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DJing: the Hip-Hop element that shaped music and culture

Through the decades, disc jockeys (aka The DJ) have evolved from background figures to a creative force shaping Hip-Hop music and culture.


But for pioneering DJ Grand Wizzard Theodore, whose real name is Theodore Livingston, it goes much deeper than that.

“The way people talk, the way people walk, the different slangs and stuff like that, the music that we listen to. I realized that I was born into a culture and to an art form that we call hip-hop,” Livingston told ABC News.

As a 12-year-old kid in the Bronx in the mid-1970s, DJ GWT created "scratching" upon recording a "cassette tape" music mix for his school principal; the skill of rhythmically moving a record back and forth on the turntable to produce the sound that is now one of the most recognizable DJing techniques.

"And the music was so loud in the house to the point where my moms came and banged on the door and said, ‘Either turn the music down or turn the music off’... So when my moms came in the room, that’s what my scratch was. And I said, wow, I can incorporate that into other things that I’m doing.”


The introduction of scratching became a defining moment for hip-hop and paved the way for future DJs to explore and innovate.

Through the 1970s, iconic DJs expanded on Grand Wizzard Theodore’s techniques by experimenting with new ways to manipulate vinyl records on the turntables. There’s the faster scribble scratch and the slower dragon scratch – both of which incorporated and solidified elements of rhythm into the music - as demonstrated by DJ Dirty Digits of New York's Scratch DJ Academy.


Scratching joined other iconic techniques like the merry-go-round, which looped the instrumental breakdown in records, made popular by Hip-Hop’s DJ Kool Herc.

Grandmaster Flash’s “quick mix theory” used scratching, back spinning and beat juggling – as demonstrated in the 1986 documentary “Big Fun in the Big Town."


As Hip-Hop gained popularity in the 1980s, the art of the DJ spread beyond the Bronx and found its way into mainstream culture. DJs were no longer just playing records, but also took center stage and added their unique flare to the genre.

DJ Ebro Darden, who emerged in the 2000s at the legendary New York radio station Hot 97, spoke about the importance of radio in hip-hop’s emergence.

“I think you have to start with culture first. Black folks, we didn’t see ourselves on television, and the mainstream news isn't covering our neighborhoods and covering our stories. The DJ was still a part of that kind of curation, taste-making, you know, moment.”


Modern technology helped to usher in the art form known as turntablism for people like DJ Perly, who is the first woman to win the annual U.S. DMC DJ battle twice, and credits the women who came before her with paving the way to the turntables, like Jazzy Joyce, Cocoa Chanelle and Spinderella, ”It gets me speechless in a good way, because I never thought I was going to be the one to be that woman to do the groundbreaking, glass-ceiling shattering moment, for sure.”

Nyla Symone, the youngest DJ on Power 105 in New York City, expressed, “Shoutout to technology for digital music and Serato [DJ production software], because if I had to carry crates, I wouldn’t be a DJ. Like, I don’t have time to do all that. No, carrying all that – no thank you.”


Now, the focus is on the future, as legends like Grand Wizzard Theodore give lessons at Scratch DJ Academy, inspiring the next generation.

“It just feels good to be able to come here and people see me and learn how to scratch from the person that invented the scratch. So, it feels real good.”


• SOURCE: Hip-Hop at 50: Needle to the Groove: The Evolution of the DJ. ABC News >


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