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DJing History | HIP HOP 101
In the early days of hip-hop, the role of the DJ was the Main Focus and Emcees wer basically Hype Men to pump up the DJ. Later on MCs would rap their verses over beats that were either prerecorded or played from records by a DJ. As hip-hop evolved, so did its DJs, who started adding in new tricks and techniques to stand out from the competition. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at how the art of DJing has changed throughout history and which historical figures made a lasting impact on modern-day DJs.
Danny The Wildchild - Chicago, Il - Photo by TCK PRO
The Beginning: Turntables, Mixers and Vinyl
Turntables have been around since the 1930s, when radio DJs started using them to manually speed up and slow down their records to create sound effects. Typewriter-like mixers first appeared in the early 1960s and were used by radio DJs to transition between two sound sources. In the ‘70s, DJs started using two-deck mixers to create seamless crossfades between two records, which created a much more pleasing sound. The advent of vinyl records allowed DJs to scratch and cut their music in ways that would be impossible with digital audio.
DJ Mofak Bessis - Paris, France
DJ Kool Herc: Founder of Hip-Hop DJing
DJ Kool Herc is widely credited as being the first DJ to use two copies of the same record, extending the break to increase the energy of the crowd. For his first performance, Herc used two copies of “Freedom,” a track by the songwriter and activist Clarence Hamlond. Herc extended the break to create a “crescendo” in which the energy of the crowd built up to an explosive climax. Herc’s technique of extending the breaks of his records and adding in his own vocal interjections are now a standard part of hip-hop DJing.
Grandmaster Flash: The Godfather of Hip-hop DJs
Coke La Rock is widely recognized as being the first rapper to spit Rhymes over a beat, That Grandmaster Flash (Joseph Saddler) was spinning in 1973 making him the godfather of modern-day MCing. Both Coke La Rock and Grandmaster Flash are recognized as the original founding fathers of Hip Hop. In Grandmaster Flash's first live performance at the New York City Disco-R-Us, Flash used two copies of the same record, switching between the two copies at the end of each verse to extend the beat. Flash’s signature technique of running back and forth between two copies of the same record created seamless crossfades and extended the length of his set. Grandmaster Flash is Credited with 3 innovations that are still considered standard DJing techniques today.
- Backspin technique (or quick-mix theory): When New York party DJs came to understand that short drum breaks were popular with party audiences. Kool Herc began experimenting with the use of two identical tracks to extend the ‘break’, or instrumental section, resulting in what was known as ‘break-beat’. Grandmaster Flash perfected this technique where he could play the break on one record while searching for the same fragment of music on the other (using his headphones). When the break finished on one turntable, he would use his mixer to switch quickly to the other turntable, where the same beat was ready to play. Using the backspin technique (also referred to as beat juggling), the same short phrase of music could be looped over and over again.
- Punch phrasing (or clock theory): This technique involved isolating very short sections of music, typically horn hits, and rhythmically punching them over the sustained beat using the mixer.
- Scratching: Although the invention of record scratching as a form of adding to the musical entertainment is generally credited to Grand Wizard Theodore, Grandmaster Flash perfected the technique and brought it to new audiences. Scratching, along with punch phrasing, exhibited a different aspect of party DJing: instead of just spinning records, he changed them to create new beats 
Afrika Bambaataa & the Zulu Nation DJs
Afrika Bambaataa is widely credited with creating the Zulu Nation, a collective of DJs, radio hosts, and graffiti artists. Bambaataa ushered hip-hop DJs into a new era with the release of “Planet Rock,” a song that introduced electro music to the hip-hop world. “Planet Rock” was the first hip-hop song to feature a drum machine, which at the time was a fairly new sound. Bambaataa and his fellow Zulu Nation members took inspiration from electro’s minimalist rhythms and futuristic sounds, paving the way for hip-hop music to evolve beyond its reggae roots.
DJ Lord - Public Enemy/Cypress Hill
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Marley Marl & the MCs
B-Boy crews and B-Boys have always been a part of hip-hop, but Marley Marl is widely credited with bringing MCs into the fold. Marl broke the beat-jumping trend by allowing his dancers to freestyle over the beat, letting the DJ focus on keeping the beat steady. This paved the way for MCs to begin rapping over the beat, a practice that’s now common practice. Marley Marl’s partnership with MC Shan led to the release of the first DJ-produced hip-hop record, “The Bridge,” in 1986 which was a major shift from the DJ-less records that were previously being released.
Early Influences from Jamaica
Kingston, Jamaica, has a long history of producing fast-paced, rhythmic music, which is why many have compared the early days of hip-hop to reggae music. Kingston-born DJs started mixing reggae songs together, creating the first “mashups,” which would inspire the practice of DJ mixing in the United States.
DJ APX 1 - Los Angeles, CA - Photo by OHDAGYO
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As hip-hop has evolved, so has the role of the DJ. DJs used to play pre-recorded beats, but they’ve since adopted turntables and mixers to create seamless soundscapes and create their own music. As the hip-hop DJing scene has expanded and diversified, so too have the creative possibilities of the craft. DJs have used the influence of reggae music to create new sounds that would not otherwise be possible, while others have taken inspiration from Jamaica’s history of mixing two songs together. As hip-hop continues to evolve and change, so too will the practice of DJing, making the future of the craft wide open for experimentation and evolution. Djing has been the backbone for all other Elements in Hip Hop, What would a B-Boy do without the Dj? The set the vibe of the place. Many other Genres have sprung from Hip Hop DJing including EDM and drum N Bass. You may also purchase a perfecr shirt for you at Panic 39 B-boy Clothing and feel the vibe!
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