Out of the Bronx and into the
With a simple repositioning of equipment, hip-hop changed forever. It was a gradual process, but in the late 1970s it became a common sight: microphone stands, and with them, rappers, or MCs, in front of the DJ. For the first halfdecade of hip-hop’s existence, you could go to any dance club or park jam and would probably see the MC off to the side, with the DJ holding the center of attention (Figure 3.1). But then crews started to form: The Mercedes Ladies in 1976, The Funky Four Plus One in 1977, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five as well as The Cold Crush Brothers in 1978. As the MCs came to outnumber the DJs, they naturally attracted attention. Dressed to impress with choreographed steps, simply the sight of three, four, or five MCs riveted partygoers (Figure 3.2). The DJs still tended to be the leaders of the crews—look at party flyers from 1978, 1979, and later, and the DJs usually get top billing (Figure 3.3).’ But with this seemingly unremarkable shift in microphone placement, the relationship between DJs and MCs began to change. The DJ was no longer at the center of the hip-hop universe; a golden age of the DJ was coming to an end.
Although they were increasingly being supplanted by their MCs, this was also a time when DJs started to become known outside of the Bronx, some even gaining international renown. But the upward trajectory of the DJ was overshadowed—and slowed—by the meteoric rise of the MC. The story of these overlapping trajectories, and the growing independence of the MC and DJ, is best told through a phenomenon new to this era: the hip-hop song. Four songs in particular played important roles in the history of the hip-hop DJ: “Rapper’s Delight” (1979), “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” (1981), “Change the Beat” (1982), and “Rockit” (1983).