Grandmaster Flash On The Science Of DJing

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In the next installment of Smirnoff Inspire DJ series the legendary Grandmaster Flash recounts what inspired him to revolutionize the art of DJing forever.

37 years ago in my bedroom I would go out in the streets and watch the DJs play in the early 70s.  I noticed they would pick up the tone arm to attempt to pick it up at the top of the break.  If you put a record up to the light you would see that it has many grooves [and] the chance of you dropping the needle on that particular area on duplicate records is almost impossible, so I said to myself there has to be a way.

So what I did first was I started going around examining turntables. I judged turntables on torque, so that when you brought the record in backward forward motion that platter had to continue [to] spin clockwise. If you were spinning it back and forth and  had it slowed down that platter had poor torque. I tried every turntable from Fisher price to Pioneer to whatever. [One day] I was passing by a window and (I had a job at this time as a messenger boy, I use to deliver packages) and in this window was the most ugliest turntable known to man. It was by this little known company called Technics.  It was an sl20 belt drive I had to save up 75 dollars a piece [to afford it]. I had to take my school money, my allowance and do what I had to do.

The next thing I had to figure out was the stylus.  A stylus comes in two classification; there is conical and elliptical.  The elliptical was built like a backwards ‘J’ so when it sits in the groove it plays the left and right channel.  But the problem with the elliptical needle is whenever  I brought  it back it would all out the groove. The conical  was shaped more like a nail and although it did not sound the same as clean as the elliptical it would stay inside the groove.  Two parts figured out.

Third part was when you buy a turntable you get this ugly fat black piece of rubber that comes with the turntable.  I was noticing when I was trying to bring it back and forth it would cause the platter to go in a counter clock wise position.  So I would pull the platter off and then, God rest my mother she was a seamstress, so I had to get a piece of material  that would allow the record to move fluid.   What I did was I brought a album with me to the material store and I traced this stuff called felt, cause I remember when I was in school that was the stuff we used to make shapes. What I did was I took this piece of felt because it was so floppy and when my mother wasn’t looking I would spray it with spray starch and iron it until it was as stiff as a wafer.  So when I put it between a record and platter I was able to move it back and forth. Third science completed. They now call it a slip mat.

As I said earlier it’s impossible to repeat a area [on a record] picking the arm up.I know of one person that was able to do this successfully and it was my first student.  His name is Grand Wizard Theodore. Now the next problem was taking this particular piece of vinyl and putting some sort of sign on it.  So what I would do was take a either crayon or some grease pencil  and I would put a line so where ever the two met, wherever the two intersect with the beginning and ending of the break, I would mark both these two sides.  So that when I played the break s I could rewind this and count each time the white line passed. I now figured out a way to control time.

I called my DJ at this time at 3 o’clock in the morning, I begged him to jump in a taxi, his name was easy mike. It was 1974.  I said Mike”watch the way I make sounds with this particular get down part.  This is what it was called before we called it “cutting.” We called it “zucca zucca” and  it later got different names like “scratching.”

I never thought after 37 years of being ridiculed for ruining people’s records… I was disrespected so many times.  People was calling me ad and it’s just so wonderful to know that my science was appreciated, finally understood and followed by so many people around the world.  So if I got to be called a idiot, it’s good to know I got about roughly 20, 30 million idiots that do this thing I do.

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