Editorial: The Evolution and Devolution Of The DJ

Posted on December 02, 2011 by Kevin | 0 Comments

I actually wrote this piece about a month ago but never posted it, but after sitting on it and re-reading I decided it should get out here...

I suppose this might be a “touchy” subject, but it’s on my mind and I was further inspired after playing a set recently at the King & I where I attempted to play all songs that I never or don’t remember playing in my DJ sets previously…*

The DJ used to have a lot of power and served multiple purposes to the community. It was DJ who helped you escape the stresses of the day or the week, as you would get lost in their musical collages. Of course, part of the power of the DJ is transferred over from the power of music in general. However, the DJ had to find balance in that power, by hitting you with a stream of artists and songs you were familiar with, but also working in a wealth of things you never heard before, creating your new favorite songs.

Thru out the 80s/90s the DJ was the primary means how most people in Hip Hop “discovered” new music. Whether it was the block parties and community centers of the 70s, the club nights of the 80s/90s, on a radio mix show, or the rising popularity of the mixtape in the 90s, the Hip Hop fan counted on the DJ to keep them in the know. Not just with new music, but also the music of the past they we may have missed. When you think about classic Hip Hop DJs, among the most famous names is Afrika Bambaataa, who was appropriately named the “Master Of Records”. This title was a reflection of his wide range of sources he would pull from. Perhaps the most powerful draw to a Bambaataa party wasn’t necessarily because you knew what he was going to play, but rather you didn’t know what he might play…

As technology has pushed forward it has affected all things in the world, including the DJ. Some time in the 90s, the DJ had to share its “Best source to hear new music” title with the music video. Now that we are in an instant gratification era, everyone thinks they are the best source for new music, it’s nearly impossible to keep up.

You would think with the explosion of so much music being created and easily available that would result in DJs being able to open up their playlist, but quite to the contrary. These days DJs seem to be narrowing their playlists more than ever. Even worst yet, DJs seem to be losing their individuality. As recent as a few years ago I could go to a variety of different clubs and bars to hear DJs and never hear the same tracks or styles of tracks over and over, even though the places I frequented had DJs working from the same musical pools; 80s/90s Hip Hop & Soul/Funk. There was still enough music for everyone to build a unique playlist. Now there’s an increased “need” to rely on what many commonly refer to as “Rap Bangers”…
Popularity of a key Twin Cities night, Get Cryphy, helped cause this shift. Get Cryphy itself is a great night and consistently an amazing party. I go regularly, dance, and have a great time. To me, it works effectively because it is a concept night. You go there and you know what to expect. At the same time, the founders of the night, Plain Ole Bill & Jimmy 2 Times, aren’t limited to that, so they have other nights where they can explore different realms and they do that, which is why they are among two of my favorite DJs in this city.

Don’t get me wrong. I do get it, people see a successful formula and they want to have successful nights, so they follow suit. Plus, I don’t fault DJs who are trying to DJ as their full time job. In a smaller market like the Twin Cities, with so many DJs competing for gigs, you are pretty much going have to follow a Top 40 and/or “Rap Bangers” formula to keep those checks flowing in. I’m not tripping, there’s room for everyone to do their thing. I just want there to be some more variety. Hip Hop alone has 30+ years of musical archives to dig into and these days there is a unprecedented amount of new music and plenty of it is good and worthy of spins.

I know it’s not limited to the Twin Cities. In my recent trip to New York the most disappointing thing was New York radio. Dating back to the 80s with me getting classic radio show tapes of Red Alert, Marley Marl, and Chuck Chillout, then all thru the 90s and even early 00s, New York Radio was a refreshing source of new music. They constantly seemed to be ignoring the popular formats of radio across the country (along with L.A. Radio). However, on this trip even New York Radio seemed just like the everywhere else. It was a bit disheartening…

Admittedly, I spent the last couple years not going out as much until recently, so I’ve really been getting a heavy dosage of it lately as a spectator and as a guest DJ. With that in mind, it’s been heavy on my mind. I used to love to DJ, but now I’ve been much less excited about it honestly. I’d like to believe that the audience has a wider range of music appreciation than many DJ sets give them credit for. I also have no interest in following the trends. I imagine this means that my DJ ventures will be limited and selective and I’m fine with that.

