Five decades after the genre’s birth, there’s no denying the impact that hip-hop has had on American culture and societies around the world.
Even country music singers are embracing rap, and other elements of hip-hop remain on prominent display decades after their inception.
And while there are many pioneers who deserve credit for bringing this fledgling form of creativity to the masses, there’s one name that predates them all: DJ Grand Wizzard Theodore.
A Bronx tale
It was 50 years ago when Theodore Livingston, performing as his disc jockey alter ego, entertained a crowd at a private party in a New York City apartment. At one point, he debuted a new technique — the scratch — that changed the course of music history forever.
He is credited with inventing the iconic sound, created by moving a record back and forth under the needle, before he even entered his teen years. It all started when his mother told him to turn down his music. He scrambled to shut it off when she burst into the room, and he immediately recognized the potential of that unique sound.
Now in his 60s, he’s able to reflect on that monumental achievement.
The first step
While DJ Grand Wizzard Theodore’s scratch was a crowd-pleaser, it wasn’t enough on its own to revolutionize urban music. But when other entertainers started to experiment with the technique and add their own creativity to the process, it soon blossomed into the art form we all know today while giving birth to a new form of expression: breakdancing.
New sounds emerged, and eventually DJ Kool Herc figured out that these “breaks” could be repeated to create entirely new beats for emcees. Then, Grandmaster Flash combined several components into his “quick mix theory,” which ushered in the unmistakable sound of ‘80s rap.