It was the Scratch that drew me to rap music. Being a wee young lad living in the soon-to-be large city of Tel-Aviv I remember that the scratch is what hit me first. When my virgin ears first heard the sounds of rap music I was amazed at the booming bass, the banging thuds of the back beat, and the intensity of the rapper, or rappers if it was a crew. However, what really drew me to the difference of this music was the cut, the scratch, the moment best translated to the rock gods as an ill guitar solo a la Eddie Van Halen or Jimi Hendrix. As an avid music lover I get the same sensation when hearing a great scratch sequence as when I hear an aria from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” This feeling of elation and spiritual elevation when the music hits you with that pure moment of beauty is how I feel it. I know that some don’t agree, but music lovers understand that feeling deep in your core when you hear that celestial sound coming from your favorite group. The talent of the DJ on these rap records was just as important as the rapper because it held a pristine balance that was lost when rap hit the big time in the late 1990’s. I remember it because the 1980’s, especially with the start of Def Jam, and the early 1990’s the authentic was heard through the guise of an MC, DJ, two turntables and a microphone.
The history of Hip-Hop culture surrounded the DJ. The culture began with parties in recreation centers, high school gyms, and later parks surrounded by apartment complexes. This was a natural extension of what they learned from their parents parties growing up. Who was the focus? The focus was on getting down on the dance floor, which relied on the music, which all relied on one person, The DJ. The DJ was the focal point in the start of Hip-Hop and remained the focus, even after the emergence of the early rap groups, until the music began being recorded in 1979. One of these defining moments was the recording of “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash the Furious Five. Although none of the MC’s were on the record except for Melle Mel, Flash was nowhere to be heard. Like earlier recordings Flash, the legendary DJ pioneer and innovator was pushed to the side.
This didn’t necessarily mean that the DJ was dead, because there were a few recordings that acknowledged the DJ. One of the best is Flash’s masterpiece of a record titled “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash On the Wheels of Steel” from 1981.
This was an amazing record because it was one of the first DJ records on Sugar Hill Records, and he did it all by hand. There was no digital sequencing so he had to find the time on the record and mix it all by ear and hand. Flash should get so much credit as he invented some of these techniques.He and the many DJ’s who were lost should receive plenty of accolades and honor for their innovations. So, a big ups to Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaata (who along with Flash are the founding fathers of Hip-Hop), Disco King Mario (The sound system man), Grand Wizard Theodore (Inventor, or accidental find of the scratch), Jazzy Jay (Zulu alumni and the DJ who started Def Jam), Grandmaster D.ST (Way out in outer space hanging with Herbie Hancock), Whiz Kid (parter of Caz and a funny guy, just watch him on the VH1 doc NY77: The Coolest Year in Hell), Afrika Islam (Sharp on the cut and DJ for Law & Order MC Ice-T), Breakout (who is forgotten but held down a part of the Bronx along with the founding fathers), Charlie Chase (Cold Crush fame and first of the great Latino DJ’s), AJ Scratch (down with Kenny G and Lovebug Starski, and another DJ for Cold Crush), Johnny Thunderbird (Harlem disco and R&B head), Lovebug Starski (The multifaceted entertainer who could do R&B or Hip-Hop, one of the few renaissance men of Hip-Hop), Hollywood (contemporary of the legendary Pete DJ Jones, who played in Manhattan and is another slept on pioneer. He also had one of the first MC’s, like Coke La Rock for Kool Herc, by the cool name of Eddie Cheeba), Gradmaster Flowers (The best sound system heard playing the bomb disco beats out of Brooklyn, RIP), and of course everyone’s favorite Kiss FM DJ Kool DJ Red Alert.
Without further ado, here’s my top ten list of the best tracks with the best scratch breakdown, or use of the tables in a superior manner. These are the top ten, but in no specific order as they all totally rule!!! Please be advised that it’s a bit subjective, but I don’t care.
10. “Doper Skiller” – Viktor Vaughn feat. Kool Keith off of his VV2: Venomous Villain album.
Coming off the first Viktor Vaughn album, this track from the sequal (which surprisingly banged as hard as the first album) is great. The fact that you have Doom and Kool Keith on the same track is like listening to a late night chat between Rasputin and Nostradamus. To top it all off you had this scratch down which is amazing, and done by the producer (?) by the name of DiViNCi.
