Hip-Hop DJs Advancing Technology

Hip Hop DJs and the Evolution of Technology: Cultural Exchange, Innovation, and Democratization by Andre Sirois

This was a fascinating read about the importance of hip-hop DJs in advancing and developing technology. Sirois aka DJ food stamp has done his research and it shows on every single page.

Here are some of the things I took note of while reading it.

The First Mixers

“Around 1990 Vestax release the PMC-05 TRIX battle mixer. [This] made Trix the first DJ to have a signature mixer, which included his signature on the faceplate, and it marked the first major instance of a DJ’s design concept being executed in a product.”

I was surprised that it took that long for a signature mixture to appear.

“In 1971, the first DJ-specific mixer (nicknamed “Rosie”) was custom designed by Alex Rosner for Francis Grasso to use at the Haven Club; it’s basis features reflected the needs of Grasso’s mixing technique. Later that year, the Bozack CMA-10-2DL rotary club mixer became the first commercially available DJ mixer. By the mid-1970s, manufacturers began recognizing and dveloping mixers for mobile DJs as well, most notably the Clubman line of mixers manufactured by Meteor Light & Sound, CO, and the GLi380 and 3880.”


I love this passage about the importance of being authentic and how one could build up credibility in hip-hop culture.

Sarah Thornton “subcultural capital” – one’s authenticity and credibility with the hierarchic of a subculture. Within hip-hop; DJ culture, subcultural capital is amassed in a variety of ways, including being skillful with turntables and a mixer, having a unique style, naming and popularizing new DJ techniques, winning DJ battles, touring with notable musical acts, owning and collecting rare records, producing tracks, making records or mixtapes, DJing at large venues, and so forth.

In hip-hop, we refer this as “paying your dues.” You need to demonstrate that you have put in work, you have invested the time and effort into the craft, and that you have something to show for it, whether than be accolades or co-signs.

You Can’t Be a DJ Without Gear

According to Thornton, it involves objects (for instance records, mixers, and turntables) and knowledge (how to manipulate those technologies with the hands). Within a creative network like hip-hop DJ culture, subcultural capital creates hierarchy and difference and adds value to the recorded music and DJ product industries.”

Know the Music

“In knowing, owning, and playing the music, ” Thornton writes, “DJs, in particular, are sometimes positioned as the masters of the scene.” That is, within music scenes or subcultures, DJs often have the most credibility and subcultural capital, and are at the top of the scene’s hierachy.

Grandmaster Flash Had the Clout

Grandmaster Flash was a well-established name in the early days of hip-hop culture.  When rap music was first recorded and released commercially, he was signed simply because of the clout he possessed. Unfortunately . . .

Flash did not perform on the records or get songwriting credit. Instead, Sugar Hill Records used Grandmaster Flash solely as a brand to authenticate and sell records to hip-hop fans. Flash’s name was used for its brand equity because he was the most popular DJ at the time, and in the 1970s the DJ was the main celebrity in hip-hop culture.

How the 12″ Record Became Standard

This is a fascinating story about how the 12″ vinyl record became the standard format for rap music due to a mistake in the early 1970s.

Tom Moulton needed to release a single but he had run out of 7″ blanks to press the song on.  He was “in a rush to get his remix to DJs [so] he adjusted the gain and EQ for the song and cut it on a 10” disc. He said, “So , it was by accident . .. But for the next song we cut, we went for the 12″ format instead of the 10″ . . . That was the birth of the 12′ single.”

People quickly followed suit.

In 1976, Salsoul Records decided to meet the standards and produced the first commercial vinyl 12″ maxi single “Ten Per Cent” by Double Exposure. Shortly thereafter, the 12′ single became a commercial format used by record labels and made popular by DJs and club-goers.

This was a fascinating read. It was great to see a scholar work about hip-hop deejays and how influential they have been in helping create and shape DJ culture. Without the hip-hop DJ, we wouldn’t have much of the technology we now take for granted. Even other genres of music owe us a debt.

The book also covers how the Technic 1200s became the standard turntable, how digital vinyl systems came into creation and popular use, and it features quotes and stories from some of the best deejays in the genre. Every hip-hop DJ should read this.

My List of 2018 Reads – Great reads from a variety of genres