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DJ Scratch a disappointment
By Brian Offenther

DJ Scratch performed at Zeal (2 Zhongshan Rd E2) on November 9, not that you would have known that by listening to his set.

Some background: DJ Scratch is considered and has done a lot to deserve a ranking as one of the greatest hip-hop DJs of all time. The descriptor "legendary" affixed to his name while he was introduced by a member of local DJ crew/promotions group Hip Hop Hijack was a bit much, but not farcical.

He was the official DJ for hip-hop duo EPMD, adding scratches to their classic if somewhat overlooked album "Unfinished Business," and has produced a sizable percentage of the quality tracks of slumping rap great LL Cool J over the last decade.

Now for the negative: He's not as great a scratch DJ as DJ Premier, and he's not as great a producer as Kanye West. That's extremely harsh, even though in context it's not saying too much since Premier and Kanye West are the very tiptop of the field. Still, it's unkind. So why say it?

Because DJ Scratch seemed to continuously concede this point throughout his set. Many enthusiasts danced along to Scratch's mix, but instead of music, I heard an hour-plus concession speech. That's because DJ Scratch was content to mix the songs of others rather than play the songs that made him famous in the first place.

This is only the latest in a peculiar phenomenon witnessed Shanghai and I'm sure elsewhere by a wave of big name DJs, including Grandmaster Flash and Lil Jon. These performers made their name on music that is completely or nearly absent throughout their DJ performance.

That's like Elton John (who's coming to Shanghai) deciding not to play the songs that attracted an arena full of people like "Your Song" or "Candle in the Wind" and instead playing Alicia Keys' songs as more of the moment. The obvious question is: If the reason you attracted such a crowd is your ability, why dismiss it for a current trend?

There are two possible reasons. First, maybe they want to move beyond past work and don't want to be tied to prior successes. Fair point, but I doubt it, since what they end up playing is the default celebratory DJ set, not pushing the line at all. The other reason is cynical: Audiences don't know or care who these DJs are in the first place, perhaps only vaguely recognizing a name.

To prove this point, booking agents take note, as I have a celebrity DJ who will play all the hits for you: DJ Abraham Lincoln is available for gigs.


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