The History of DJing

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The party was dull. Clive Campbell stepped outside for a smoke. A cigarette between his fingers, Campbell kept his eyes on the dancers. He watched them sway gleefully to the music booming from his sound system.

Campbell noticed something peculiar: the dancers grew ecstatic during certain parts of the record--the breaks. This discovery would go a long way to lay the foundation for deejaying and hip-hop as an art form.

A Primer on Hip-Hop DJs

As rap evolved in the 1970s, so did Djing (or deejaying). DJs (disc jockeys) like Clive Campbell loved to please their audiences. Knowing which records would fill the dance floor and which techniques wowed the most were critical the success of a party.

Campbell was spinning his sister's party at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue the night he discovered the breaks. Cindy knew him as Clive. Everyone in the Bronx knew Clive as DJ Kool Herc. The party had gotten off to a slow start. Herc played house music, hard funk, dancehall, disco--all the usual floor fillers. But nothing was working. The dancers were waiting for the break sections to hit so they could hit the floor and get down.

Kool Herc gave the people what they wanted. Two turntables, a guitar amplifier, and thunderous speakers by his side, he mixed the breaks by cutting up the middle section of choice records and fading them onto one another.

It worked magical wonders and still does today.

The Originators

The three most important names in the history of deejaying are Clive Campbell (DJ Kool Herc), Grandmaster Flash (Joseph Saddler) and Grand Wizard Theodore (Theodore Livingston).

DJ Kool Herc

Herc discovered the breaks. He deejayed the first hip-hop party in the summer of 1973.

Grandmaster Flash

Grandmaster Flash is known as the inventor of turntable wizardry. He perfected Herc’s breaks by using what he calls the "quick mix theory". Flash would use a headphone to listen to the second record before it merged onto the first before playing it over the speakers. This produced a seamless transition from one record to another.

Grand Wizard Theodore

Grand Wizard Theodore learned to DJ from his brother, Mene Gene. Theodore was also a student of Grandmaster Flash. He's universally credited with the invention of scratching. The story goes that Theodore’s mother had asked him to turn down the volume of his record. When she stormed into the room to reprimand him, he attempted to stop the record immediately by putting pressure on it with his hand. This produced a scratching sound.

Flash disputes this story. "I guess maybe me and Theodore have to sit down some day and figure this out," Flash told The Guardian in 2002. "I came up with my style; Theodore was my first student; and before me there was no one. So who taught him how to play? But I'm not gonna argue: I love him and I do credit him for making the style believable."

Modern Deejaying

Deejaying has evolved beyond recognition.

Ones and twos have been replaced by CDs and laptops. Regardless, DJs continue to play a pivotal role at hip-hop parties everywhere hip-hop is enjoyed, thanks to the genius of Herc, Flash, Theodore and countless others.

The Art of Scratching?

Scratching is a technique in which a DJ pushes the record back and forth as it played to produce a scratching noise when the record brushes against the needle.

What is Toasting?

Toasting is a device that grew out of the Jamaican dancehall scene. It entails talking over records to engage the crowd. Kool Herc's parents hailed from Jamaica, and his Jamaican roots inspired several facets of his craft, including toasting. He also patterned his arsenal of sound paraphernalia after the Jamaican dub setup and nicknamed it the Herculords.

The 5 Deadliest DJ Cuts of the 1980s

  • “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel,” Grandmaster
  • “DJ Premier in Deep Concentration,” Gang Starr (1989)
  • “Jazzy’s in the House,” DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (1988)
  • “King of the Beats,” Mantronix (1988)
  • “Rockin’ Music,” Steady B (1987)
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Adaso, Henry. "The History of DJing." ThoughtCo, May. 12, 2016, thoughtco.com/history-of-djing-2857342. Adaso, Henry. (2016, May 12). The History of DJing. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-djing-2857342 Adaso, Henry. "The History of DJing." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-djing-2857342 (accessed November 17, 2017).