It’s like jazz, he said

Everything I ever said bad about rap and hip-hop? I take it all back. Just, you know, for the record. Ok. It was a long time ago the first time this white boy said 'you know, this rap stuff might…

Everything I ever said bad about rap and hip-hop?

I take it all back. Just, you know, for the record.

Ok. It was a long time ago the first time this white boy said ‘you know, this rap stuff might not suck’. I bought a Heavy D album and a De La Soul album (oh, hell, I don’t know how long ago, but first albums for both, when they were first released). And I liked ’em ok, but didn’t really play them.

A while later, I heard NWA and Ice-T and thought, y’know, I kinda like these gansta guys, even thought they’re sorta fuckheads. But I didn’t go buy ’em. Didn’t feel compelled.

And yeah, that was a while ago. I’ve heard things I liked since, sure. Tupac, Jurassic 5, Eminem, Kid Rock. You can’t avoid the rap and hip-hop these days even if you want to. But I never really felt, again, the need to own.

Then — well, I blame Jeff. It’s all his damned fault. Not that this is the first time Jeff ever talked me into anything, but I’m just sayin’.

Jeff’s a whole topic of his own – but let’s set that aside. Let’s just do this – Jeff’s my boss. Jeff’s just finished his full body suit tattoo (I mean just – like two days ago). Jeff’s been my friend as long as Austin Ray, but only my boss for about four years.

So Jeff – Radio Jeff – Jeff who owns more music than almost anyone I’ve ever known (Willy Keats may have him beat still, but I bet it’s close); Jeff has been telling me for a couple years now, ‘rock is dead‘. He’s been trying to get me to listen to hip-hop for a long time. Keeps handing me CD’s, bringing me his iPod, saying “Listen to this”.

But there’s one thing he said that finally clicked. ‘It’s all about the DJ’s.’

It’s about the DJ’s. It’s not about the rappers. The MC’s.

You have to think about that a little, if you’re not familiar with hip-hop. because when when people say hip-hop, you think rap; you think Snoop Dog or Tupac or Ice-T. You think about the MC. But rap != hip-hop. Rap is part of hip hop. So you have to step back a little and see that whatever that guy up front is doing, stalking the stage, posturing and rockin’ the microphone, the origin of it all, the beat, the backbone, it’s all the DJ. Or that’s where it started anyway, even if a lot of rap is now done on a computer, not by a live guy with two turn tables and a microphone.

So Jeff said to me — It’s all about the DJ’s. “It’s like Jazz,” he said. “Because they are improvising, and they’re just doing it for themselves.”

He said it a while back. But it didn’t sink in. he’s been playing me cuts for a while, talking about artists, DJ’s. He loaned me a DVD of Scratch, which I mentioned before. But I’d been sitting on it, hadn’t watched it. But then one day, in his office, he was playing a cut from something and I said ‘man, you should make a compilation disk of the hip-hop you really, really dig’.

So he did. he called it ‘Bounce, Dammit’,

I listened to this once. And didn’t like it much. And then I listened again – this time turned up loud, in my car. And loved it. And played it over and over. And loved it more each time. And it was like a light went on in my head. ‘Christ.’ I thought. ‘It’s about the fucking DJ’s‘.

I suddenly got it. I came home and watched Scratch. And it was like I discovered an instrument I’d never heard before. These guys are musicians. They’re artists. They’re insane. Cut Chemist, DJ QBert, a ton of others. Amazing people. And then I went back and started listening again. And the more I listened, the more I was amazed.

And then I started buying stuff. Eminem first, though he’s not a pure hip-hop guy, but I wanted to hear the albums again. Then Prozack Turner who’s a local boy, and is truly amazing (run, don’t walk, and buy Death, Taxes and Prozack, trust me on that one, this white kid from Campbell can rap.

But still, it’s the DJ’s. And I don’t even have a list of albums and artists for this, but the Return of the DJ series is a goddamned good start. I just listened to them, and they’re top of my ‘to buy’ stack right now. Then there’s Cut Chemist meets Shortkut. This is hard to find I think, but from my limited exposure, Cut is my favorite of the DJs. He’s amazing; he’s also the turntablist behind a lot of Juassic 5.

