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.1
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