream hip-hop tracks.
La Rock believes he deserves formal credit on those singles.
"If Herc is the father of hip-hop... everybody knows that, if Herc came out of there and I picked the mic up and I came out of there. Why am I not known for that?" La Rock told ABC News Live. "Where's the royalty money of this?"
La Rock's pleas are not going on deaf ears as attorneys and other hip-hop legends are working to find ways to get those pioneers the recognition and money they deserve.
Lita Rosario-Richardson, an attorney who specializes in music rights for hip-hop artists, told ABC News Live that the first question that she would ask La Rock is if he ever recorded any of his rhymes from that time.
She said she saw in interviews that La Rock claimed to have made mixtapes from that time.
"If he recorded some of those lines on those 8 tracks, he has some evidence of when they were created," Rosario-Richardson, a partner at the firm Schulman Rogers, told ABC News Live.
And even if he didn't at the time, Rosario-Richardson contended that he can actually record his famous rhymes now and file them at the copyright office.
"Because copyright exists from the date of creation – not from the date that you file your copyright registration," she explained.
"Royalties can continue to be paid or money can continue to be earned for a time period equal to the life of the last surviving coauthor of the work plus 70 years," she added.
La Rock recently visited an art exhibit in Soho that included a flyer and pieces of paper from the 1970s advertising DJ Kool Herc and Coke La Rock's Live performances. He's hopeful that sort of evidence may have the potential to help solidify his claims on the impact he made on hip-hop.
"It's certainly evidence," Rosario-Richardson said. "It's evidence that [he] and Kool Herc… were out there doing this. It sets up a date. It doesn't answer the ultimate fact, but it's certainly evidence that contributes to the point."
When ABC News shared Rosario-Richardson's advice with La Rock, he seemed optimistic that it was a step in the right direction towards firming up his legacy for his family.
"It makes you feel good because…it's really for my grandkids' kids to be on and just to know the truth," he said.
Some veteran hip-hop legends have also taken matters into their own hands.
The Hip Hop Alliance, a non-profit created by veteran artists including Chuck D and Kurtis Blow, has created resources to provide the elder hip-hop artists who are financially struggling.
"We've been part of industries that have made billions of dollars, OK. Where's the retirement fund? Where's the health care? You know, what's the advice and the direction for artists that come in?" Chuck D told ABC News Live.
Kurtis Blow said the group's non-profit "Legends Fund" has been providing emergency funds directly to those artists.
"We're out to make people live their lives more abundantly and not just survive, but to thrive," he said.