Groove Music: The Art and Culture of the Hip-Hop DJ

Groove Music: The Art and Culture of the Hip-Hop DJ

Groove Music: The Art and Culture of the Hip-Hop DJ

Groove Music: The Art and Culture of the Hip-Hop DJ


It's all about the scratch in Groove Music, award-winning music historian Mark Katz's groundbreaking book about the figure that defined hip-hop: the DJ.

Today hip-hop is a global phenomenon, and the sight and sound of DJs mixing and scratching is familiar in every corner of the world. But hip-hop was born in the streets of New York in the 1970s when a handful of teenagers started experimenting with spinning vinyl records on turntables in new ways. Although rapping has become the face of hip-hop, for nearly 40 years the DJ has proven the backbone of the culture. In Groove Music, Katz (an amateur DJ himself) delves into the fascinating world of the DJ, tracing the art of the turntable from its humble beginnings in the Bronx in the 1970s to its meteoric rise to global phenomenon today. Based on extensive interviews with practicing DJs, historical research, and his own personal experience, Katz presents a history of hip-hop from the point of view of the people who invented the genre. Here, DJs step up to discuss a wide range of topics, including the transformation of the turntable from a playback device to an instrument in its own right, the highly charged competitive DJ battles, the game-changing introduction of digital technology, and the complex politics of race and gender in the DJ scene.

Exhaustively researched and written with all the verve and energy of hip-hop itself, Groove Music will delight experienced or aspiring DJs, hip-hop fans, and all students or scholars of popular music and culture.


A teenager walks into the Davidson Houses looking for his girl. As he wanders the maze-like hallways of the South Bronx housing development, he turns a corner and suddenly finds himself staring at a group of eight or nine young thugs drinking beer and smoking weed. They stare back menacingly, and start to move in. The boy is small and outnumbered—this will not be a fair fight. But then one of the stick-up kids, as they were called, recognizes him through the haze. “Yo, yo, it’s the DJ!” he shouts, waving off the others. “Let him through, let him through!” They step aside, and the DJ lives to see another day.

The DJ was Theodore Livingston, and though just fourteen or fifteen, he was already making a name for himself as GrandWizzard Theodore. A prodigy on the turntables, he was known from the local block parties as the kid who came up with that record-scraping move that was later called scratching. It was 1977 or 1978, and a new cultural movement was brewing in the Bronx, one that combined music, dance, and painting. This brew came to be called hip-hop.

The story of GrandWizzard Theodore is, in one sense, the story of the hiphop DJ. Like many DJs of his time and since, he is a hardworking professional and musical jack-of-all-trades. Unlike those swaggering, jewel-encrusted rappers who capture the attention of the media, Theodore, like most DJs, is unassuming and quiet. Like most hip-hop DJs he is technologically savvy, having honed the necessary skills to assemble, disassemble, and repair turntables, mixers, and speakers quickly and under pressure. And like all good DJs, he holds a musicologists knowledge of names, dates, tunes, and styles.

Yet Theodore is hardly representative of all hip-hop DJs. This is not so much because of his historical importance and extraordinary skills, but because there . . .

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