This blog entry is inspired by the recent crowning of DJ P as the Smirnoff/Kid Capri sponsored reality show/DJ contest, MASTER OF THE MIX SEASON 2 champion. DJ P doesn’t use a laptop, or mp3s, or Serato. He uses 100% vinyl and beat other competitors on the show who all used Serato (or some form of DJ software). Some people say he got a pass simply because he used vinyl, that he wasn’t the best DJ in the contest. Some people in their ranting got it twisted, some saying “F**k Vinyl!!” Here’s my story and I’m hoping it will entertain and enlighten some of you, DJs and non-DJs alike.
2 turntables, a mixer and a mic. Add some speakers, a couple of amplifiers, steal the power from the streetlight and that was all you needed to get the party started. Oh and of course…you have to have your crates and crates….and crates and crates of records.
That was then.
You see, I grew up in the Bronx in the 70s. I was a little too young to have been a part of the birth and infancy and toddler stages of hip-hop in the way I wanted to but it was all around me and I took to it like a fish takes to water. At age 3 I was already digging around in my father’s stacks of 45’s and 33’s, even though I was told not to. By age 4 I already knew how to work the Gerard turntable – staking records and pulling the arm over it so one would drop on the platter after the previous one finished playing. By age 5 I was spending my allowance money starting my own record collection (shout out to Moodie’s, Tony Ryan and Nu Look record shops on White Plains Road…225th, 224th and 219th cross-streets). By age 6 I was allowed to “spin” at the family get-togethers.
You get the idea. I’ve been a DJ ever since I could tie my shoes by myself.
Let’s fast forward to 1991, when I first started seriously learning the science of “2 turntables, a mixer and a mic.” You see, I already had the science of good music down pat. I already had records. I already knew what people liked. Just never had professional equipment to execute. Freshman year at St. John’s University when I meet DJ Parallel. To spare y’all the long story, not too long afterward Around The Way Productions became the PREMIER on-campus mobile DJ set around. St. John’s. Queens College. NYU. 4 turntables, 2 DJs working simultaneously. Professional lighting. MC/Hype Man. Fog machines. And again, crates and crates….and crates and crates of records.
Had a good 5-6..maybe 7-8 year run. Early during that run, I remember seeing some cat mixing with two CD players. Called himself DJ Andrometer II. Andrometer, if you’re still out there and happen to be reading this, I mean no disrespect but it’s funny now how I dismissed your setup then. “That’s not real DJing. What is this CD business?” You see, I didn’t wanna bother to try and understand it and see it for what it was…the future.
That was in 1992/1993. Fact of the matter is, as the years went by and I became tired of renting Penske and U-Haul trucks to do parties (getting older, having a wife and brand-new baby daughter, and a regular 9-5 Corporate America job plays a part as well), lifting heavy-assed speakers and amp racks and crates and crates….and crates and crates of records on the truck, off the truck…. in the car, out the car… on the dolly, off the dolly, wore me down. I took a break. There were a few more DJ Andrometers out there doing this new CD DJing thing. I sure could appreciate not having to carry a dozen crates anymore but still, my attitude was “How can you scratch and blend on a CD?” The technology wasn’t quite that advanced yet to fully match the physical dexterity of a hip-hop/R&B DJ yet on CDs so I wasn’t interested. To me, the CD DJ world was only advantageous to the house, techno, dance, mainstream and to a degree the reggae DJ. You had to be so much more hands-on to do what we were doing in the hip-hop and R&B world with blends and scratching, etc.
Add a couple of years to the timeline and now the iPod and the advent of MP3s are coming into play. I was no longer DJing (except for myself whenever I felt like I needed a new CD or mixtape for the car) but I still had the records (and now CDs, too). Hmm….*scratching chin*…“how convenient”, I thought. “No need to carry a bag of CDs and risk losing them or damaging them in transit while on the go.”
But I STILL wasn’t trying to see where this was going on the DJ front. I was “retired.” Even when Pioneer came with CD decks that allowed you to backspin and scratch actual CDs as if they were vinyl records, I wasn’t trying to hear too much of it. I was starting to be impressed though because now the technology was coming around to acknowledging the dexterity of the hip-hop and R&B DJ.
BANG..digital DJ software and hardware now comes into play!
Wait….you mean to tell me that I can mix the mp3 files I have on my computer the same way I would mix two vinyl records (or CDs if I was CD DJ) without having to physically change the record or the CD? HUH? WOW! Technologically (and being an IT guy) that was genius! But remember how my story started….I’ve been a DJ since I could tie my shoes. I love vinyl. This new “thing” doesn’t seem pure. Convenient as hell..but not pure.
Yeah..I was (and still am) a purist. Serato and Tracktor and Virtual DJ and a few other players in this space came around and evolved over time but here it is: 2007 and I wasn’t entertaining making the digital switch. Hell no. Why? Almost overnight since the advent of Serato, the population of DJs seemed to have tripled, and quite honestly most of them did not impress me with their skills. “Serato is making it too easy, I don’t respect it!” was my thought.
Just as he impacted me back in 1991, a little less than 20 years later here he comes again .. DJ Parallel just bought into the digital DJ world. “Ugh! My one last ally has turned!” His turning actually did allow me (30% of it was what I called “forced persuasion/peer pressure”) a more intimate look into the digital thing. “Man, with your library, you can KILL IT!”
Finally in 2008/2009, after extensive research, I get me a Macbook and the Serato SL1 kit and dive right in and have not looked back. I even jumped ahead and learned how to respect the Pioneer CDJs and Numark digital turntables and SOME of all-in-one decks. (Some I don’t care for because I’m still a purist at heart – these tiny knob-sized platters posing as turntables/controllers are not my bag of tea).
