Fallinq Barriers: 2002–2011
“Like it or not, this is the future!” To some, these were righting words. The speaker was a representative from the DJ equipment manufacturer, Stanton, who stood sweating under the stage lights at a 2002 DMC battle in New York City as he tried to woo the palpably hostile crowd with his company’s new product.1 This was Final Scratch, a hardware/software system that allowed DJs to play digital sound files stored on their laptops using their turntables as controllers. The Stanton rep stood beside DJ B-Side, who had gamely been trying to explain to the crowd of several hundred on that hot summer night that with this new technology you could leave your vinyl at home and simply use two specially made records instead. Hecklers rained abuse on B-Side as he demonstrated the system; some started chanting, “We want vinyl! We want vinyl!” Never mind that Final Scratch did use vinyl; the mere presence of a computer plugged into the traditional analog system of two turntables and a mixer was offensive to some. “Many people who were there that night still call me “That Digital Nigga,’” B-Side recalls with amusement.2 After B-Side and the Stanton rep retreated from the stage, the battle resumed. A crowd-pleasing showcase by special guest A-Trak capped the night; well into the morning, Kuttin Kandi, MC for the competition, came out to announce that DJ Precision was the winner, with Boogie Blind the runner-up. None of them had used a computer.
Although many DJs resisted digital technology at the time, they were also curious about it. As B-Side pointed out about that night, “The crowd seemed mad and pissed publicly, but half of them came up to me to learn more about what exactly was going on.”3 This combination of resistance and curiosity reveals just how much was at stake: it wasn’t just that the tools of the DJ’s trade were changing, but their art and their way of life were being challenged as well. In the end, the Stanton representative was right: this technology was the future. Put simply, the introduction of digital technology has been the single biggest development in the history of the hip-hop DJ.