One of my friends is getting married next year and asked me to dj the event, a request that we may both come to regret come 2011. As I haven't touched a real turntable in a couple of years - what mixing I have done recently has been done exclusively in Acid, and I sorely needed to relearn the art of deejaying - I signed up for some classes over at Scratch Academy, a dj school founded in part by Jam Master Jay. For me the appeal was less the instructional aspect of the classes and more with the guest lecturers that were promised for each class: Grandmaster Caz, Cosmo Baker, Rob Swift. For the first class they brought in Grand Wizard Theodore, perhaps the most important deejay this side of Kool Herc.
The class itself featured a pretty wide range of attendees: a sixteen year old girl from Manhattan, an actress from Columbia, a kid who wanted to learn how to mix Depeche Mode records, several twenty somethings and a few older heads. What amazed (and saddened) me was the fact that no one else recognized Theodore, with most people assuming he was just another one of the students! I ended up looking like the teacher's pet when I ran over before the class started and gave him a dap with a big grin on my face, but I'm sure most of you reading this would have done the same.
To start the session, the Grand Wizard told us how he invented the record scratch, a story you may be familiar with if you've ever seen the documentary Scratch. As the story goes, Theodore started deejaying at the age of 12 and soon after convinced his school's principal to allow him to play one of his mixtapes over the P.A. system at the beginning of class the next day. While recording the mixtape that night in his bedroom, his mother came up to yell at him for playing the music too loud. Instead of turning off the turntables, Theodore lowered the volume and began moving the record back and forth to keep the needle in place until his mother was finished yelling at him. He heard the sound of the record "scratching" in his headphones and from there the art of turntablism was born.
After wrapping up that story, Grand Wizard Theodore proceeded to put on one of the most entertaining displays of deejaying I've ever seen. Quite similar to the routine in the video above, Theodore threw on a pair of blindfolds and began dropping the needle at various parts of the record. As you'll hear KRS-1 explain in the video, before mixers were invented deejays had to use needle drops to loop a beat. To close out the performance, he started balancing records on top of his head while still scratching and needle dropping. My description doesn't really do the whole thing justice, but suffice it to say it was amazing.
Below is perhaps the best known of Grand Wizard Theodore's songs, recorded for the Wild Style soundtrack. The song's been sampled numerous times, with Theodore's "Say Turn It Up!" used in Public Enemy's Bring the Noise and Masta Ace's Turn it Up. Peep:
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