A laptop sits on a turntable that rest on a nightstand in the corner of a room, the laptop has music software opened on it, in the background there is a canvas that says Magnum Opus.

History of the DJ and Beginning of the Laptop Producer Era

By Jason Arline
Music Journalist

Hip-hop originated in the burrows of New York, where the kids that were too young to get into the late-night discos then took to the streets and had their own party. They would set up speaker systems in parks where different crews hailing from different burrows would compete for who had the best MCs or B-Boys, but the one person above all else was the DJ.

The DJ in the early stages of hip-hop was the center of attention. Their job was to constantly change out records on the turntables keeping the beat and party going all night long. As more block parties and new crews sprung up all over New York City one thing between them was universal about the music they played.

They would only play the breaks, the parts of the records where the vocalist stepped back and let the musicians take over. Through the constant practice of finding the right breaks on records and playing them on cue to the beat, innovators like Grandmaster Flash pushed DJing to its limits while striving for perfection.

Flash may be presently regarded as one of the greatest DJs that ever lived but as soon as DJs like Marley Marl used a sampler to make beats the DJ’s job began to become easier and more simplified. The production tools they began to use did a lot of the work for you making DJs like Flash a thing of the past.

As hip-hop and rap rolled its way into the ‘90s the beats that the youth rapped over became more intricate and complex thanks to Roger Linn’s Mpc-60. The MPC-60 was able to store and edit recorded samples allowing the DJ much more flexibility with his sounds in the studio. The MPC made DJs like 9th Wonder and J Dilla legends among hip hop beat makers for their creative sampling techniques.

They would record old records into the machine and then sequence pieces of the song or “chops” into new patterns. Sometimes they would sample whole melodies and others they would sample sounds like a kick drum or a snare to use them elsewhere.

They made it seem so easy, but as easy as it sounded they spent hundreds of hours perfecting their craft like GrandMaster Flash with his turntables. As hip-hop dominated the charts in the 2000s, earning it the respect it rightfully deserved from the music industry another innovative technology was about to change the hip-hop and music industry forever: the internet.

In the 21st century, laptops and cell phones are commonplace among society. Everyone has one or has access to one. The interconnectivity of our world is at an all-time high thanks to the internet. This has caused the music industry to change drastically due to the consumer and creator’s newfound accessibility to both the music we listen to and the music we make. With websites like SoundCloud and Bandcamp everyone’s music can be heard from wherever and whenever.

Software companies Ableton have developed digital audio workstations, or DAWs for short, that allow us to take all the powerful instruments and tools used in a studio to make music right on our laptops. The modern era of music is full of new and high-potential artists now that the tools needed to make music are readily accessible to the general public.

Had you told DJs like Grandmaster Flash or DJ Cool Herc in the ‘80s that in the future the DJ would eventually be just a thin piece of metal plastic and circuitry they’d probably laugh in absurdity, but that kid that would set up in the park with two massive turntables and speakers that shook the whole neighborhood is now just a kid with a laptop and headphones sitting quietly at a local coffee shop.

Featured image by Jason Arline.

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