I like books. I like Hip Hop. And I like DJing. So when all three are thrown together in one place, it has my undivided attention. Such is the case with “Groove Music” by Mark Katz. Details of it kept appearing in my inbox, as well as my Facebook timeline. So it wasn’t exactly a difficult task to track down a copy. Thus I fired off a message to the author requesting a copy for review, and back came the huge surprise and honour that I’d been quoted in the book. Well that’s me well and truly hooked.
It’s fair to say that I’ve been around longer than most of you reading this. And for much of that time, almost 30 years in fact, I’ve been a B-Boy and Hip Hop DJ (and for the record a House DJ too). While my knowledge of this subject is pretty extensive, I experienced a bit of a wakeup call courtesy of this book. It’s understandable really – Mark Katz, or as I should address him Professor Mark Katz from the University of North Carolina is many things, including a published author and “an aspiring turntablist”. So an academic combined with a hunger for knowledge in a specialised subject is likely to find out things that others would miss.
The book chronicles the very beginnings of Hip Hop , how it was created by the DJ, and how the Hip Hop DJ has evolved through turntablism to the present day. When I say Hip Hop DJ, don’t be expecting anything about the Khaleds and Flexes of this world. This is very much about the playing out DJ – the performative DJ as Mark puts it. This is all about how Herc, Flash, Bam and Theodore (to name but a few) developed the foundation techniques that brought together the wider Hip Hop culture, which subsequently escaped from the Bronx to spark a cultural change across the entire world.
Granted, this has been done so many times before, but Mark goes somewhat deeper into the roots, filling in gaps that I never knew existed, and giving a level of detail that has previously been missing. The first third of the book is a ridiculously rich goldmine of information gleaned from exhaustive interviews over a number of years. This is the part that I found most useful as I wasn’t there to witness it myself. And having access to the very people who created this art form, and continue to practice it to this day, you can be assured that the information is as authoritative as it gets.
The second third of the book talks about how the Hip Hop DJ evolved into artists in their own right, be it individually or as a crew. This is the real evolution from Hip Hop DJ to scratch DJ or turntablist as it were, where the likes of Qbert, Babu, the X-Men and Beat Junkies all became legitimate artists rather than just the guys who played the records. Here we see how battling evolved, with much detail about NMS, DMC and ITF battles, as well as wider acceptance from the mainstream allowing top 40 success, as well as the other side of the success coin. Some excellent info in there from Rob Swift talking about the ups and downs of mainstream popularity.
The last part is of most relevance to most readers of DJWORX, and certainly the part that has allowed me to develop a career out of my hobby – the evolving technology landscape and how it has changed DJing for ever, as well as where we find the Hip Hop DJ today – funnily enough right back in the parks of NYC where it all started.
There is A LOT to take in with this epic tome of history. Even for someone as well versed as myself, the level of detail is incredible. For veterans, it’s great to be able to read this from beginning to end and see the overview of things have changed. For beginners, it gives a huge amount of context as to why you’re using a controller with sync buttons, and where exactly all this modern tech that we now take for granted has come from.
This did take some time to read. It’s not a fluff filled coffee table book with more gloss than substance (hardly any pictures in this 333 page epic), but instead is crammed full of things you need to know, as well as an exhaustive discography, bibliography and notes section. I wouldn’t have expected anything less from Professor Katz to be honest. There’s also an extensive online passworded library of reference materials too. I see all the names that should be in it – icons and friends alike, and everything is presented in a way that not only gives you information, but provokes further and often controversial thought.
There have been all manner of books and videos over the years, but this for me is the definitive article about the birth and evolution of the Hip Hop and scratch DJ. “Scratch The Movie” was good, but there’s only so much you can say in 90 minutes. As memories fade, and people pass on, it’s hard to imagine that there will be a better archive than this. Buy it today without hesitation.
As for my appearance in it… well that’s another article in the worx.