Hip Hop Groups 101: The DJ

JamMasterJay1The Hip-Hop group has always been an important structure of the genre; evolving and diversifying throughout time. Whether its an MC/DJ combo, multiple MC’s, or Hip-Hop Fusion, groups have continued to change and be influential. Acts such as Outkast, UGK, Run DMC, and Little Brother have all influenced my taste greatly, contributing a unique sound to the landscape of Hip-Hop.

DJ’s in this modern era tend to be overlooked, as the focus is more on the MC. This has to do with marketing potential, breakthrough advancements of sound production over the years, and the differing styles of live performance.

For example, if you attended a hip-hop show tomorrow, the artist you see will probably have a straight act with no true DJ breakdown (there may be scratches here and there, beat changes, etc.). This could change, though, due to the artist traveling with a high-profile name. A high-profile DJ act will probably want to market themselves just as much as the featured MC, especially if they are on tour together. Even then, the performance would be much different than, let’s say, an Eric B. & Rakim show from 1986.

Notice how present Eric B. is on the stage as well as in the song itself. Constantly being referred to during the performance, as well as adding in custom changeups and playing with samples. Eric B. was high profile as well, but high profile because of how prevalent he was in the group. This was a very common aspect of groups in the 1980’s. Run DMC, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Boogie Down Productions, and Gang Starr all had prominent performing DJ’s. Live DJ performance is mainly rooted from the origins of how Hip-Hop began. Chopping beats and adding breakdowns in samples was very important for audiences to stay interested, as well as creating musical ideas for further production advancements.

Even if that trend has been on a decline, there are still many groups today that have a strong base around a talented and prominent DJ. For example, 9th Wonder from Little Brother has had a huge impact on the scene since the early 2000’s, developing a sound that many artists in the industry currently try to emulate.

Another aspect of how production is changing is the amount of producers and loose beats on the internet that virtually anyone can use. In the 1980’s era, the idea of having a DJ was important for the look and feel of your group. The DJ was a necessity for live performance, as well as a huge part of the personality of your act.

While the industry has mostly moved past this idea, it will always be a gigantic step in the evolution of Hip-Hop groups.


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