They are – as Jeff said – like jazz. And once you’ve actually seen these cats working, and then listen with that mental image, it’s frankly incredibly. It’s not just whicka-whicka-whicka scratching, though that, you start to see, has it’s own music. But it’s also whole new songs built from the old. I’ve only begun to explore this, but like my discovery of jazz a few years ago, I can feel a gateway opening to a universe of music I knew little about. These are the moments I live for; new experience come unexpected and bringing with it amazing rewards. You know, some of you, what I’m talking about. Out of nowhere.

…And I still wanna go buy those 1200’s and a mixer, call myself Dj Freaky E, and start scratching.


Now Playing: Jurass Finish First from the album Bounce, Dammit!


0 thoughts on “It’s like jazz, he said”

  1. Yup, between the improv quality of good scratching and mixing and the tremendous musical hstory knowledge a good DJ needs to be able to pull stuff together that is fresh AND interesting AND makes sense in a mix, DJs are probably the closest thing to jazz freaks we’ve got these days.

    My biggest problem with the stuff is typically the rappers — there’s only so much dick waving I can stand before I wanna slap someone. So, instead I’ve been getting into some of the heavy mix / mashup stuff that’s been floating around for a couple of years. It has almost all of the same characteristics of great hip-hop DJing, but it’s 100% appropriation, with no additional “new” vocals. Basically, it’s hip-hop DJing without the rapper shit — it’s all about the DJ, period.

    2 Many DJ’s and GoHome Productions are current favorites of mine. Both of these guys pull together brilliant, fun party mix stuff with a huge dose of humor and some startlingly inventive combinations floating around in the mix.

    The one you’ve GOT too track down, if you want to hear some just plain UNBELIEVEABLE DJing, is Steinski’s “A Rough Mix.” Astonishing stuff — it’s a 45-minute party album that doubles as cultural observation and criticism. But somehow it’s not at all self-consious about it. Truly amazing shit. It can be hard to track down (I’ve never seenit in a store, but I’m sure it’s available from some of the cooler mail order joints. And, of course, I’ve… umm… *seen* it on P2P — Kazaa, I’m sure. But I would never download anything from one of those there thangs nosireebob. And neither should you.

  2. hip hop is hip hop… its probably americas greatest export since jazz, blues, funk, etc. Ignore this at your peril! in years to come it will be revered.

    commercial rap, gangsta rap, old school, new school, geek rap, turntablism, graffiti, breakdancin’, etc, it all has a place.

    hip hop says something when not many musical genres say *anything*. its a way of life… fo shuuurrrreeeee.

  3. ps, favourite choonage at the mo:

    ugly duckling, mc pitman, dj yoda, diplodocus & lowcash, handsome boy modelling school, edan, RJD2, the roots, etc…

    i order you to obtain choonage by all of the above!

    (i’d dispute whether 2manydjs was hiphop…making mixes with a PC isn’t really the same…thats just mashup culture in europe. they’re great though. the diplo mixes and the Richard X album are very similar in style).

  4. Agree with Jello, Mashup – which fucking rules – is sort of orthogonal. Unless it’s being done old-school on wax, it’s sort of a different thing. Is it hip hop? Fuck if I know, but it’s off in it’s own corner.

    Jello, I’ll be on that homework assignment straightaway.

  5. OH yeah, 2 Many DJs don’t REALLY fit in a pure “hip-hop” sense. But mashups are direct descendants of hip-hop DJing, really, and I’d say the creative process and impulse for the two have far more in common that not. Mashups are just more pre-meditated and worked over, more a “studio” craft than a “performance” craft. More “scored” than “improvised.”

    My sense of it is that unless you happen to be at a live hip-hop performance the end result is largely the same. So, in live terms they are HUGELY different, but once you’ve got the stuff recorded in a final form it’s kinda splitting hairs whether it was mixed from digital sources on a computer or was assembled and produced from a variety of studio takes.

    But, again, 2 Many DJs and the like are junior league compared with Steinski. Try to track down Nothing to Fear, or better yet see if you can find his “Lesson Mixes” from the early 80’s (The Payoff Mix, The James Brown Mix, The History of Hip-Hop) — Steinski almost single-handedly invented many of the sample-based hip-hop DJing techniques that you hear today. And this was in 83! Jaw dropping stuff.

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