Past And Present: The Evolving Role of the DJ

Written in assistance, first half, by Adam Bandoo

The DJ has always been and continues to be the mitochondria when it comes to moving crowds and keeping the parties bumpin’ all at the power of their fingertips. Culturally speaking, in Hip-Hop, the DJ’s are famously known as the gatekeepers. Being so, they are trusted to refrain from ‘the wackness’ when breaking exclusive records, they also process song selections during a mix, and are responsible for unveiling new artists in the music industry. This tradition has created a line of respect in the game for DJs–they are defined as the sole controllers of music’s current.

As it seems in today’s generation, core fans may question the credibility or the trust of the modern gatekeeper based on their ulterior motives. These ulterior motives are typically powered by some sort of incentive. The incentive being the payola, which ultimately means the DJ is dictated by accepting payment to purposefully play ‘the wackness’ and what is not dear to his/hers skill set. The payola came into prominent position during the late 90s and early 2000s. Another aspect of understanding the ulterior motive would be, instant gratification in only playing what is popular in rotation. Instead of breaking new records intertwined with old and modern flavor, to incorporate into their mix, they play it safe and find comfort to follow the dynamic of the radio format. In addition to the common white-collared DJ, it appears that we are now in an era where the DJ relies on breaking records depending on the amount of views or followers an artist has. SMH at its finest. Although once master turned slave, the DJ still controls the crowd regardless the music being played, because without the DJ there is no music.

Earlier this month, wordsmith, Wale, had a few thoughts to share about the significance of DJs on Twitter.

Man I really wish DJ’s still broke records. DJs used to be reluctant to play stuff too early. Now, they scared to play it if doesn’t have YouTube numbers. Long Live #auxchordBAE. The rapper isn’t more important than the DJ. The DJ isn’t more important than the people. “Just my thoughts”. Hip Hop should celebrate DJs 4 their timing, knowledge of NEW and old music, their reinterpretations of familiar songs, NOT their IG followers. DJing an art form PERIOD. It’s not a popularity contest not a “press play and get paid” grab. Express ya thoughts/ relay your vibe sonically. If you are a DJ and don’t consider yourself an artist …your not a DJ. No two DJ sets should be alike.”



During Hip-Hop’s infancy, people would go to DJs for the newest/hottest records. Look at how artists became popular–you would take your record to the town’s DJ and hope they liked it enough to give it a spin. They were the gate keepers to the mainstream industry.

In the late 1970s, the role of the DJ began to slightly morph into solo artists, like Grandmaster Flash, emerged taking the job of a DJ to a different level with the mixing and scratching technique. Yet, people still came to the DJ for new music, granting them control of the industry’s musical ship.

During the 1980s, DJing became even more integral to the Hip-Hop world. Biz Markie emerged as not only a DJ, but a rapper and beat boxer–further rounding out the DJ as an artist. Rap groups such as Run DMC and Salt-N-Pepa began to form and they each contained a DJ member. From then on, the DJ was the first person you would see at the concerts, the person who would hype the crowd and get them excited for the performance. The person responsible for handing the artist a warm crowd.

Image result for vashtie dj

Nowadays, the DJ is still important, but like Wale said: The rank of the DJ has declined and in some instances, has been replaced by the role of the producer. Maybe it’s because of social media or maybe it’s just the outlook of this generation. It seems as long as there is a great producer, the need for a DJ is less urgent. As if the skill of picking and spinning songs to play is simple or all they’re good for. But don’t be mistaken, DJing isn’t an easy job, it requires skill.

It’s an art form most people don’t relate to. It’s about finding a way express oneself while handing those same tools for a mass of others to do the same. When you listen to a DJ curated mix, it’s their art–like what the lyrics of a song are for a vocalist. DJs create beats, study new and old music, learn timing, know about the bpm of songs and so much more.

The hierarchy goes the people, the DJ, and then the rapper. The people come first, then the DJ studies the crowd or audience they want to reach. Rappers feed off the energy of the DJ and proceeds to perform or record their track. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to be.

Once the life of the party, always the life of the party. Our masters on the ones and twos will forever be the host of the event, the captain of the ship. Not just an accessory.

Posted in BLOG, CULTURE, FEATURED, MUSIC Tagged with: ,




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