Big ups Ruben for sharing this with me. Now, I pass it on to the readers…
Here is the actual link to the article, but for ease of use, praise ‘copy and paste’
Respect the Architect: DJs Are Musicians
What is hip-hop without the DJ? Better yet, what is modern music without it either? The music industry until recently was vastly shaped by the taste-making DJs who were responsible for earning the trust of the average person and impressing upon them the latest tunes to enjoy. This practice had especially involved into a showcase of craftsmanship, polished knowledge of music, and bragging rights within the past three decades. DJing has become such a sensation that even a recent trend has developed with actors and personalities in Hollywood trying their hand at the craft, but that’s another story. The DJ culture has changed the way people interact with and enjoy music, and even recently has allowed pretty much anybody to enjoy partaking in it. It’s partly this reason that there has been recent criticism about the flood of inexperienced people seeking to either profit or take advantage of the technology that has simplified the mixing of music to mere button pushing. The profession has always been under scrutiny from music pundits, and even starting from its heyday, has had to fight to prove its validity.
Raydar: Sampling is seen as some sort of criminal act. A lot of the guys who produce were DJs. You get into this whole argument then where it’s about them not using an instrument. It’s not an instrument in the traditional sense.
The now infamous party that Kool Herc spun at in Sedgwick & Cedar projects in the Bronx back in 1973 that is credited as the start of hip-hop, as well as the mistake Grand Wizzard Theodore made when he ‘scratched’ his record when his mother told him to quiet it down and he stopped the record for a moment, set in motion a new generation of musicians who turned to their old records to create music. Yes, I said musicians.
But wait, here comes the protectors of all things related to ‘real music’ who have to dash the hopes of the kids by telling them that they have just been living a fantasy. They’ll tell the people at the party that what they’re listening to is pure rubbish, and they need a real band to have a good time. While this is only a part of the disdain for the hip-hop culture itself, DJs are especially seen as skill-less hacks who like the modern day producer as well have nothing better to do than to steal from other musicians to earn a quick buck. While this view has become less common with this generation who grew up on legendary DJs such as Jazzy Jeff, Jam Master Jay, Red Alert and Marley Marl, there still persists within especially the classically trained circles a rejection of this development without any realistic consideration to what is shared in common rather than not. And this stubbornness has been very misleading on many levels, some of which will be highlighted in this post.
Raydar: It’s the same thing over again. That’s how history repeats itself. You look into the past to advise what we will do in the future. The same thing with criticism, it’s all coming back again.
Before any type of meaningful discussion can take place on the authenticity of this art form through, a crucial event in the decade that hip-hop was born in has to be taken into account. The massive downsizing of public schooling in the 70s, which included the elimination of music programs, had a much larger impact on urban culture, one which may have very well altered the trajectory of music in the United States itself. The communities of mostly African Americans and Hispanics were mostly on the edge of poverty, or living in it. Due to this, many could not afford to have their children engage in the kinds of activities that have since been proven to be essential to child development. This included the arts and physical education. Public school offered these programs, and many a legendary musicians got their start because of this kind of societal investment. When hard economic times and conservative politics started to cut the budgets for these programs, many children were left without ways to express themselves creatively.
Raydar: But that’s the cool thing about music. There’s always going to something new, or some way people remake what we have to make new sound.
This is the point that the majority of critics entirely miss for the most part. When one considers that the birth and surge in popularity of the modern DJ began at this same time, it becomes clear that this shift was not voluntary. Many of the early DJs who come out of this period have often mentioned that the elimination of the arts in schools severed kids from access to instruments, teachers who knew musical theory, and opportunities that they otherwise had no way of getting involved in. When DJs such as Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash showed that there was a way for then to make music using only a record player, many took to this chance to develop their creative skills through this other means. It seems as if though some of these so called purists forget about this, or maybe didn’t realize the kind of privileges they had, but others didn’t.
Raydar: Just because you can’t write it down, doesn’t mean that it’s not an instrument. The writing is only a translation of what happened.
DJs are not purely isolated to hip-hop and dance music either, and the argument that they have never worked with other ‘musicians’ in a musical setting is false. The now famous hit of the 80s from Herbie Hancock, “Rock It,” featured the scratching of Grandmaster DXT on the track when the art of turntablism was just starting to grow into something bigger. This kind of experimentation also led many DJs into the realm of sampling, which has become the foundation for the modern day producer. By the time Branford Marsalis’ Buckshot Lefonque came out with “Breakfast At Denny’s” a decade later with Gang Starr’s own DJ Premier doing the cuts, the concept of being a DJ had evolved especially within the hip-hop circles to allow for more methods of expression. From looping a part of a song together to create a extended mix, to the transformation of using records to construct new songs or sound collages, the options of what a DJ could do were greatly extended.
Raydar: You have trumpet valves, you have bass strings, you have hi-hats. But all of those things are pieces of metal, pieces of string. They’re tools, just like the synthesizer is a tool. But its only devised in a way that makes it more user friendly. It’s still just a bunch of wires in a metal box. Just like the turntables are a a tool.
Just as turntables started out with a different purpose, musicians over the years have approached various instruments differently from their original intended purpose. They have gotten creative in the way they draw new sounds from their instruments, such as using plungers on trumpets, plucking the strings on a upright bass or swiping on a grand piano wire. Or even the improvisation of using common objects to make sounds such as blowing on a bottle or a shell is right up there. It’s this kind of thinking that really draws a similarity and realization in the way a musician, or any type of artist for that matter, finds new ways to express themselves through any tool and means available to them. In truth, there really should be no reason to differentiate between the development of the DJ or any other kinds of musicians. They may work with what they have differently, but what they are trying to achieve is the same: making music.
