The technicalities and the skills of a disc jockey, also known as a DJ, have undergone dramatic changes in the half-decade since the birth of Hip Hop. Some good, to be sure. Some, however, threaten the very identity of the DJ. There’s a debate to be had about the roles of a DJ. A DJ can, no doubt, make or break a wedding. But today, he or she can shift the music culture in powerful ways. It is up to the DJ to own that responsibility, and to be up on the times. The changing of the technology, meanwhile makes it no easier; or maybe easier.

The DJ culture, like any other culture has its own particular set of skills and specific rules. These rules are to be followed and diverting from them could cause significant backlash. Some of the rules that need to be followed: You don’t ‘bite’ a DJ’s style; you did not play certain records if you were opening up for another DJ; and you simply have to be authentic and true to yourself and the craft. Above all, the DJ has to keep the party going and to do so requires he or she have knowledge of the songs being presented.

But currently, the rules that DJs have long honored have gone extinct. It seems today, anyone can be a DJ and set their own guidelines. The rise of social media and crowd funded platforms have given full control to the up and coming music curator. It is seen more of a popularity contest than an art. Less skill is warranted.

“You don’t have to be as well versed in music because of the technology,” says Larry Wakefield, better known as DJ Larry Love.

DJ Larry Love. Photo: Mr. Al Pete

Wakefield has only been DJing for close to two years, but when he speaks about his craft, one would think he has been doing this job for a decade. Wakefield wants to go back to study analog turntables, being that he began his DJ career using a controller. Most upcoming DJs would not take the time to research and study the history of a DJ.

Owning and respecting the skill of those who came before says a lot about Wakefield’s path. He references the pop culture Netflix show ‘The Get Down’ when giving an example on how Grandmaster Flash was teaching Shaolin and his friends how to DJ. Flash made it clear that if the DJ messes up the ‘get down’, that they can potentially mess the emcee up. This rule of skill has stuck with Larry.

“You had to know where the break is at on the record verses now, when it comes to switching genres or songs, it’s a lot easier to find the breaks and good points.” he says.

With advancements technology, it’s now easier than ever to get started as a DJ. In the article ‘The Evolution of DJ Technology,” Ben Raven breaks down, graphically, the changes to DJ equipment, beginning in 1976. Going beyond the year of 2016, DJing has become even easier. The hardware has went from turntables and DJs carrying crates of vinyls to clubs to more portable equipment with software capable of doing everything from a laptop, or even a smartphone. The standardized set up for a DJ is two turntables (Technics 1100s or 1200s have long been the ideal brand to use), a mixer that controlled the transitions of one song to the next and a broad collection of music on vinyls. The more common set up now is either 2 CDJs (Pioneers being the choice of brand), a high maintenance mixer, and a laptop with mp3 or WAV files of current and old music. Another component of choice would be a controller, which has all the hardware compacted into one. Most clubs have either/or, making it feasible for anyone to walk up and become the evening’s star.

Aside from advances in technology the party experience associated with DJ culture has experienced major changes. DJ events from major festivals to intimate parties can be streamed online through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and other applications. Average music consumers can now stay home. Also, with platforms like SoundCloud, Youtube, Mixcloud and Apple Music, consumers are able to find their favorite DJs online and listen to their mixes. This, as well, eliminates the need to physically attend an event. These factors affect promoters and the club/event venues financially. 

The wheels of steel are ever-evolving. Photo: Mr. Al Pete

Furthermore, the ways in which DJs are portrayed within the culture and to the masses has completely made a full turn. To take the Hip Hop culture for example, the role of the DJ was respected more and DJs were traditionally held in high regards. Groups like Run DMC, Eric B. and Rakim and Gangstarr represented the ‘he’s the DJ, I am the emcee’ art. These groups also displayed two of the four elements that made up the Hip Hop culture. Today, groups rarely highlight or even make note of the DJ. Usually, the DJ is in the background, literally and figuratively, and goes unnoticed to the consumers of the music.

However, as a solo artists, DJs are as poignant as ever. Take for instance, DJ Khalid; a one man show, who rarely even DJs now. In his beginning stages, he was solely a DJ, nothing more. Now, he is a perennial headliner, who features artists from Hip Hop, and other genres as supporting acts.

With time steadily moving, the culture will eventually take, yet, another shift and the respected and upcoming DJs will have another technology to learn. The world of DJ culture keeps spinning. On and on.