Two turntablists face each other from opposite ends of a large room. One launches a flurry of scratches and then points at the other, daring him to do better. The second DJ gestures dismissively and scratches right back All the while, an attractive woman dances behind a third set of turntables positioned in between the two men, swinging her hips. The music stops and she purrs, “My first love—boys who scratch.”
This should be the point when the DJ wakes up suddenly, a smile on his face. But this is no nocturnal fantasy. The setting is an August 2001 television commercial for the clothing retailer, The Gap.1 The battlers are the celebrated turntablists Shortkut and Rob Swift, and the woman is Shannyn Sossamon, a former DJ turned actress. The fact that all three are clad in denim is no coincidence: this is a jeans commercial.
Though only thirty seconds long, the commercial speaks volumes about the state of the hip-hop DJ at the beginning of the new millennium. The Gap spot was just a part of broader changes taking place at the time. Starting in the mid-1990s, DJs were collaborating with pop, rock, jazz, and classical musicians, bringing the sound of scratching to new audiences. As soloists and as crews, DJs were recording albums, collectively demonstrating that they could be composers capable of creating cohesive, long-form works; a handful of DJs even developed notation systems in order to preserve their art and to claim for it a place in high culture. In 2000, DJs from around the world gathered in San Francisco for Skratchcon, an event billed as “The worlds first conference dedicated to the education and development of skratch music literacy.”2 Hosted by the Invisibl Skratch Piklz, this one-day program of public seminars revealed a growing consciousness among turntablists of their history and a growing desire to demonstrate the richness of their art. Two well-regarded documentaries, Battle Sounds by John Carluccio (1997) and Doug Pray’s Scratch (2001), exposed turntablism to those who thought it was little more than ruining