As Hip Hop History Month continues we will discuss each of the four main elements of the culture. It’s no secret that DJ Kool Herc began spinning records in the Bronx parks years ago and for that we thank him and the other forefathers of the culture who happen to be dee jays. Yes, dee jays were all that mattered in the early years of Hip Hop Culture. Herc, Flash, and Bam all used their popularity or their rank within their organization to hone that into event promotion. Once they had the entire borough at the get down they had to start the party, maintain the party, and end the party on a positive note. There was no rapper or emcee simply the dee jay and his vinyl records. In fact, the dee jay was the rapper in some instances using his voice to shout people out for just showing up or celebrating their birthday. Anybody can rhyme a few words but a lot of dee jays promoted themselves and would let you know where they’d be spinning records next.
Dee Jays spun songs but the party wasn’t jamming until those breaks hit the speakers! A break-beat is the drum breakdown in a song that has no lyrics only percussion. A dee jay could get a break from any song of any genre as long as it’s funky! Dee Jays had it rough because the best songs and the best breaks were not at their fingertips in a digital file. Dee Jays used to, and some still do, “dig” for rare records that had the most popular break-beat for the breakers/breakdancers to rock to. Digging refers to the great lengths a dee jay would go to in order to get a particular record simply for a ten or fifteen second break-beat. Obtaining the record with the break-beat is only describable by those who’ve experienced it. Some of the greatest break-beats of all time come from the Godfather of Soul, James Brown and the quintessential break-beat is found on Apache by the Incredible Bongo Band. The reason dee jays fancied the break-beat because that’s what made the B-boys and B-girls rock the dance floor.
It takes a special person to be a Hip Hop dee jay. Dee Jaying in and of itself is what makes the culture and the music go ‘round like the vinyl they spin. If there’s no dee jay to spin the records there’d be no breakdancers, no emcees, and no graffiti writers. Dee jays do more than press play or play their own music. Hip Hop dee jays scratch, crossfade, and other techniques known as turntablism. Perfected by dee jays like Grand Wizard Theodore, DJ Jazzy Jay, and Roc Raida turntablism is not for the weak at heart! Hip Hop dee jays utilize the turntables as their instrument enhancing the song with the scratching and mixing sometimes creating a whole new songs at the party. So when you go out to that club or you go out to that concert thank your dee jay for entertaining you with the fine motor skills.
“Two turntables and a mic” –Black Moon (Two Turntables and a Mic)