Session 2: DJ and MC Roles/Musical Forms & Experimentation

Below are resources from the second session of the Digital Music Production Workshops at Carnegie Hall's Weill Music Institute in partnership with Building Beats.


From Wikipedia: A disc jockey (abbreviated D.J., DJ or deejay) is a person who mixes recorded music for an audience ... Originally, "disc" … referred to phonograph records ... Today, the term includes all forms of music playback, no matter which medium is used.


Traditionally, MC has stood for master of ceremonies or mic controller.
From Wikipedia: In hip hop and electronic dance music, an MC, otherwise known as a rapper, is a music artist and/or performer who usually creates and performs vocals for his/her own original material. An emcee focuses on skills, lyrical ability, and subject matter.


One of beginnings of the modern DJ stems from Jamaican sound systems and NYC block parties, in which the DJ was a celebrated part of the party crew who would often posses special one-off recordings or “versions” of popular tracks. Often these tracks would include a shout-out to the DJ by the performing artist. In this context, the MC originally served as the ‘hype-man’ for the DJ (also known as the “selector”). The MC would talk to the crowd about what they were about to hear, how great his/her crew was, how nice their system was, etc.

Eventually, the DJ became more than just a selector. During rap and breakdance battles, the DJ would play a specific ‘break’ for the performers to dance or rap over. The art of the DJ expanded with the advent of turntablism and scratching, to the point where the turntable began to be used as an instrument in its own right.

Over the years, the DJ/MC crew has taken many forms: in addition to crews that featured an individual DJ and an MC, there were also all-DJ crews that used turntables as instruments, and one-man DJ/MC combos who would rap while also spinning.




From Wikipedia: “Turntablism is the art of manipulating sounds and creating music using direct-drive turntables and a DJ mixer. The word turntablist was coined in 1995 by DJ Babu to describe the difference between a DJ who simply plays records and one who performs by physically manipulating the records, stylus and mixer to produce sounds. The new term coincided with a resurgence of hip hop DJing in the 1990s.”


From Wikipedia: “A break is where all elements of a song (e.g., pads, basslines, vocals), except for percussion, disappear for a time. … In hip hop and electronica, a short break is also known as a "cut", and the reintroduction of the full bass line and drums is known as a "drop", which is sometimes accented by cutting off everything, even the percussion.”



DJ and MC

  1. Watch: Rob Swift’s Turntablism set from “Scratch” (28:03 - 29:22)

  2. Watch: The X-Executioner’s Performance

  3. Watch: J-Live - Braggin’ Writes

  4. Watch: DJ Logic Performing with Marcus Miller (04:10 - 04:46)

  5. Notice that these DJ’s aren’t just playing music, they’re using the turntable to create music.  Notice especially, the improvisational technique that comes into play - whether the DJ is rapping and spinning, spinning with a group of other DJ’s or playing in a jazz band.

  6. Think about how a piece of equipment (a turntable) is completely re-imagined when in the hands of a DJ.


Kool Herc - Merry Go Round (1:35 - 3:15)


The digital music production workshops and these resources are the result of a partnership between Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute and Building Beats.  These resources are made available under the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Creative Commons license.



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Digital music workshops produced by Carnegie Hall in partnership with Building Beats are supported by the Hive Digital Media Learning Fund in the New York Community Trust.


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