9. “End to End Burners” – Company Flow, single released on the heels of their first classic Funcrusher Plus.
Great track and the DJ, Mr. Len cuts it up nice. It’s even better with the video because he swipes his hands like a wizard bubbling up something wicked.
8. “Blue Flowers” – Dr. Octagon from his masterpiece album, Dr. Octagonecologyst.
I can never get enough of Kool Keith and it’s not his fault that he’s worked with some great DJ’s. This album, produced by heavy-weight drum taster Dan the Automator, is bizarre, experimental, and far out of this world. Also, DJ Qbert, legendary scratch DJ in his own right, kills it as you can hear.
7. “Ugly People Be Quiet” – Cash Money and Marvelous, off of their Where’s the Party At? album from 1988.
DJ Cash Money should have been mentioned with the list of pioneers above. He’s an amazingly talented, and award-winning, DJ out of Philly, and this is an example of his prowess.
6. “On & On & On” – Dungeon Family, off of their seminal powerhouse of an album Even In Darkness.
Great track off the family album which includes the Goodie Mob, Outkast, and more. This track is essentially a Goodie Mob hit with Big Gipp, T-Mo, and Khujo from the MOB along with Witchdoctor and Big Boi from Outkast.
5. “Alive” – The Beastie Boys, an unreleased track that appeared on their boxed set titled, Beastie Boys Anthology: The Sounds of Science.
I know that since the Beastie Boys picked up Mixmaster Mike that you can pick other notable tracks. However, the second chorus part (at the 2 minute mark to be anally precise) where he spins KRS-ONE hollering, “Bring it back that old New York rap!!!” is my kind of anthem.
4. “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight?” – Gangstarr, from their second album titled, Step Into the Arena.
This is another dispute because the group consisting of the man, the myth, the holy legend of scratching by the name of DJ Premier, should have other picks. However, this track hits the head with the piercing beat throughout the song, and Premier just adds the singer to the song with his tables. You – Can’t – Handle – The – Whole Weight……..cut!
3. “Madness” – Deltron 3030 from the album titled 3030.
This is not so much a chop down for the breakdown, but why not veer away from categorization? Deltron, consisting of Del the Funky Homosapian, Dan the Automator on the boards, and Kid Koala on the tables, is an unconventional and criminally slept on album from the turn of the century. Kid Koala’s work is genius in the way he uses the tables as an instrument, via the sounds of the trumpet. Like the cool darkly lit rooms of Jazz, this is the same only light years away in a far off galaxy.
2. “Rebel Without a Pause” – Public Enemy from their masterpiece, that should be mandatory high school listening titled, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back, circa 1988.
This is THE group, consisting of the fiery verse spitting Chuck D. and the court jestering of Flavor Flav, the S1W’s, and the hard-hitting beats of the Bomb Squad – you know they got the best DJ – Terminator X. The mysterious DJ behind the huge sunglasses cuts it the hardest on this track as Chuck screams his name he cuts it up like a funky drummer.
1. “Interview With Colored Man” – Rob Swift Feat. Supernatural & DJ Radar, from Rob Swift’s album titled, Sound Event.
This, hands down, is one of my personal favorites and I feel one of the best rap songs of all time. It has all the key ingredients with one of the best DJ’s, Rob Swift, and a helping hand with DJ Radar along with one of the most underrated battle rappers of all time, who never got his justice on wax, by the name of Supernatural. The cuts play along with the interviewers words, but they also carry the tempo while Supernatural weaves his tales of the adventures and life of the super hero known as Colored Man.
It’s a biting commentary on how non-blacks view black men as both dangerous, mysterious and exotic beings. These images are strewn throughout popular culture, and remain in the white psyche to this day. Interestingly enough it reminds me of one of my family’s most favorite Richard Pryor albums with the same idea titled….
Enjoy the cutting and scratching and I’ll see you in the next dispatch,
#ViktorVaughn #CompanyFlow #Dr.Octagon #DJCashMoney #DungeonFamily #BeastieBoys #Gangstarr #Deltron3030 #PublicEnemy #RobSwift #MCSupernatural