Hip Hop DJs and the Evolution of Technology

Cultural Exchange, Innovation, and Democratization

by André Sirois (Author)
©2016 Textbook XXI, 221 Pages


Using interviews with world-renowned and innovative hip-hop DJs, as well as technology manufacturers that cater to the market/culture, this book reveals stories behind some of the iconic DJ technologies that have helped shape the history and culture of DJing. More importantly, it explores how DJs have impacted the evolution of technology. By looking at the networks of innovation behind DJ technologies, this book problematizes the notion of the individual genius and the concept of invention. Developing a theory of «technocultural synergism,» this book attempts to detail the relationship between culture and industry through the manipulation, exchange, and rights associated with intellectual property. While the subject of hip-hop and intellectual property has already been well explored, this is the first time that hip-hop DJs have been conceptualized as intellectual property because of their role in the R&D and branding of DJ products. The book also addresses the impact of digital technology on the democratization of DJ culture, as well as how new digital DJ technology has affected the recorded music market.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Advance praise for Hip-Hop DJs and the Evolution of Technology
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. Re-coding Sound Technology and the Vinyl Archive
  • Chapter 2. Exchange and Rights in the DJ Product Industry: Technics and Vestax Corporation
  • Chapter 3. Exchange and Rights in the DJ Product Industry: Rane Corporation and Serato Audio Research
  • Chapter 4. The Hip-Hop DJ as Intellectual Property: Research and Development
  • Chapter 5. The Hip-Hop DJ as Intellectual Property: Branding, Endorsement, and the Nature of Convergence
  • Chapter 6. Scratching the Digital Itch and the Cultural Negotiation of DVS
  • Epilogue
  • Notes
  • Glossary
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series Index


Writing a book is by no means a singular effort but is authored collaboratively. To me it is a mixtape: a rearrangement of ideas, quotes, and theories into something bigger than those individual parts. So, what would a mixtape be without a shout-out section?

First, I need to thank all of my collaborators in this book (you can see the full list in the bibliography). I am extremely grateful to all the DJs, many of whom are my heroes and people I look up to in this craft, who took time out of their busy schedules to let me interview them and share their stories and ideas with me. Thank you! Special thanks to all the DJs (more than 50) who took the time to fill out my survey as well. I also want to express my gratitude to all the representatives from the DJ product industry and recording industry who gave me an amazing amount of access and shared with me important (and often unrepresented) perspectives.

I also want to thank all of the DJs who did not make it into this book but have had and continue to have a powerful impact on DJ technique and the advancement of DJ hardware. You are authors of this book as well!

I am beyond grateful to Mary Savigar and the crew at Peter Lang Publishing for the tireless work (and patience) with this project through the many drafts of this book. Also, respect to those who reviewed various drafts of this; your feedback was so helpful and important.

← vii | viii →Most of the beautiful images in this book and on the DJpedia/DJistory flickr page are courtesy of the talented Zane Ritt. Zane, you’re the man! Thanks for all you have done for this project and spending long days listening to me rant on about DJ mixers as you take pictures of them.

Biggups to my dude Alex Camlin who came through in the clutch and designed the dope cover for this book. Thanks my man!

Props are due to the School of Journalism & Communication and the Cinema Studies Program at the University of Oregon for supporting this project. Since this book is based off of dissertation research, special thanks to my committee members for guidance and encouragement: Julianne Newton, Bish Sen, and Daniel Wojcik. I want to show extra love to my advisor Janet Wasko for so much help on this project and pushing me to publish it. Also, big ups to all my colleagues and students over the years at UO for inspiration on this project. I need to show love to my master’s thesis advisor, Shannon Martin, for all she did for me and pushing me to explore intellectual ­property law.

I have to give a huge shout-out to Loren Kajikawa for not only reading and giving me feedback on drafts of this project, but also for keeping me ­motivated and inspired to see this project through. And, thanks for inviting me to your classes to talk about DJ technology, show battle videos, and do demonstrations. I appreciate our friendship, my dude!

Major, major props to all the DJs who have directly influenced me, not only in writing this book but especially as a DJ. Many of the ideas here come from conversations with these people and cutting it up with them. So, big ups to Cue-Two, DJ Shade, Boondocks, DJ Jon, DJ Billy, Connah Jay, Celsius, Freeman, the GOLDEN DJs, and all the Skratchpad PDX fam. You all have helped me get better on the turntables. I am sure I am forgetting people here, but forgetting people is part of writing shout-outs.

