Rhymefest Guest Blog: Real DJs vs. I-Pod Shufflers
(Editor's Note This is the fourth entry in an ongoing series from Rhymefest as he prepares to release his highly-anticipated new album El Che. Click here to read previous entries.)
I love DJs so much that the first major record deal that I ever signed was through a DJ. Being signed to Mark Ronson’s Allido Records was not only a learning experience from a hip hop point of view, but I also developed a deep appreciation for music in general. To have access to Mark Ronson’s iTune’s library and endless crates of records was just as valuable as the J Records deal that he helped me ink. For a while, Mark even refused to switch over to Seratos, so yes, he and I were carrying crates of records around the world as we toured. What made him particularly valued as a DJ was his ability to blend Hip Hop over vintage Rock or R&B/Soul instrumentals. So for instance, he would blend White Stripes Seven Nation Army instrumental with Ludacris When I Move You Move or, Pharrell’s Beautiful over some old school Mike [Jackson]. His knowledge of music, young and old, popular and obscure, made him one of the world’s premiere DJs. We’ve traveled all over Europe, spent weeks in Australia and even some time in Israel. I’ve also toured with DJ Jazzy Jeff and spent a lot of time recording with him. One thing that I can say about these DJs is that they know their music. Many of the new DJs that I encounter, are only familiar with the latest pop hit or hip-hop sensation. This may allow you to book a few local clubs in your city but if you would like the honor of calling yourself an authentic DJ, you must also be a music aficionado.
It’s not enough to say “Aw man, I’m only 22, I don’t know all of that stuff from back in the day!” There is no way I was alive during Nina Simone’s era, but I still know and appreciate her music. Same goes for Johnny Cash, Lionel Richie, Prince etc. As much as we can criticize the digital age for cheapening new music, it’s also made classic artists more accessible than ever. If you want the big gigs, Jay-Z booking you at the 40-40 club or Diddy’s All White Party, you definitely need to know more than the Top 40 hits. I have another celebrity DJ friend named DJ Terry Hunter who was recently booked for a party with Oprah Winfrey and her only request was “no Hip Hop.” Although he primary plays House Music, he knew that he could throw a few hip hop instrumentals in there and a few undeniable Sugar Hill Gang records to get the party going. He told me that at first when he dropped some of the joints, Oprah looked up to the booth as if to say, “No he didn’t!” but when she looked around and saw her guests dancing and having a wonderful time, he soon got booked for five more gigs with her. That’s a DJ. Someone who gives you music that you didn’t even know you wanted and still keeps the party moving.
You can’t call yourself a DJ if:
1. You just added 2,000 new songs that even you’re not familiar with to your iTunes.
2. You went out and bought your CDJs, laptop and Seratos systems that sit in your room and collect dust.
3. Choose the musical selection at your family reunion every year using iPod shuffle.
You are a DJ if:
1. Regardless of popular trends, you still find record stores with actual vinyl and can spend all day sifting through the known and unknown.
2. You spend hours practicing mixing, scratching and blending your set before the actual gig.
3. You can go toe to toe with almost anybody in a debate about old school R&B, disco, and hip-hop that spans from (at least) the '70s until now. If your knowledge goes back even further, you get DJ bonus points.