Origins Of Hip Hop: Grandmaster Flash Delivers Guest Lecture And DJ Demonstration

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Grandmaster Flash, one of hip hop’s foremost pioneers, delivers guest lecture to Dean Josef Sorett’s “Hip Hop at 50: Music, Religion, and Politics” class.

Before anybody spoke, students in the Lerner Cinema were on their feet in a standing ovation. Grandmaster Flash was in the building, and that was enough to excite them. 

On Wednesday, February 7, Grandmaster Flash visited Dean Josef Sorett’s “Hip Hop at 50: Music, Religion, and Politics” class to give a guest lecture and perform a DJ set. Students in the class received a guaranteed seat in Lerner Cinema, with an online lottery determining who could fill the remaining space. After a brief introduction and discussion with Dean Sorett, Flash took over and began his lecture.

Upbringing

Grandmaster Flash told the crowd about his upbringing in the South Bronx. He described watching his father go to the closet and pull out records before bringing them over to the record player. A curious child, Flash described how he finally decided to try it himself one day, which helped kickstart his love for music.

In particular, Grandmaster Flash described his love for a song’s drum break. However, he lamented the fact that they were so short. Flash made it his mission to find a way to extend the drum break on a song so it could be looped endlessly with no interruptions, something never done before. 

Flash continued by describing his teenage years during which he was obsessed with the technicality of recorded music. He detailed how he attended Samuel Gompers Industrial High School where he developed electrical, audio, and engineering skills. Between the ages of 15 and 18, Flash began collecting old speakers and amplifiers from a junkyard in an attempt to build the first DJ setup. 

DJ Setup

Grandmaster Flash explained that his setup involved two identical records on two different turntables. Flash could play the desired section on a song, often the drum break, on the first turntable. While this was happening, he could rewind the second record to find the same section that was playing on the first. When the drum break was over on the first turntable, he could switch to the second turntable and seamlessly transition to the beginning of the break, creating a potentially infinite loop. 

For this setup to work, both platters of the turntable would need to spin clockwise, but Flash needed to find a way to make the record spin counterclockwise while the platter spun clockwise. This would allow him to rewind the record without stopping the turntable.

To do this, Grandmaster Flash took felt cloth from his mother and wax paper from his kitchen and ironed them together, creating a low-friction surface. By placing this on top of the platter, the turntable could keep spinning clockwise while he could spin just the record counterclockwise with his hand, allowing his setup to work.

Quik Mix Theory

After explaining the origins of his DJ setup, Flash laid out his “Quik Mix Theory.” He explained that for every four bars of music that were played on the first turntable, he would spin back the record six rotations to find the beginning of the section he was playing. This allowed for a “full loop extraction.” 

Putting these pieces together, Grandmaster Flash demonstrated his DJ setup and Quik Mix Theory to the class. Flash took two identical records and demonstrated how he would spin one backward while the other one was playing. To demonstrate his Quik Mix Theory, Flash had the room count the rotations with him as he was spinning the second record counterclockwise. He then switched to the second turntable, demonstrating how it would make a perfect loop. Flash demonstrated his DJ technique to create the beat for a few famous hip hop tracks. 

After demonstrating his DJ technique, Flash took a few questions from students and left to yet another standing ovation.  

Grandmaster Flash via Ted Schmiedeler

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