Special props to my dude DJ Calibur for helping start DJpedia/DJistory with me, for many crazy Thursday nights on the turntables, and for our kitchen scratch sessions a la Flash in Wild Style.

I need to thank all the staff at UGHH.com for all you have done for me in the last 15 years and helping get the DJ food stamp name out there on reviews, mixtapes, and podcasts. Respect to all the people who still bump my mixtapes and show love to me.

Shout-outs to all the clubs, bars, lounges, venues, and radio stations that have given me avenues of expression in the last 16 years. Also, thank you to the incredible staff and friends at those places. I am also grateful to all the ← viii | ix →MCs, b-boy/b-girls, bombers, and other artists who have put me on in various capacities.

I am grateful for my parents, Judy and Gee Sirois, and to the rest of my family for the love and support over the years. I also need to show love to Bobby “The C” Winn for being an amazing influence and believer in me since I was a kid.

Most importantly, I need to thank my wife Lindsey Shields. You are an amazing woman, and I need to show my appreciation for all your patience and encouragement as you looked at the back of my head at my desk while I worked on this. Without your selflessness, I would not have been able to write this book.

Last, a shout-out to my animals. They are not only my friends; their love and therapy is the ultimate cure to writer’s block. So, thank you Spanky Davis the Wonder Chug and Inky the kitty. Special love to Doujah and Cheeva (R.I.P.) who lived to see me through most of this project; I dedicate this book to both of you.← ix | x →


Imagine earning an hourly rate of $100,000–$350,000 at your job. Not a bad wage; you probably do something important. This rate is reportedly what Paris Hilton earns per hour at her job, and not her earnings for celebrity appearances at events or sex-tape royalties; this is her hourly DJ rate. Yes, DJ rate! DJ Paris Hilton claims that this puts her in the top-five paid DJs globally.1

We should look at some other numbers, and these are in millions of ­dollars: $46, $32, $30, $25, and $21. Totaling $154 million, according to a report in Forbes,2 these are the combined 2013 earnings of the world’s five highest-paid DJs (in order): Calvin Harris, Tiësto, David Guetta, Swedish House Mafia, and Deadmau5. According to the same report, the top-12 earning DJs saw a total of $268 million in 2013. Even DJ Pauly D, who got his fame from MTV’s wildly (and, oddly) popular reality show Jersey Shore, made the list at number 12 by earning $13 million as a DJ in 2013. To put this in perspective, Calvin Harris’s $46 million in earnings are more than double what LeBron James (for basketball only, at $19 million) or Brad Pitt ($23 million) earned that year. And President Obama got the same $400,000 annual salary that Paris Hilton earns in a night of DJing (I said she is important).

Some of these high-earning “DJs” are also music producers, so they see heaps of publishing royalties for songs they write and music they make, which pads ← xi | xii →those numbers. But, with all the aforementioned DJs earning upwards of six figures per night to DJ at music festivals or in high-end clubs in global party epicenters, such as Las Vegas and Spain’s island of Ibiza, and with 50–150 gigs annually, there is no doubt much of those earnings are coming from packing clubs.

These are not 1 percent class, Koch brothers–type earnings, but within the context of DJing, this type of money marks a significant point for DJ culture, and even mass culture more generally. For DJs, the ascension from playing in under-lit, dirty clubs to global brands and multimillionaires is a notable transformation. The DJ stands as this generation’s “new rock star,” a phrase and concept that multinational corporations are embracing by placing DJs in television ads and as the faces of marketing campaigns.

The cultural industries are jumping on the DJ phenomena as well. For instance, Smirnoff sponsored Master of the Mix, a DJ “competition” reality show that aired on VH1 and served as one long ad for Smirnoff-brand vodka with DJing as the visual bait. Simon Cowell, one of the minds behind The X Factor and Got Talent franchises, has announced that he is developing a DJ competition television show along with global telecommunications conglomerate T-Mobile and SFX Entertainment called Ultimate DJ.3 Even McDonald’s and Red Bull have started sponsoring DJ competitions. There is great value in DJs as pop-cultural icons, and companies in various industries are investing in their brand value and cashing in.

