June was Black Music Month. Since announced by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, June has been recognized as the designated month to formally honor the achievements and contributions of black music. Because of this celebration, it seems fair to reflect and pose the question, “Where would black music be without engineering? -not only the engineering that goes into creating and recording sound, but the engineering that goes into producing a “good” sound?”
Djing has become a popular profession, hobby, and side hustle to some. Not specializing in any one type of music, you can find a Dj or disc jockey at various events and venues, parties, weddings, bars, clubs, and more. You can even find Dj mixes on tangible and intangible sources. Djs have really made their mark on American culture, but in particular, Hip Hop culture, one heavily absorbed by the black community.
Djing is a pillar of Hip Hop. Brought to you by Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, and Grandmaster Flash, Djing became the newest craze in underground New York in the 1970s. If we’re talking specifics, it came about on August 11th, 1973 at a birthday party. After observation, Dj Kool Herc noticed that his crowds would get more excited about one particular part of a funk song than any other part. See, Djing is a science really. Herc took that part, that drum beat that had no words and no other instruments, and decided to extend that short moment called the “break beat”. Herc called this technique the “Merry Go-Round.”
Dj turntables were originally designed to allow the smooth transition of one song to the next without abrupt interruption. Herc started the trend of using turntables as a way to switch back and forth between the same record in order to extend the beat. It took a careful hand, a keen eye, and a sharp ear and mind to keep beats going in this manner. But, as a result, b-boys had something to dance to. EmCees had something to rap to. The people had a sound to rock to. And the young folk had something to call their own, an outlet to escape from the stressors of existing in a lower-class community.
Check out part one of our Black Music Month story here.
Now Djs use more than just turntables. They have headphones, a mixer, and a computer. These tools allow the Dj to hear a beat before it plays during a set. The mixer controls volume, bass, fading and other effects. The computer holds a playlist that acts like vinyl for new school Djs.
All of this musical ingenuity, development of a culture, rested on the shoulders of innovation. Someone thought it up to record sound. Someone thought it up to play it on a machine and mass produce it. Someone thought to create turntables and not just play music, but go against the grain! Because of these efforts, this chain of invention, the birth of a culture was aided.
Run DMC, Sugar Hill Gang, Curtis Blow, all these early rap artists, may not have been heard of had no one ever fiddled with or scratched a record. So, in honor of Black Music Month, we salute the turntables, those engineers who made them, those who Dj and those who made the culture great.