Again, I still assert that there are TOO MANY people claiming the title of “DJ” thanks solely to the digital DJ world. They could not, would not survive in the vinyl world. Many of them have never even touched a piece of vinyl. It saddens me a bit because coming from the culture of hip-hop (when it was really a culture and not just a business or a hustle) I’m an advent of “paying dues.” Too many of “y’all” out there haven’t paid dues and forgive me if this sounds like I’m hating but “y’all” seem to get the best, highest paying gigs, too – thanks to your “street teams”, publicists, YouTube channels, Twitter and Facebook followers, etc.
But you know what? That’s the age we live in now, the digital age. I know all too well that being good at what you do, whether it’s singing, dancing, acting, DJing, rapping, etc isn’t enough if you want to make things happen for yourself on a public scale. You HAVE TO use the internet, you HAVE TO have followers, you HAVE TO use technology to your advantage. I fancy myself as someone who blends the two worlds, the old-fashioned world and the tech world.
Now I said all of that to finally get to the crux of this blog. As I watched each episode of MASTER OF THE MIX SEASON 2, I came across a couple of different semantics. You had a guy, DJ Mel Starr, who doesn’t use headphones. DJ Mel Starr, and many of my Sikmixx Radio (http://sikmixxradio.com) partners , are digital DJs who don’t use headphones. Now I won’t go heavy into how that’s possible (Mel Starr claimed on the show that he could achieve the same smooth result mixing on just vinyl) but to achieve it requires #1- knowing your library and #2- relying on cue points and keeping an eye on your visual waveform on your laptop. I respect it. A lot of cats who do it are NICE on the set (and conversely there are some who do it but really SHOULD use headphones because their blends and mixes aren’t clean). I can do it but the way I mix, I HEAVILY prefer not to. A lot of it has to do with being a purist..still. I adopted the digital world but like to hold on to some of the back-in-the-day DJ methodologies. Just my preference.
The other semantic that screamed out was the vinyl community vs the digital community. It’s starting to feel like there’s a divide and there really shouldn’t be. A good DJ should be able to rock in either world. Just choose your weapon of execution. The end result should be a clean set that the people enjoy. Either way, if your record selection is wack, if your library is weak, then you have no business on the decks. Period.
That being said, I understand both sides of the argument. As stated earlier, there are far too many DJs that have come along in the past 5-6 years that get by simply because the digital world makes it easier to get started. No longer do you have to do what a lot of us had to do: travel to record stores, dig in the crates, acquire doubles (two copies) where necessary. Finding acapellas and instrumentals on what we called “white labels” or “For DJ use only” promotional records usually given out by the record companies (or made illegally on the black market). The digital world eliminates the hours of work physically finding the points on the record and marking them to help you find those “cue points.” Those of us who have done it for years appreciate the conveinence of cutting hours of work into minutes but as a result, there’s many from my “school” who don’t appreciate the new school DJs who never had/have to. The digital world makes it easier to apply triggers and sound effects such as echo by just pressing a button instead of backspinning the record and listening into your headphones to find the start of that cut point, cue point or break. That’s where the resentment comes in. The dance, techno and house DJ can and does make fuller use of all the intricacies of what the DJ software and hardware can do. The technology allows today’s DJ to easily achieve (sonically) what DMC DJ competitors and original mixtape DJs did “by hand.” And to support the Original DJ Spinderella’s recent rant about “celebrity DJs” like Alicia Keys and Solange Knowles coming out of nowhere and getting great gigs simply because the technology allows them to just buy a laptop and some digital turntables and get started in little to no time without learning the true history and craft and science of DJing, I wholeheartedly agree.
I heard a lot of DJs on my Twitter and Facebook say that Kid Capri and his judging panel gave DJ P maybe a little too much love simply because he rocked vinyl throughout the entire contest. That guys like M-Squared/Michael McPherson had better mixes and sets (to that point I agree) on most of the challenges. To a degree, I’m glad that DJ P won because now this conversation can take place in the DJ community. Hate it or love it, the technology is here to stay and will continue to evolve. I took the stance of learning it, embracing it and taking from it what works for me and my style of DJing – because I actually had a style before the technology. I’ll never go so far as to start DJing on an iPad or using iPods – that’s just too bastardizing of the art – but I pay attention to what comes down the pike. No matter how far the technology goes, it’ll never replace the impact of the DMC contests of back in the day. It’ll never erase what Grand Wizard Theordore, Grandmaster Flash, Kool Herc, Pete DJ Jones, Afrika Bambaataa, Kid Capri, DJ Cash Money, DJ Jazzy Jeff , DJ Q-Bert, Grand Master Roc Raida and countless others to whom we owe our very DJ existence brought and still continue to bring to the table. It’ll never divorce the marriage of the sound system clashes and dancehall parties in Jamaica and the hip-hop culture.
Yes there’s a digital DJ divide and a disparate distribution of work in the DJ community but take it from a purist such as myself: don’t blame the technology. Look deeper and stay sharp.
DaManDL can be heard and seen mixing live on
- Sikmixx Radio (http://sikmixxradio.com) every Friday night 10 pm to midnight ET and Saturday morning 10 am to noon ET.
- 107.3 WKCR (http://1073wkcr.com) every Tuesday night from 8 pm to 10 pm ET
- and is also the webmaster and co-owner of Only1FM Radio (http://only1fm.com)