D.C. artist wins honors for children’s book about DJ Kool Herc

Washington artist Theodore Taylor (Copyright Sarah Schultz-Taylor)
Washington artist Theodore Taylor (Copyright Sarah Schultz-Taylor)

Washington artist Theodore Taylor has won the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award for the illustrations in his first children’s book, “When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop” (Roaring Brook). The American Library Association announced the prize, along with the Newbery and Caldecott medals, earlier this week in Philadelphia.

“When the Beat Was Born,” written by Laban Carrick Hill for readers 6-10 years old, tells the story of the legendary hip hop dj Clive Campbell, known to the world as DJ Kool Herc.

Taylor, a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, works as a production assistant at the Brick Factory, a PR firm in DC. He also designs album covers and does work for a hip hop blog called Potholes In My Blog.

Roaring Brook Press contacted Taylor after spotting his illustrations and children’s theater posters  on Flickr in 2010. “My style,” he says, “is inspired by a lot of sources such as graphic novels, street art, art nouveau, animation and fellow illustrators.”

For the vibrant pictures in “When The Beat Was Born,” he says he was “attempting to channel some influences I gained from street art in order to fit with the graffiti that played a large part in early hip hop culture. I also used a lot of textures to fit with the urban environment of the story.”

Taylor’s father was a guitarist in Roanoke area and gave his son a rich background in jazz and soul. “At a young age, I also became heavily interested in electronic music and hip hop as well as a few rock and folk acts. Artists like Flying Lotus, Herbie Hancock, J Dilla, Madlib, Miles Davis, Squarepusher and Prefuse 73 have been at the top of my lists for years.”

(Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press)
(Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press)

His interest in Clive Campbell began back in high school. “I purchased a documentary about hip hop DJ culture and turntablism called ‘Scratch,’ by Doug Pray, he says. “What I admire most about [DJ Kool Herc] is the creativity he brought to DJing, combining unique sounds and techniques that helped lead to the creation of hip hop, a culture that is a large part of my life and much of the world.”

For music in the D.C. area, Taylor recommends the U Street Music Hall. “I love that place because it’s small, intimate and feels like being trapped inside of a very loud subwoofer. They also do a great job of booking some of my favorite acts. I saw several shows last year including Machinedrum, Shigeto and Hiatus Kaiyote. I love the 9:30 Club as well. Seeing Flying Lotus there last year was probably one of the best shows I’ve been to.”

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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