Raydar: That’s the thing that rubs a lot of people the wrong way. They say that “oh their using prerecorded sounds.” So what? Then they try to say that you’re not a musician.
One of the main attempts to discredit DJs and their methods of producing music is the claim that the turntables themselves aren’t capable of generating sounds themselves, which is funny to me, since I don’t recall a drum or a sax or a piano playing itself unless there is a human or some kind of object to produce the sound vibration. Mainly the blame goes towards the notion of the equipment DJs use as not being authentic, meaning acoustic in their terms. By that notion, it would then be unfair to provide any kind of musician with the equipment used to record or reproduce sound then, since the music is not being created authentically. It’s this sense of technophobia that is commonplace amongst such critics that can bad mouth anything musical from the 80s to the present, but aren’t able to see there being a little hypocrisy.
Raydar: And then you had groups like The Beatles who would use samples of audio recordings on their records. It was on The White Album they did.
Many of these critics who tend to discredit such technological advances also then place the likes of artists like Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix on a musical pedestal above those in the hip-hop culture. What is overlooked in those cases is those acts were notorious for using sound effects, distortion, and unique panning methods with their music. Yet countless artists, even in jazz, cite them as a influence or as being great practitioners of music. The majority of the critics against hip-hop will admit, maybe even brag about, the fact that these artists are in fact valid. Just don’t let these artists they praise get involved with jazz or come from the urban culture, because then that would be sacrilegious on all counts and would put them at risk to getting their music card revoked.
Raydar: We wrote out quarter notes, 16th notes, just like any other (instrument). You devise your measures, time signatures and everything. We have icons that let you know how to accentuate the cut, or which way to rub the record, so there’s definitely an accomplice to that. That’s why I see it as an instrument.
The turntables were also discredited as an instrument because no notational system had been devised for sheet music musicians to read. This has changed though. In the hip-hop classes at Berklee, Raydar says that his students have to learn about using the pitch changes on the turntable to hear the new sounds they made, and then assign notes to those sounds. And since the turntable is capable of reaching pitch ranges that the original sound they are using couldn’t, they are in fact generating new sounds from their turntable. I don’t know how then that can be interpreted as stealing music when the sounds the DJs make can’t even be reproduced by the original musicians themselves in many cases, and did you get down that there is a notation system that DJs use?
Raydar: One of the things that we have now more than ever is portable technology. The lines between what you can do in a studio and what you can do on a stage now are getting blurred…I’ve seen bands now triggering live samples on stage alongside a horn section with a DJ on the side.
If there is still any doubt about this, then one should consider what the new advancements in software aimed at DJs are starting to unlock. The leading program, Serato, has already sent a shock wave through the DJ sphere and freed them up from certain limitations from before. Plus now with the added functionality of sampling and the ability to hook up a drum pad, likening it to the famous Akai MPC or SP-1200 line, DJs can more easily expand their repertoire to include sounds of any instrument such as a drum or a keyboard to play with the music they’re spinning. This unlocks the potential for them to manipulate their music in ways that were mostly limited to a studio, or if someone was willing to bring their equipment with them to a show, and to take the sounds of classical instruments and play in the same way the revered musicians of the past could. I know this is scary for the purists out there, but yeah, it’s happening. This avenue in being explored now as we speak, and finally shatters the final barrier in the so called debate of musicians.
Raydar: Every time I get on a turntable deck, I really begin to take off and go on all of these tangents and find all of these things, and then I find some way to pull it all back together in the end. And the end result is that everyone is dancing. That’s incredible to me, but I’m pretty sure that for any instrumentalist they feel the same way. Spending all that time practicing with your fingers on the flip board to try to get the positions right, and for some guys you have to stretch your pinky extra. It may hurt at the time, but you work it out and get used to it. And then you go as a musician on stage and present it, and people will dance to it.
At this point, the DJ culture has been embraced by the world on a underground and mainstream level, and those who choose to resist this have mainly become victims of their own selective tastes and memory. It always struck me as being bizarre that this idea would even come up where there was a time that Jazz music was considered inauthentic as well. From it’s early days where the Creole musicians would mock the African-Americans for playing what they considered uneducated nonsense, to the times of the 30s when it was referred to as jungle music, Jazz has had to climb a similar uphill battle to achieve recognition for its place as American music, and for many of its musicians to attack what essentially came out of the same cultural tradition is very much baffling. Maybe there is some ageism involved, or there are some valid points in these criticisms. At the end of the day though, if you can dance to it or feel it, then who cares? This has always been the nucleus to the rise of any music genre, and both hip-hop and Jazz have the ability to do that. Both also have taken their place in influencing music worldwide, and both are here to stay. So stop talking all that Jazz, and get hip-hopping when you hear that beat.
More about Brian “Raydar” Ellis http://www.berklee.edu/faculty/detail/brian-raydar-ellis
Interview and Words By Putnam Doug
January 18, 2011 | Categories: Interviews | Tags: Bass, Beats, Deejaying, DJ Raydar, Guitar, Hip Hop, Jazz, Life, Love, Music, Musicians, Respect, Rhymes, skratch, Turntables, Turntablism | Leave A Comment »
A considerable gift for the holidays for the fist-clenching, head-bobbing baby friend of yours…
The DJ Guitar by Chicco is an electronic toy guitar full of features for the young child. Select from three different musical styles (rock, pop, and blues) and choose among 3 play modes (short tunes, pre-recorded melodies and follow-me). The 23 pre-recorded melodies can be enriched with the 3 different mixer functions: drums, vibration and acceleration of the rhythm
[disclaimer: I'm glad that Hip Hop opted out of the choices of genre. Now I can live my life knowing that toddlers will be free from the drugs, sex, and violence in their young adolescent lives.]
Cheapest place found — > Shop now @ Target