Once upon a time the hip-hop DJ was considered essential to the authenticity of any jam. Whether in the parks after dark or upon stage engaged in turntable rage, the DJ was the focal point of the festivities. Some were great at blending songs, while others were adept at scratching. But the very best did it all, cutting, scratching, blending and working the cross fader with ease. DJ Scratch is one of the best. As a DJ for EPMD, associated with Hit Squad and a league of MCs including Redman, K-Solo, and Slick Rick, to name a few. Adding Busta Rhymes' Flipmode Squad to the list of associations, few DJs have more proverbial skins on the wall than this Brooklyn-bred veteran.
“I was a DJ before it was popular to become a DJ,” said Scratch. “After Serato (DJ software) everybody became a DJ. I come from the era where I wasn’t just considered a hip-hop DJ. The DJ did it all. The DJ knew how to mix, he could blend, and he could scratch and cut. I come from that era. So, I play all kinds of music at a high-level. That’s why I get booked everywhere. Some spots in these exotic places want hip-hop, other places they want Top 40, they want pop, some of them want EDM (electronic dance music), but I play it all.”
“I don’t know when it happened, but nowadays the DJ culture has become partitioned,” says Scratch, who won BET's DJ battle competition Master of the Mix in 2011. “The EDM DJ only plays EDM. He don’t scratch, he don’t cut, he don’t even use turntables. Then you have the turntablist. The turntablist is considered somebody who just scratches. He doesn’t know how to do parties. Then there’s the radio DJ and the club DJ. I’ve always thought that a DJ is supposed to be able to do a little bit of everything. That’s the reason why I travel everywhere.”
In the game since 1985, Scratch has been a witness to the peculiar way that hip-hop culture has changed the world.
“One of the main things I remember was the late 80s. During the late 80s, R&B wouldn’t associate itself with hip-hop at all. Great R&B artists completely dissed hip-hop. You would never see a R&B artist doing a song with a rapper. Then, hip-hop completely took over everything. Now, R&B can’t survive without rappers or the R&B song has to have a hip-hop beat. That’s one thing I’ve noticed," he says. “Advertisements wouldn’t use hip-hop, then in the '90s started seeing commercials with Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble with two turntables and a mic, which is something the advertising industry was completely against just a few years before that.”
While rapping has been thrust to the forefront, the DJ has been moved to the background in contemporary hip-hop. “I think it’s because of the technology. In a way, the DJ is still running the game. But technology has made anybody capable of becoming a DJ. Promoters will book somebody who never was a DJ, like a singer or a rapper. They’ll book them before they book a traditional, regular DJ just because of whatever group he came from. That’s really the problem. It’s the technology because if Serato didn’t exist, all the rappers will still be making great music, and DJs would be doing the DJing, and the singers will be doing the singing, and whoever else would be doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”
Though Scratch spins hip-hop music for different demographics and eras on his Friday night show, "Scratch Vision" on New York's 107.5 WBLS, his musical pedigree was honed in Brooklyn, where he still ups the game.
“Right now, I’m doing a mixtape for the 20th Anniversary of Nas’ Illmatic album, which is my favorite hip-hop album. I’m doing a remix of that album. It’s Nas’ acapella over my beats. It’s called Scratch-Matic. I’m going to drop that on July 4th," he says. "Commercially, I’m working on an instrumental beat album and a compilation album. The compilation is about 80 percent done. I got a song from Rakim, one from Q-Tip, Fife is getting on that too. [There's] a song from Large Professor. I just wanted to do an album with all my favorite MCs on it. I got one from Busta Rhymes, and Pharaoh Monch, one from Diamond D, one from Kurupt and one from Bun B.”
Though a selection of beats and rhymes by a connoisseur like Scratch is certain to be one for the ages. Also noticeable is the fact that each of the individuals he has mentioned is from an earlier era of hip-hop.
“My whole argument with it is, stay relevant but always be yourself at the end of the day. Especially if you’ve had success in an era before what’s going on right now. Those fans still want that music from you. If you came out in '96, your fans are in their early 40s now. Those fans still need music to listen too. You can’t turn your back on them now. They’re your core fans. Busta has been good at introducing his core fans to what’s going on today, and Jay Z has been good at that as well. You gotta keep putting music out to remain relevant. You gotta do it because these kids attention span is real short these days," says the 46-year-old mixmaster. "You gotta keep hittin’ them in the head with something. On the other side of the coin, if you make one bangin’ classic, you ain’t gotta keep hitting them with joints every two or three months.”
While laying tracks for some of the immortals in the rap game, Scratch still tours in such exotic locations as Dubai, Munich, and less glamorous spots like, Allentown, PA. Carrying the blazing torch of pure hip-hop for all that wish to be enlightened, check DJ Scratch out at www.scratchvision.com.