Back To Columns Archive The Hip-Hop Headrush


Written by Mass Dosage

Everybody wanna be...

Years ago when 3 was still the magic number, De La Soul said " Everybody wants to be a DJ, everybody wants to be an MC". In 1997 the stakes in the music industry are higher than ever before and a whole lot of people want a piece of the Hip-Hop pie - with the hope that it will bring them money and fame. Last year in a column entitled "The four chambers" I focused on the four components of Hip-Hop culture and predicted that the art of DJ'ing would be the next one to be commercialised. Now, here we are less than a year later and "Everybody wants to be a DJ" more than ever before.

The realisation hit me as I was browsing through a stack of vinyl (which is making a spectacular comeback) at House Afrika in Johannesburg. There were numerous people hanging around who professed to be DJ's but showed a surprising lack of knowledge about music. What struck me is that they resembled the people who recently commercialised raving (and basically ruined it for the underground scene). The same flashy clothes, the same flashing of money. Here was my premonition in a tangible form - our underground DJ scene had been discovered and was now being considered "trendy". It was "cool" to buy vinyl - this coming from the same people who ridiculed me for buying records in London just months ago.

Whenever an underground culture gets commercialised, the ones who do it are inevitably in it for the wrong reasons - ego's, money, fame, admiration etc. The tenets which have been developed by the original DJ's (in this case) for well-grounded reasons (such as maintaining longevity of the culture) are often blatantly ignored and sometimes even ridiculed. All the groundbreaking work that has been done to get the culture to a certain point is scavenged by these newcomers who use this for their own commercial gains. The cycle then starts with the media focusing on the commercially-successful (but not "true" or "original") DJ's, the general public gets mass-informed the wrong information, the culture becomes popularised, the original proponents and their work gets ignored, the public tires of the fad as any thought of longevity has been ignored, the culture goes back underground and the original few who are still around at this stage are viewed as "behind the times".

Sounds familiar doesn't it? Just think of the way Hammer and Vanilla gave the world the wrong impression of what rap was all about. The factors that all but destroyed breakdancing in the 80's and have been attacking rap in the 90's are now exerting their greedy influences on the DJ sub-culture. As a Hip-Hop purist who cares about this culture and wants to ensure that it continues to exist beyond the lifespan of all trends, I think that we should take what we have learnt in the past and use this information to come up with a set of rules. These rules can be used to spot DJ's who may pose a threat to the culture and, if applied, will ensure that the commercialisation cycle described above does not inflect the damage that it has the potential to.

So, I bring to you, "The minimum entry requirements for DJology 101" (a.k.a. "How to alienate yourself in a trendy crowd in 4 easy steps") :

  1. Are you serious about your music? Do you have a love for it which you want to communicate to others by becoming a DJ? Do you intend to make a worth-while contribution to this culture which will benefit others/change their perceptions of the culture in a positive manner?
  2. Do you know your shit? Do you have extensive knowledge (and critical insight) of your music (it's origins, history, evolution, performers, etc.) ?
  3. Do you have skills? Do you know what to mix, and how and when to mix it? Do you try to evolve the artform in an original way?
  4. Will you still be doing this in the future when the trend passes? When you no longer get paid to do it? When DJ'ing (and by extension you as a DJ) are no longer regarded as "cool"? When there is no fame or esteem associated with your position?

I see no practical way that these rules can actually be enforced, but I have put them here in the hope that they will make some people reconsider what they are getting themselves into. Think it through - if you don't have anything positive to add to this culture as a whole and are only thinking of getting involved for your own personal gain, I beg of you : Think Again.

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