Turntablism Primer

In his turntablism primer, Peter Shapiro mentions how surprising it is that more people haven’t made music using turntables and records given their ubiquity in the 20th century — even just for tone or texture! Composer John Cage is widely recognized as the first to use the turntable to make other music with “Imaginary Landscape No. 1″ from 1939. It wasn’t until Hip-hop started in the 1970s that the turntable was repurposed in earnest.

Here are some examples from Shapiro’s piece:

John Cage “Imaginary Landscape No. 1″ (1939):

Grandmaster Flash’s Adventures on the Wheels of Steel:

Afrika Bambaata & Jazzy Jay “Death Mix” (Side 1):

Afrika Bambaata & Jazzy Jay “Death Mix” (Side 2):

Herbie Hancock (ft. Grandmixer DXT) “Rockit”:

Gang Starr “DJ Premier in Deep Concentration”

Christian Marclay live on the October 29, 1989 episode of the short-lived music television show Night Music:

Otomo Yoshihide (of Ground Zero) “Placebo-9″ Live, June 20, 1993:

Martin Tétreault “Lui, il Les a Vus” (1997):

DJ Q-Bert Demolition Pumpkin Squeeze Musik (1994) [Full Album]:

Q-Bert turntable drumming in Paris:

Q-Bert performing at the 1997 DMC Championships:

DJ EQ “The Death of Hip-Hop” (from Return of the DJ, Volume 1, 1995):

Radar & Z-Trip “Private Parts” (from Return of the DJ, Volume 2, 1997):

No need to respond to this post. It’s merely for your edification. Enjoy!

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This is a Sampling Sport

It’s not an easy task to parse the intricacies of ownership and copyright law when confronted with the layers of appropriation (i.e., sampling, interpolation, remix, etc.) inherent in Hip-hop music, but we’ll see what we can figure out. This bit I wrote last year partially about the track below from Schoolboy Q and A$AP Rocky gives an example:

Oh, the confusion such a song can cause. Who owns what? Does it matter? These are only a couple of the questions that will come up in this section. In Chapter 36 Andrew Bartlett relates the spread of sampling to the spread of the bible. In Joseph Schloss’s chapter, he separates the commerce from the art.

Anyway, as is obvious from the readings this week, we’re still finding our feet in the history of turntablism, sampling, and remix. So, finally, here’s A Brief History of Sampling by Eclectic Method:



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Screening: Scratch

This week we’re going to kick off our study of the DJ, turntables, and turntablism with Doug Pray’s 2001 documentary Scratch. Here’s the trailer:

Post your thoughts after we see the movie on Tuesday. It gets crazy!


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Wordplay All Day Everyday

For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been weaving webs of wordplay (e.g., figurative language like metaphor, simile, assonance, and allusion, as well as slang use, etc.), and its delivery on the mic made manifest (e.g., flow, rhythm, rhyme, etc.). The readings (from Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By and Paul Edwards’ How to Rap) and book exposé extend and expand this exploration.

As you learn How to Rap (which I know is what you’ve all been waiting for), think about all of the skills an accomplished emcee has to master. Which do you think are most important to being good at this? Which do you think are most important to making Hip-hop what it is? What about vocabulary?

Oh, here are Juice and Eminem freestyle battling at Scribble Jam in 1997 (Warning: the audio is wonky):

Also, hand gestures! Enjoy!


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Screening: Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme

To enhance our study of hip-hop wordplay, we’re going to watch Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme (2000) directed by DJ Organic (Kevin Fitzgerald) in class (the trailer is below), keeping in mind the differences we’ve found among rehearsed speech, written poems, intentions of authors, and expectations of listeners, among many other things. Revisiting your notes from last week’s readings might be helpful. Act like you know.

If you are finding it difficult, here is a Wiki on how to appreciate rap music. Maybe that will also help. And could someone please remind me to bring up the “fifth element” question again?

Post your responses below after we watch the movie on Tuesday and Thursday. Please, drop your science by next Thursday night. Peace.


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Rocking the Mic Right

Listening to rap music in mixed company is often uncomfortable. As I mentioned in class, I find the violence, misogyny, and heteronormativity that it’s often criticized for to be among the least interesting things about it, but they’re still unignorable. And such language! Literary scholar Adam Bradley addresses these concerns in his chapter from this week, “Wordplay,” calling it “defending the indefensible” (p. 86).

In a def(t) display of early lyrical innovation (Rakim is one of the most respected emcees in Hip-hop) without much in the way of offensive material, here’s Eric B. & Rakim’s “Follow the Leader” (1988):

As a prologue to his “ten tenets of Hip-Hop Nation Language (HHNL),” H. Samy Alim writes,

So, “language” in HHNL obviously refers not only to the syntactic constructions of the language but also to the many discursive and communicative practices, the attitudes toward language, understanding the role of language in both binding/bonding community and seizing/smothering linguistic opponents, and language as concept (meaning clothes, facial expressions, body movements, graffiti, and overall communication—“cuz as Beanie Sigel knows, ‘85% of communication is non-verbal’”) (2006, p. 71).

Rub these two readings together in your head and see what flies from the friction. We’re getting to the good stuff.


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Hip-Hop 101: Cram to Understand

We’re still figuring our feet in the world of Hip-hop. Ice-T’s The Art of Rap gives us a glimpse of the multifaceted role of the emcee, but this week’s readings help expand the roots and reach of the culture. From our textbook, That’s the Joint!, we have Nelson George’s “Hip-Hop’s Founding Fathers Speak the Truth” (Chapter 4; pp. 43-55), which is a three-way interview with Afrika Bambaataa, Kool DJ Herc, and Grand Master Flash. Then there’s Greg Tate’s “Hip-hop Turns 30: Whatcha Celebratin’ For?” (Chapter 6; pp. 63-74).

In addition, Tricia Rose‘s classic text Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America (1994) is a crash course in Hip-hop’s origins and the scope of its influence. Russel A Potter’s Spectacular Vernaculars: Hip-Hop and the Politics of Postmodernism (1995) pushes the vision further. The chapters we’re reading from each provide a wider introduction to the cultural implications of beats, rhythms, and rhymes.

Here’s MC Lyte’s “I Cram to Understand U”  from 1988:

As ever, post your thoughts on the readings below.


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Screening: The Art of Rap

This week we’re going to screen Ice-T’s 2012 documentary, Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap. Here’s the trailer:

I know that if you know Ice-T, you probably know him as Detective Fin Tutuola on Law & Order: SVU, but he’s been at this rap thing for a long time. You can also check out my review of his documentary.

The readings for next week (September 9th), are up on Blackboard. I was late getting them to you, and I figured we could all use an extra week to get into this stuff, so I switched them for the movie. There are two book chapters: one by Tricia Rose and one by Russell Potter. We will be discussing them in depth next week, so get to it.

“Hip-hop didn’t invent anything; Hip-hop reinvented everything.”
– Grandmaster Caz

For extra special treats and tweets, follow the class’s Twitter.

After we watch it, you can post your thoughts on the documentary below. Peace.


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Hello, Fellow Hip-Hop Heads

Welcome to our WordPress site. This is where you will post your reading responses. Please see the syllabus for rules, regulations, and requirements.

Here is an overview of a few of the things we’ll be studying this semester:


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