Looking at the title of this book, one may question what Paris Hilton, Pauly D, and these other EDM4 DJs have to do with hip-hop, but what I am interested in is exploring the relationship between hip-hop DJs and millionaire celebrity DJs. Hip-hop DJs and celebrity DJs share the fact that they play and manipulate music for an audience, but I see the main connection being the technology that they use, and this book explores the hip-hop DJ’s role in the evolution of DJ technology in both technique and technical innovations. In the case of Paris Hilton and the “cash kings” of DJing, the technical innovation in question is digital DJ technology that has, for better or worse, democratized DJing. Without the innovations and creative labor of hip-hop DJs and the industry that grew around them, celebrity DJs would not have the technologies they rely on when commanding these enormous booking fees.

Hip-hop DJs have made important contributions to the evolution of DJ technology of all types—from turntables to mixers to vinyl records to digital vinyl systems—and have paved the way for today’s era of the celebrity DJ (or, celebrity as DJ, depending on how one sees it). Hip-hop DJs have made digital DJ technology possible through a series of technique and technical ← xii | xiii →innovations over the last 40 years. The influence has been pervasive because the needs of DJs, which are based on innovations in DJ technique, have been encoded into the hardware (the technical). Most of these celebrity DJs rely on digital DJ controllers, which are the remediation of the standard analog tools of a DJ: two turntables, a mixer, and vinyl records. These controllers work with software on a laptop, allowing DJs to select songs from a playlist and mix from one song to another (“beat-matching”). Controller systems also have algorithms that can beat-match songs with the press of a “sync” button, allowing anybody to DJ without having any skill or investment in the art form.

In the analog era, Paris Hilton and other celebrity DJs would likely not be able to DJ, or at least have to put in work to learn how to do it. Coming into the new millennium, companies realized that they could expand their market by making products that allowed anybody to be a DJ without investing time and money into learning the craft. To democratize DJing in this way, companies saw a need to make the most basic DJ skills easier; thus, they developed algorithms to automate some of these techniques. Without these types of DJ products, which come largely from hip-hop DJ innovations, there would not be the six-figure booking fees celebrity DJs currently enjoy. The ideas and innovations of hip-hop DJs have morphed into digital DJ products, whether it is advancement in DJ technique that indirectly led to product design or DJs’ contributions to hardware designs directly in research and development (R&D). Also, hip-hop DJs have allowed companies to use their authorship as brand name to help authenticate these products within the market/culture, a tactic that ultimately leads to more sales. The era of digital DJing and celebrity DJs reflects the culmination of a long process that this book attempts to reveal by looking under the surface and defetishizing the technology as a complex system.

For this book, I came up with the following definition of the hip-hop DJ:

The hip-hop DJ uses two turntables (or similar control surfaces) and a mixer to manipulate music (loosely quantified as a break) on 12” or 7” discs. The hip-hop DJ does not just play rap or hip-hop music, but takes music from any genre and makes it hip-hop by manipulating it and adding his or her own style to it. The hip-hop DJ must be able to take a small drum break or section of a song and use two copies of it to manipulate it on-time to produce new music. The hip-hop DJ is interested in collecting and archiving music, as well as sharing these collections with an audience.

The main idea is that a hip-hop DJ collects different types of music and rhythmically manipulates the collection using discs to make it hip-hop; essentially, mixing and extending rhythmic sections of songs from all genres and making ← xiii | xiv →your own music out of other people’s recordings. From there, it can take many forms, but based on formal and informal discussions, this is the root of the hip-hop DJ culture and art form.

The common scholarly and philosophical question asked, especially when speaking of digitization, is: How does technology affect us? While that question is surely important and attended to here, I am more concerned with the converse inquiry: How do we, hip-hop DJs, affect the technology? Surely there is an impact narrative to be written about the many ways in which new technology changes hip-hop DJ culture, but in this book I want to explore how hip-hop DJs’ development and advancement in the techniques they use to manipulate music has changed technical innovations. My inquiry is rooted in the exploration of how uses and products change one another and examination of this dialectic as a technological system.


XXI, 221
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (March)
Hip Hop Hip Hop DJ History of DJs Sound Technology Vinyl Archive Evolution of Technology
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XXI, 221 pp., num. b/w ill.

Biographical notes

André Sirois (Author)

André Sirois (PhD, University of Oregon), a.k.a. DJ food stamp, is an instructor at the University of Oregon, where he teaches courses on filmmaking and popular culture in the media. He has over 17 years experience as a hip-hop, scratch, club, and radio DJ. His scratches have been featured on numerous artists’ songs, including the gold-selling single by Spose, «I’m Awesome.» He is one of the founders of DJistory/DJpedia, a non-profit organization and archive dedicated to preserving and telling histories of DJ technology and culture.


Title: Hip Hop DJs and the Evolution of Technology