Hip Hop DJs and the Evolution of Technology: Cultural Exchange, Innovation, and Democratization

By Christopher, Roy | The Journal of Hip Hop Studies, Fall 2017 | Go to article overview

Hip Hop DJs and the Evolution of Technology: Cultural Exchange, Innovation, and Democratization


Christopher, Roy, The Journal of Hip Hop Studies


Hip Hop DJs and the Evolution of Technology: Cultural Exchange, Innovation, and Democratization By Sirois, André. New York, NY: Peter Lang, 2016. Pp. xxi, 221. Paperback $33.99

Long before Hip Hop went digital, mixtapes, those floppy discs of the boom box and car stereo, facilitated the spread of choice beats and rhymes. But the rhythms encoded in those messages started as grooves in records. Manually manipulating sampled sounds, DJs hacked the whole of recorded music, datamining dusty crates of vinyl for just the right beats, breaks, and blasts. As Kodwo Eshun puts it in More Brilliant than the Sun, "the science of the scratch is massively difficult, demanding intense rehearsal. Far from being something anyone can do, scratching is intimidatingly elitist_As it currently exists, 20th C[entury] art can barely grasp the tonal history of turntablization."1

André Sirois, a.k.a. DJ Food Stamp, the man behind the turntables on mixtapes by some of my favorite emcees, including Sean Price, Planet Asia, Common, M.F. Doom, and Atmosphere, grasps that tonal history. In his book Hip Hop DJs and the Evolution of Technology: Cultural Exchange, Innovation, and Democratization, Sirois argues that in its complexity, Hip Hop culture is itself a new media culture. Current so-called "new media" can be traced back from smartphones and the internet to landlines and the telegraph. Following Hip Hop DJs' hacking of recording technology and playback from Grandmaster Flash's mixer toggle-switch and Grand Wizard Theodore's manual scratch to digital sampling and Serato, Sirois historicizes the technical evolution and cultural practices of Hip Hop DJs as new media. Emphasizing the network mentality present from the beginning of Hip Hop, he employs an open source metaphor to characterize the culture. "From my perspective," Sirois writes, "what these South Bronx DJs started was the foundation of the new media ideology present in popular culture today: sample, mix, burn, share, and repeat" (XVII).

Through free exchange and cooperation, the open source software movement has given us the Linux operating system and free software of all sorts, as well as many aspects of the Internet. …

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