DJs- The Forgotten, But Necessary Entity

Male DJ playing record in music shop

First, the History

The other day while scrolling through Facebook, one of my Facebook Friends posted a video about DJs in Hip-Hop and how it all came to be in the Bronx. I was intrigued and decided that I would do my own research to learn more. I love doing research. You should try it one day, too. Well, especially if something peaks your interest.

So, first, I found out that the first ever DJ or Disc-Jockey, was only 16 and lived in California. His name was Ray Newby, and he was a student in college at the time. By 1910, radio broadcasting was a normal part of life.  But the term Disc-Jockey wasn’t coined until somewhere around the 1930’s. Jimmy Savile is known as the first ever DJ to throw a dance party in 1943. He played Jazz records for his guests. Oooh, I love Jazz. I grew up on listening to that stuff from my folks. And the 1940’s were a great decade of Jazz songs. Anyway, he was the first one to use turntables to keep the music in continuous play.

Then come the 1950’s. Radio DJs hosted sock hops for kids everywhere. In Jamaica, DJs threw huge dance parties and would blast the music from their PA systems. This created the Discoteque craze and the need for new equipment to be created, such as the infamous mixer, which allowed DJs to really have more control over their music. Now this is something interesting, a DJ named Francis Grasso started beatmatching, which let his songs mix so well, that the dancing never had to stop. Sounds like my kind of dance party! But, somehow, and I don’t know why, the popularity of DJs in the clubs died down so the party got moved to the streets.

Enter New York City. In 1973, DJ Kool Herc made the name for himself as the FATHER OF HIP-HOP. He was the first one to start mixing the same records together, at the same time, and extending the parts he thought were the most dance worthy. His technique was called “break“.


DJ Kool Herc setting up the world-famous bloc party at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, The Bronx, New York City, signifying the birth of hip-hop. 11 August 1973. Photo Credit from

Now this is the time where turntablism really became something powerful. DJs were not just playing music, they were making music. They were known as artists now and they were creating new songs and beats. New bands formed and produced music electronically from beginning to end, something that had never, ever been done before. So with this new sound, this brought on the disco era of the 70’s and if you were a DJ during this time, you were the Sugar Honey Ice Tea!

But, here comes the interesting part. Did you know that the art of scratching was discovered accidentally? That’s right. In 1975, a Hip-Hop DJ named Grand Wizard Theodore accidentally discovered it. Now they didn’t say how, but I would love to have been there when it happened. So if you know someone who was, do tell! I got a lot of interesting facts from this site here if you care to learn more.

Ok, so I got off topic a little bit. Let’s get back to Herc.

I am going to have to directly quote this because it was just too good of information to summarize in my own way. This credit goes to and goes as follows:

Herc became aware that although he knew which records would keep the crowd moving, he was more interested in the break section of the song.  At this point in a song, the vocals would stop and the beat would just ride for short period.  His desire to capture this moment for a longer period of time would be a very important one for Hip-Hop.

Herc would purchase two copies of the same record and play them on separate turntables next to each other.  He would play the break beat on one record then throw it over to the other turntable and play the same part.  Doing this over and over, he could rock any house in NY.  (Not to mention it being an early form of looping, that would be made easier through electronic sampling.)

He would dig in crates and look everywhere to find the perfect break beat for his parties.  He didn’t care what type of music, because he only needed a small section of a song for his purposes.

His first professional DJ job was at the Twilight Zone in 1973.  He wanted to get into another place called the Hevalo, but wasn’t allowed…yet. His fame grew.  In addition to his break beats, Herc also became known as the man with the loudest system around.  When he decided to hold a party in one of the parks, it was a crazy event.  And a loud one.  At this time, Afrika Bambaataa and other competing DJ’s began trying to take Herc’s crown.

Finally his fame peaked and at last, in 1975, he began working at the Hevalo in the Bronx.  He helped coin the phrase b-boy (break boy) and was recently quoted as saying he was “the oldest living b-boy.”

As competing DJ’s looked to cut in on the action, Herc would soak the labels off his records so no one could steal his beats.

After a while, spinning the records got to be an all intensive thing and Herc wouldn’t have as much time to talk to the crowd and get them going.  He needed someone else to help out and act as the Master of Ceremonies for him.  And thus, for all practical purposes, Coke La Rock became the first hip hop MC ever.

Although he is not part of the Hip-Hop vocabulary of most of those who listen to it these days (unfortunately), Kool Herc is the father of this underground sound from New York that found its way to becoming a worldwide phenomenon.

Ok, enough of the quoting. But don’t you see what the point is here? The DJ, the DJs, they are the ones that brought out the music, cut the music, scratched the music, sampled the music, created artists, artistry, bands, and dances. It wasn’t just a craze. It wasn’t just music. It was a culture. One that gets easily forgotten or dismissed, by what many are labeling as “Hip-Hop” music today.

The more research I do, the more I understand the art. And the more research I find, the more I realize there is no way to put it all in one blog. I have met many artists in this industry. Many talented artists. I have attended many shows. I have seen many things. I mean, you almost can’t miss it living in New York and LA. But the one thing I have to say is, there is NOTHING like going to an Old School Hip-Hop show and seeing the DJs doing their thing on stage with a talented, energetic lyricist rocking the mic. The way they work together goes hand in hand and one could not do anything without the other. They complement each other in the best way and you can tell they do by the reaction and participation from the crowd. Sometimes, I just look around in awe at all the people who are enjoying this music and it makes me smile.

I attempted to get some feedback tonight from DJs, but I didn’t get the response I was hoping for. Perhaps after reading this, you might be inclined to share your thoughts by commenting. One of my colleagues said to me tonight that I needed to mention some DJs in here who made a difference in the world of Hip-Hop music, aside from the ones that were already mentioned above. So this list is Jimmy’s and here it goes:

  • DJ Cash Money
  • Grandmaster Flash
  • DJ Jazzy Jeff
  • DJ Tat Money
  • DJ Miz
  • DJ Spin Bad
  • Jam Master Jay
  • Grandmaster Dee
  • Spindarella
  • DJ Scratch
  • DJ Chuck Chillout
  • DJ Red Alert
  • DJ Hollywood
  • DJ Tony Touch
  • Grandmixer D. ST
  • Grandmaster Dee
  • DJ Jazzy Jay
  • DJ AJ Scratch
  • Mantronix
  • Marley Marl
  • Master OC and Krazy Eddie
  • Mixmaster Ice
  • Chris The Glove Taylor
  • DJ QBert
  • DJ Mell Starr
  • DJ Joe Cooley
  • DJ Pooh
  • DJ Bobcat
  • DJ Cut Creator
  • Dr. Dre
  • DJ Yella
  • DJ Premier
  • DJ Pete Rock

If you know someone who should be on this list, comment and let me know!

And just to note, DJs, we all THANK YOU for your contributions to music, most especially, to Old-School Hip-Hop. It’s because of you that we are still rockin’ to some great music.- Jilli







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