This song by Indeep in 1982 summed up how Hip-Hop saw its beloved DJ – as a superhero. In the beginning, the DJ was the main attraction. People came out to parties just to see their favorite DJ rock the house. The “rapper” at that time was just a guy who carried the vinyl, introduced the DJ and hyped up the crowd. Almost all rap groups had a DJ as a prominent member. Run-DMC dedicated an entire song to Jam Master Jay on their first album. Erick B had four solo songs on the classic album, “Paid In Full”. Today, it seems that it’s all about the rapper and the DJ has faded to the background. Although they aren’t worshiped like they once were, DJ’s are just as successful today if not more.
First of all, the technology may have gotten better (no need to carry crates of records), but you still need a human being on the 1’s and 2’s to rock a party. And with all the “club bangers” being produced, a good DJ is still in high demand. The best ones have become celebrities in their own right and are paid quite handsomely. The late DJ AM had a million dollar contract with a club in Las Vegas and has flown around the world to spin at events. The Heavy Hitters are a band of DJ’s that get gigs all over the country. They’re a “union” of sorts where they look out for each other and add zeros to their bank accounts. As long as people continue to hit the clubs every weekend, a DJ will be waiting with Serato in hand.
In the late 90’s, mixtapes blew up giving DJ’s another outlet to shine. They took their craft out of the club and created their own mixes of songs using a cappellas and adding them to different beats. DJ Clue and Funkmaster Flex took it a step further by actually getting exclusive material from rappers. They were so successful that they became two of the first DJ’s ever to get major record deals. Some of the biggest rap acts today got discovered on a mixtape. DJ Drama literally partners with a rapper to create an entire album worth of original material. Many feel that these “street albums” are better than the rapper’s major label releases. Today, you’re not hot if Drama, Khaled or another top DJ doesn’t work with you. The mixtape has literally made an artist out of the DJ.
Lastly, DJ’s have simply morphed into the super producers that we hear on every hit track. Before they got behind the MPC, many of today’s producers started out on the turntables at local parties. They may not have the “DJ” in their name anymore but they serve the same purpose. They are in groups (Kidz in the Hall, Mobb Deep, Little Brother), their instrumentals are heard on cell phones and some are scoring movies and television shows. Although the more “self-promoting” rapper gets most of the media attention, the DJ never went anywhere. They’ve been right in the center of things providing us with the bass lines that our Hip-Hop hearts beat to. The equipment that they use is different but don’t get it twisted, Kanye, Pharell, Danja and Polow the Don are all DJ’s. And with the classic music that they are creating, they probably saved your life too.
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