With that said, I actually do have a couple upcoming gigs:

-MUFF (Minneapolis Underground Film Fest): It's a MUFF weekend and I'm DJing for an hour
at the after party on Saturday, Dec 3rd! It goes down at Vision Models (25 N 4th Street,
MPLS, N 55401) at 10 PM. Im rocking the first hour and then handing it off to DJ Anton and
Gigamesh.

-Bryant Lake Bowl: I will be DJing at the BLB on Tuesday, December 5th, between 10 PM-2
AM.

-Adventure Time: At Honey on December 22nd you got Myself, Kool Akiem, and the Long
Doe fam throwing down!! Drink specials, great music, and great spot = Guaranteed fun!

*Here’s the playlist of what I played that night which co-inspired this post. I thought about keeping track of the mix about 20 minutes into the set so I don’t know the first several tracks, but you’ll get the point:
Beat Box Boys-Einstein ‘84
Mantronix-Electronic Energy Of… ‘86
Ray Rock-Ray Rock Kick It ‘86
K Rob-Psycho Lorraine ‘86
Craig G-Smooth ‘85
K.M.D-Boy Who Cried Wolf ‘91
Kings Of Pressure-Tales From The Darkside ‘89
Terminator X w/Casino Brothers-Wanna Be Dancing ‘91
Alliance-Get On Down ‘88
Master Ace-Maybe Next Time ‘89
Organized Konfusion-Let’s Organize ‘94
U.T.F.O-Doin’ It ‘89
Butch Dayo-Breaking For The Big Time ‘85
Eddie D featuring Galaxy-Cash Money ‘84
Captain Rapp-Bad Times (I Can’t Stand It) ‘83
Micronawts-Letzmurph AcrossDaSurf ‘82
The Smurfs-Do The Smurf For What It’s Worth ‘83
Sugar Daddy-One More Time ‘81
Casper The Groovy Ghost-Groovy Ghost Show PT III ‘80
Kurtis Blow-Do The Do ‘81
Dee Coley-Never Had A Love Like Yours ‘83
Dennis Landry-Concentration ‘74
Mr Morse and His Alphaband-S.O.S I’m In Love ‘77
Breakwater-You ‘80
Murphy Williams-Get On Up ??
Jazzy Dee-Get On Up ‘83
Rimshots-Dance Girl ‘74
Nicole Willis & The Soul Investigators-Feeling Free [Optiks Remix] ‘07
Jonathon Brown-Don’t Let It ‘88
Unknown DJ & Three D Beatronic ‘84
AG & DJ Larche-I’m Your DJ ‘88
MC ADE-Transformer Instrumental ‘87
Iceman Ja-Dance Transformer Instrumental ‘87
World Class Wreckin’ Cru-Bionic ‘86
Egyptian Lover-The 808 ‘06
Gee Crew-Freakstein ‘83
Success N Effect-Roll It Up My Homeboy ‘89
Planet Patrol-Cheap Thrills ‘83
Black Super Man-Premium Black Superman ‘81
Platypus-Smokin’ On The One ‘80
Dizzy K Falola-Excuse Me Baby ‘82
Arnie Love & The Lovettes-Breakout ‘81
Little Denise-Check Me Out ??
The Capprells With The Sul Brothers Band-Close Your Eyes ‘75
Aloe Blacc-Loving You is Killing Me ‘11
Blueprint-Rise And Fall ‘11
Qwazaar & Batsauce-Shake ‘11
All Out Kings-Shack It Up ‘89
Three Times Dope-I Got It ‘90
Son Of Bazerk w/Johnny Juice-Turn Me Loose ‘11
Will C-Super Blast ‘08
Chico Mann-Harmonia ‘10
Mean Machine-At The Party ‘86
MC Chill-Nightmare On Chill Street ‘87
Parliament-Dr Funkenstein ‘76
Al Wilson-Willoughby Brook ‘74
Gap Band-Open Your Mind (Wide) ‘79
Fatback Band-Feed Me You Love ‘75

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