How Hip-Hop Died Part 1: “The Death Of The DJ”Posted: January 30, 2012
How Hip-Hop Died Part 1 “The Death Of The DJ”
Every time I write about hip-hop or speak on it lately, I find myself drifting into a world of negativity. And I am not alone. Whenever my brethren and I get together we are reminiscing on the golden era or saying how much we don’t listen to the radio or don’t have any albums we’re looking forward to. Part of it is due to the fact that in those convos there are at least four out of ten people that wish they were on radio or MTV or whatever. The other interesting thing is that even if we were in a golden era right now, we wouldn’t recognize it.
But most of it is credited to an evolution of a genre that has grown up right before our eyes. It started out pure and different, it is one of the only art forms that can be used to address issues, inspire, express, tell stories and also humiliate. It became industrialized and calculated, but it is now making a desperate attempt to return to its roots as a voice of its followers. But is that possible? Is it too late? The answer is not simple, but first we must analyze the question. And that question is: How did it happen? How did hip-hop just become hip?
Of course we can identify the obvious: The lazy human that wants his/her information fast and easy. The Internet is the gift and curse that allows artists to reach more fans and simultaneously shatters the invisible shield protecting “talentless” individuals from becoming artists. We know that CDs are being replaced by mp3s and television visuals are being threatened everyday by those seen online. You’ve read blogs about that stuff before, and the evolution began way before the worldwide web.
Some say it started with the death of the DJ. No, not the radio DJ or the club DJ. I’m talking about the artist’s DJ. The DJ was a part of the bill. Eric B and Rakim, DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock.
When you knew a rapper, you knew his DJ. Kane had Mr. Cee, LL had Cut Creator, Guru had some dude named Premier, the list goes on and on. But somehow the DJ became less and less relevant as an attraction once labels got more involved, the marketing strategy switched and cuts on records weren’t as necessary.
There’s no exact moment when it occurred, but it was sometime in between the Nice & Smooth song, “Dwyck” catching people’s attention and Pete Rock lending his horniness to any and everyone that wanted the soul brother sound. The outcome…people wanted Gangstarr beats, or the ones CL Smooth was spitting on. And the fans did too.
The “producer” was stepping up, Howie Tee, Hurby Luv Bug, Dr. Dre, Erick Sermon, the Shocklee brothers were providing sounds for their artists and rappers wanted those sounds. In ‘91 an artist named Nas totally eclipsed the DJ as all the focus was on his Illmatic release that was being worked on and built up as a debut that would alter the game. He sought out Q-tip, Pete, Premo, Large Professor, L.E.S, and all of the producers were excited about him and his poetic style.
By the time Wu-tang came around, “the artist” was alone in the forefront, “the producer” trailing in second place and the DJ became the guy that could possibly come on the road but was easily interchangeable.
So you ask what that does to hip-hop.
DJs began to stand up. Becoming gatekeepers of songs that break, getting jobs at radio and distinguishing the difference between a disc jockey and a button pusher. Some of them followed behind Kid Capri, Ron G and Kay Slay and began putting out tapes with different artists music blended together. And some dude who called himself Clue decided he wouldn’t even blend, scratch or anything; he dedicated his tapes to premiering exclusive songs that he got from labels by any means necessary.
And just like that, some balance was restored. No DJs were in marketing meetings anymore but they were still a big part of the culture. It was a new era though. The fans didn’t care who was spinning for Biggie or Snoop or Jay-Z or Redman. They just wanted to see them in a cool video that was vastly different from the lives they themselves were living. Introduce us to Cristal and Moschino and yacht parties and superior Cali Chronic.
Then hip us to your deadly projects you were raised in and the cocaine-pushing life, and money machines and firearms. This was hip-hop; slightly fantastical yet seemingly attainable. We didn’t want to go to the slums of Shaolin, but we wanted to hear all about it.
Not until 50 Cent’s meteoric rise using the mixtape, did DJs become powerful again, but with technology also came fraudulence. And without blending, cutting or mixing being part of the criteria of a turntablist, fake DJs began popping up almost as much as emcees.
Making CDs in their home and coming up with cool covers and an echoed voiceover allowed them to charge up-and-coming rap guys to be featured so he too can be like 50. Whoever thought DJs wouldn’t need crates of records, or turntables, or skill? Not I.
Nor would I think that the monster called “The Industry” would exist. I don’t know the first time a rapper said the name of the producer of a track on the actual track, or the first time someone whispered their label on a song’s first five seconds, but it all became a part of the living breathing mechanism meant to industrialize hip-hop by alerting the audience to what and who was involved to make this music you hear.
I do remember being familiar with BDP, Def Jam and Cold Chillin’ and I knew they were subsidiary labels that were part of a bigger machine, but I never thought it would get to the point where Bad Boy, Roc-A-Fella and eventually Cash Money took it. Michael Jackson wasn’t saying Quincy Jones at the top of each joint on Thriller; you had to read the credits. But this wasn’t pop, this was rap, this was about bragging, being the best and it made sense.
Here we are in today’s world with an art that has been advanced and reduced in the same breath. As for the Scoob and Scraps, Hot Dogs and S1Ws of the world, we remember when you guys were a part of hip-hop too. It’s a testament to how the actual performance side of the game has diminished. But the sacrifice for the Kid-N-Play kickstep and the Bizmark has been a futuristic leap in lyricism. If you view hip-hop as a technology, which it is, that has advanced with some negative side effects you may understand the vast difference from 30 years ago. And to simplify the advancement think about how important a beat is to a record receiving airplay, spins in the club, topping the charts and generating money. And think of when the genre began and the music behind lyrics was often not a beat at all…it was a beatbox…with someone’s mouth.
Let me know how you feel about the genre.
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