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New American Songbook

The True King Of Hip Hop

Markus Rödder / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

The turntables are to hip hop what the guitar is to rock and roll. Or, more precisely, they are what the guitar, bass, drums and keyboard are to rock and roll.

Hip hop was born from the turntables, and through hip hop, the turntables were transformed from a simple playback device into an instrument that has been featured in countless jazz arrangements and even symphonies.

The DJ has essentially two roles in hip hop. The first is as an instrumental soloist. To be a soloist, you have to know how to play the turntables. The most familiar method is scratching, which involves dragging the needle of the record player across the surface of the record. Simple, right?

Beat juggling is almost literally exactly like it sounds: the DJ plays two copies of the same record, at the same time, with one record slightly behind in time. This creates the effect of stretching the music out almost like taffy—the song is still recognizable as the original song, but it is also completely new.

The DJ’s other role is as an archivist. DJs are the gatekeepers to both the musical and cultural artifacts of hip hop. They collect thousands of records like a library gathers books. Their songs are as curated as any museum exhibit. While the studio producer currently holds the spotlight’s attention, for true hip hop heads, the DJ has always been, and will forever be, the king.