Thursday, June 24, 2004

ya know the rules

Gotta get it off my chest, to put my mind at ease
Since when you heard a DJ make cuts like these?

These cats can provide tips for winning a battle but I can tell you one or two things you shouldn’t do up on stage… but first some history Readers Digest style…

Of the four elements the DJ always had the biggest financial burden. The MC and B-Boy just needed their skills and someone-else’s sound system to throw down. The Writers talents included boosting materials thus negating any needs for funds. The DJ started off with the parent’s record collection and the household belt-drive (and maybe a dash of boosting at the bins), but to progress as a DJ it quickly became apparent: cash ruled SOME things around you.

If you could rock the party or display some originality as a DJ, you could get on. The early sound system battles inherited by hip-hop culture relied heavily on the best speakers but even those set-ups would allow a skilled new DJ to make his or her name based exclusively on skills.
But the financial pressure was still there. You had to buy records and replace needles and maybe, just maybe, you could upgrade the gear.

Eventually, DJ battles replaced the sound system battles. These DJ battles provided a level playing field, as a proper sport must do. Tables and speakers were provided so all you had to tow was the talent and the tunes.

Then the Age of Turntablism came to be. The purity of the art was maintained even as beat juggling, body tricks and a cornucopia of scratch techniques spilled out over the tables two. One could digress and debate the points of body tricks and team battles… but even those additions to the DJ arsenal were not burdened by the skrilla albatross.

But then came battle records. A battle record was a new weapon. It gave an unfair advantage to those that could press up their own vinyl. It gave the upper hand to those ‘with means’ in a culture based on ‘those without’.

In a hip-hop battle it shouldn’t matter how many written, or unwritten, rules you break or how many expert judges say the other guy was better. If the crowd is with you…you take it. Period. But that same crowd should be annoyed by any talented competitor who would want to nullify one of the most basic DJ skills (taking one record off for the next) by pressing up the best sounds and breaks on ONE piece of vinyl. Anyone who has seen Kid Capri go through a crate knows the dizzying speed of platter switches can be a marvel to watch.

However, when these patchwork platters were mass marketed they took their place in the culture because of three things.
One: Who can get mad at the creation of a niche market? That’s very hip-hop.
Two: Battle wax is available to all DJs at a cost in the range of any other vinyl they might pick up so there’s no financial disparity.
Three: The crowds went for it. They always rewrite the unwritten rules.

I admire today’s vinyl junkies still digging for that rare find and I admire bragging rights earned via distribution of break compilations. They’re ok for a party or for cutting behind an MC.But if you’re entering a battle, for the love of the sport, don’t compile you’re well-earned archaeological finds onto acetate using this thing unless you make the wax available to everyone.

What always shines through with the hip-hop DJ is that it’s not WHAT you present but HOW you present it. You should always win with timing, dexterity and a keen reading of the crowd. You should not win based on the rarity of your tools.

OK Cipha, don't get gassed!
Speaking of timing and reading the crowd…(This is a bit of old news but I haven’t seen much about it…)The Ghost/Rakim show in NY provided a prime example of the difference between a skilled DJ reading the crowd and a skilled DJ resting on laurels. Cipha Sounds dropped the perfect records for the crowd at the show… classics for the heads and just obscure enough to throw off the newbies.
Kay Slay brought a rather rote set thinking predictable hits would get him through a restless crowd of hip-hoppers. When the audience voiced, and in some cases, threw their opinions towards the stage, Slay committed a grave mistake in performance… he turned on the audience. The Drama King knows that nothing is more boring than blaming the audience for not being into your set but somehow it slipped his mind. Nothing will get you hated on quicker than abandoning the show to tell the crowd that they are not recognizing ‘real’ hip-hop.