Who stole the DJ? The Fresh Prince asked this question on the cut of the same name from his 1991 album Homebase. Whether or not he was subliminally alluding to what I’m about to write about is open for debate. I have yet to understand how the top (c)rap artists of today can claim to be representing Hip Hop without such a vital element as the DJ.
The DJ was the architect of Hip Hop, the catalyst, if you will. When Kool Herc spun his first break beat at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue he set in motion the rhythmic backbone that would be the life blood of the Hip Hop culture. The DJ’s the one who got the party jumpin’. His turntable mastery of extending percussion driven breaks sent the B-Boy’s adrenaline into overdrive on the dance floor. Back spinning, cutting, and scratching are the trademark sounds of Hip Hop.
As emcee‘s were later added to the mix to further hype the crowd, it was a perfect combination. The emcee’s rhyme, in conjunction with his usual egocentric lyrics, would highlight the DJ’s abilities on the wheels of steel, which in turn would enhance the emcee’s rhyme with well placed cuts and scratches. They went hand in hand like “hot butter on popcorn.” He shared the spotlight and headlined cuts on an album, and his name was synonymous with the emcee or crew or simply stood on its own (e.g., Grandmaster Flash, DJ Red Alert, Marley Marl, Charlie Chase, OC and Crazy Eddie, Jam Master Jay, Grandmaster Dee, Eric B, Grandmixer DST, Grand Wizard Theodore, Tat Money, DJ Jazzy Jeff, etc.).
However, as time went on, it started to dissolve into an uneven partnership. Soon, he was regulated from co-star to supporting cast, just a familiar background prop while the emcee ran the show. Finally, with the producer emerging from the background into the forefront of the music scene, the DJ was given the pink slip.
The art form still lives in the underground and club scene where it continues to evolve and thrive, and maybe, one day, the DJ will return to the prominence he once shared. I doubt it though. Maybe it’s best left the way things are. The corporate machine running (c)rap music would just ruin the image of the DJ while trying to fit him in with the product they’re selling. Besides, it’s hard to operate turn tables while holding a gun.
That’s just my opinion, but I think I’m right!
Til next time, Peeps, I’m out! Peace!
Jam Master Jay Tribute with Grandmaster Flash, Jazzy Jeff, Kid Capri, and DJ Premier
Bonus Video – Jam Master Jay Tribute 2 with Chuck D and Kid Rock