Shorty Rock on the floor. Hehehehe!! How have u all been huh? Had a great week?
Oh I know, it was a weird way to greet ya’ll. HEHE. But you know I get all crazy and hyped when that DJ on the panel goes on spinning & scratching it right. It’s like the vibes suddenly go superrrrBOOM! And so as promised, I will be talking about elements of Hip Hop – and here we start with Journey of DJing / Turntablism.
The reason why I chose to talk about DJing first because we normally get overwhelmed watching kids spinning on their heads with the emcee flashily giving shout outs which literally makes us forget about the main man on the who makes us all move. Like many people even I had no good maturity to know the seriousness of this art of turntablism. But as I grow, I am understanding what is DJing for Hip Hop. All these jams, cyphers and parties we go to are only possible because of those disc-spinning lovely DJs across the panels. They are important in a way that – No DJ, No Hip Hop!
Once upon a time in 19th Century…..
Now when we mention the term “DJ” we first think about a hip hop DJ. But hold your horses, coz the good old days of DJing / Turntablism started from the 19th century.
A man named Leon Scott invented the phonoautograph which could record sounds followed by Thomas Edison’s phonogaphic cylinder which could playback the recorded sounds. Then came in the audio radio broadcast in 1906 and the first disc jockey in 1909. The term disc jockey wasn’t yet coined. Walter Winchell coined it in 1935; disc jockey – the disc as records and jockey as the operator of the records. The first DJ dance party was thrown by Jimmy Savile in 1943. He used to play jazz records for his guests. A few years later, Savile became the first one to use twin turntables to keep the music in continuous play.
This slowly started merging into discos. The first discoteque opened in Paris, Whiskey A Go-Go, in 1947 where DJ Regine played. The disco era spread all over United States and Europe in 1950’s. Later in 1969, DJ Francis Grasso began beat matching which helped him to seamless mixing of his songs so the dancing never had to stop.
Whoop!! My my!! How many dates did I orate until now? I just feel like I answered my history exam. Hehe!! Anyways, jokes apart, this popularity of DJs in clubs began to decrease in the late sixties, and the party was moved to the streets.
In order for partying on the streets, the youth got a mobile audio equipment called “Sound Systems” which was introduced by Jamaican culture. At these block parties, DJs would play popular genres of music, especially funk and soul music. Like the style of disco era, funk DJs would mix together percussive breaks in songs. Blending and mixing breaks was a common technique used in Jamaican dub music and which was later introduced to New York mostly by Carribean immigrants. Hence, along with emceeing Jamaicans held close musical knots with this element of hip hop too. In fact, the Father Of Hip Hop belonged to Jamaica itself. This reminds me of a popular tale.
Birth of Hip Hop
“Long time ago in 1973, a brother-sister duo shifted from Jamaica to NYC. The brother’s name was Clive Campbell and the sister’s name was Cindy Campbell. One fine day, this duo threw The Back to School Jam. Clive was spinning for this party at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue. It was exactly the night when he discovered the breaks. Cindy, his sister, knew him as Clive while everyone in Bronx knew him as DJ Kool Herc. The party was slow and dull. Herc played house music, hard funk, dancehall, disco – all the usual floor fillers. But nothing was working. Clive stepped out for a smoke. With a cigarette in his mouth he kept his eyes on the dancers. He realised that the dancers eagerly waited for the break sections to hit on. Once it would hit, they would pounce on to the floor to show what they got. Herc found the missing ingredient in his recipe. Two turntables, a guitar amplifier & thunderous speakers by his side, he mixed the breaks by cutting up the middle section of choice records and fading them onto one another. He invented the breaks there in that party and it worked wonders.”
DJ Kool Herc later came to be known as the Father of Hip Hop. Inspired by DJ Herc’s work and efforts, Afrika Bambaataa spread awareness of this breakbeat djing throwing many street parties. He gained his fame as a DJ for his way of mixing styles and genres of music.
Herc, Flash and Theodore – Important DJs of Hip Hop
This got hip hop started. Alongside, Herc the other two most important names in the history of djing / turntablism are Grandmaster Flash (Joseph Saddler) and Grand Wizard Theodore (Theodore Livingston). Through their practice they obtained extremely high levels of hand eye co-ordination and an exceptional ability to find precise points in a song by dropping the needle on a record.
Grandmaster Flash who is known as the inventor of turntable wizardry brushed up Herc’s breaks by using his “quick mix theory”. He would use a headphone to listen to the second record before it is merged into the first before playing it over the speakers. This produced a fluid transition from one record to another. His student, the young Grand Wizzard Theodore had accidentally discovered scratching while messing with a record player in his living room. His mother had told him to lower his music’s volume, while he had one hand on one record while the other one kept playing due to which a raspy sound was invented. He totally fell in love with that raucous sound and started trying it against the beat by moving it back and forth.
It was Grandmaster Flash who perfected this technique. Grandmaster Flash appeared on many records coming out of Sugar Hill Records, the first ever Hip-Hop record label. He released his first album, “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” which helped showcase his skills of mixing on record. Flash is known for inventing the backspin technique and punch phrasing, which are both universally used by DJs today.
Although scratching was popular amongst many DJs, but it wasn’t necessarily a main pillar in the culture. But suddenly in 1983, GrandMixer D.St’s “Rockit” literally rocked the scene which was paired with the jazz-legend Herbie Hancock as well as many others. He had the chance to scratch live at the 1984 Grammy awards. Since that point, scratching was heard on countless Hip-Hop records which led to it becoming a common trend on albums as well.
Also, three DJs known as Spinbad, Cash Money and Jazzy Jeff changed djing by inventing the Transformer scratch – so named for the sound it created which was heard in the popular 1980s cartoon. Beat Juggling was perhaps the most important development over the time.
In 1985, DJ Tony Prince began DJ competitions for the Disco Mix Club (DMC). DJ Cheese won this one in 1986. His scratching style mesmerizied everyone around. This officially was the start up for DJ battling thus making DMC competition the place for DJs to show their skills and still going on.
But 20 years later, digitization found its place in DJing. In 2001, the digital visual system (DVS) was introduced to the DJ world. It means to connect a laptop to the traditional turntables and mixer. This made storing the records easier while still maintaining the essence of traditional djing / turntablism.
There are ennumber of DJs who have contributed to this beautiful art form until this day then may it be funk, disco or hip hop. Different countries, cities and their cultures contributed in their own way still letting the originality stick on. This element has eventually affected the whole Hip Hop culture in its own course. As the age grows, the experimentation on this will keep on flourishing more. It is a never ending art for like I said before No Dj, No Hip Hop!!
I once read something quoted by DJ Shadow, “Cutting and pasting is the essence of what the hip hop culture is for me. It’s about drawing from what’s around you, and subverting it, and decontextualizing it.” Isn’t is so true? These passion filled DJs put their whole and soul into their art which eventually puts a big smile on each face present. They are the true worshippers of this whole culture. I salute them with all my love and might.
Like always, thanks a ton to all our sisters and fathers and brothers and mothers who keep this artistically intelligent movement going.
See ya’ll soon and stay connected. I’ll be back with the next element by next weekend.
Till then. Bye.