Rap music often revolves around the artist, who gets the accolades, adoration and top billing. But at one time, there was a clear understanding in hip-hop that the DJ was at the top of the food chain. Before the first rap record was recorded, manufactured and distributed, the DJ was on the ground floor of this thing of ours, rummaging through various record crates in search of the perfect breakbeat to move the crowd.
While disc jockeys have been around since the inception of vinyl, the early 1970s saw a new guard emerge that were not satisfied with only keeping the music spinning, but were willing to test the limits of sound and repurpose the old into something new. This trend, which originated in the Bronx with record spinners like DJ Kool Herc, eventually spread across the eastern seaboard and beyond, birthing a generation of DJs that would toil away in private, all for the sake of putting on a unique experience for fans of the culture.
As years passed, innovations were implemented that would change the way we view turntables forever. Scratching, cutting, backspins, needle drops and various other wrinkles were discovered, with each spinner going to extreme lengths on the turntables to prove that they were the undisputed champ when it came to rocking a jam. Over the years, the DJ has often been usurped by the rapper, who are often at the front and center. Those who are aware of hip-hop's history and that when the music stops, the party stops, know that the DJ is invaluable and will always be the glue that holds hip-hop together.
From pioneers like Grandmaster Flash, radio personalities like Mr. Magic, mixtape kings like DJ Clue to jacks-of-all-trades like Lil Jon, tastemakers like DJ Drama and esteemed craftsman like DJ Premier, the role of the DJ is multifaceted, and continues to expand as the culture grows.
In celebration of their contributions to the culture, XXL highlights 48 of the greatest DJs in hip-hop history that every rap fan should know.
DJ Kool Herc
On Aug. 11, 1973, DJ Kool Herc and his younger sister hosted a Back to School Jam in the recreation room at 1520 Sedgwick Ave., which many consider the birthplace of hip-hop. During the party, Herc, a native of Jamaica, unveiled a technique called "The Merry Go Round," playing breaks back to back. This development made Herc the first trailblazer in the culture and influenced DJs like Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa to follow suit. While Herc, who had stopped DJing by 1980, would not attain the financial success of his predecessors, he is considered not only the father, but the creator of hip-hop.
An architect of the sample-based sound that dominated East Coast hip-hop during the 1990s, DJ Premier's bread and butter came via his production work for The Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z and his own group, Gang Starr. But don't sleep on his raw talents as a turntablist. From filling up his tracks with scratched-up vocal samples to remaining a constant presence behind the 1s and 2s at various parties in New York City and beyond, Premo's standing in the DJ community is ironclad.
As Atlanta became a breeding ground for talent during the 1990s, Lil Jon was at the forefront of the scene as a DJ, rapper and producer. His contributions helped revolutionize the sound of the city. Initially spinning at house parties and clubs, in 1995, Jon was recruited by Jermaine Dupri to become So So Def's Executive Vice President of A&R, but kept his ear to the street as a DJ on local radio station, V-103. Lil Jon's star turn alongside the East Side Boyz and foray into EDM has yielded fanfare and critical acclaim, but he's remembered for helping put crunk and bass music on the map. These days, he's keeping his name ringing as a DJ across the globe.
Grandmaster Flash, the first DJ to become a bona fide superstar, is responsible for some of the most enduring innovations in turntablism to date. Employing the backspin technique, punch phrasing and scratching into his sets, the Bronx rep formed pioneering rap group Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, with whom he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. One of the group's most memorable songs is "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel," a seven-minute solo exhibition of Grandmaster Flash's prowess behind the tables that puts his wizardry on full display.
Many DJs have the ability to rock a crowd, but only a rare few can be credited with creating a whole sub-genre of music. Houston native DJ Screw accomplished this feat during the 1990s, when his custom-made Screw Tapes, which largely consisted of chopped and screwed mixes of popular local artists, put him on the map. Spearheading the Screwed Up Click, DJ Screw, who passed away on Nov. 16, 2000, is remembered as a southern rap pioneer and hip-hop icon.
Grand Wizzard Theodore
Born in the Bronx, Grand Wizzard Theodore, who learned the craft as a record boy for his elder brother, and DJ Grandmaster Flash, was implementing ground-breaking techniques such as scratching and needle drops as early as 1975. Spinning at venues like Danceteria and The Roxy in New York City, Theodore was a key component in hip-hop's migration downtown, and in 1982, released the pivotal single, "Can I Get a Soul Clap," with his crew, the Fantastic Five. The inventor of many of the tricks and trades DJs have built on over time, Theodore helped lay the foundation for what the culture has become today.
Before becoming the ambassador of Miami hip-hop, New Orleans native DJ Khaled got his start as a DJ spinning at local soundclashes and on pirate radio. Moving to Miami in 1998, Khaled hit the ground running as co-host of The Luke Show with 2 Live Crew's Uncle Luke on WEDR 99 Jamz, before debuting his own weeknight mix show, The Takeover, in 2003. The Grammy Award-winning artist earned a cosign from Fat Joe to become part of the Terror Squad and released his debut album, Listennn... the Album, in 2006. Khaled made the transition into a curator, churning out chart-topping albums and hit records while continuing to break new talent out of the South and beyond.
During the 1980s, Kid Capri's name reigned supreme on the streets of New York City. Slinging his mixtapes hand-to-hand, the Bronx native became the first wonderkid to take over the streets with his masterful exploits and showmanship. He was also first mixtape legend to release a studio album with 1991's The Tape. Capri was tapped as the house DJ on Def Comedy Jam, a position he held for several seasons before touring and work with stars like Jay-Z, Diddy, 50 Cent, Nas, LL Cool J and others. In 2020, Capri remains a savant when it comes to sending a crowd into euphoria.
Kool DJ Red Alert
Mentored by Afrika Bambaataa during the late 1970s and early 1980s, Kool DJ Red Alert joined NYC radio station 98.7 Kiss FM in 1982. One of the first DJs on radio to incorporate dancehall and record mix compilations of their own show, Red Alert quickly became a gatekeeper, spinning at legendary venue Latin Quarter (LQ). Helping launch the careers of Boogie Down Productions, A Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers and others, Red Alert has held down various slots over the years, with stints at radio stations KISS FM, Hot 97, Power 105 and currently has a weekly radio show airing on WBLS 107.5 FM.
DJ Drama is one of the game's frontrunners in the mixtape circuit, having experienced its highs and lows. He formed the Aphilliates Music Group with DJ Don Cannon and DJ Sense in 2003, and earned acclaim for hisGangsta Grillz series. The tapes helped propel the careers of T.I., Jeezy, Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane and others. He also held down slots on radio stations like Atlanta's Hot 107.9 and Shade 45 over the years. However, his career hit a bump in the road in 2007, when he was arrested, along with Don Cannon, as part of a police raid in conjunction with the Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) that seized 81,000 mixtape, computers, recording equipment and four cars. But he bounced back, by launching Generation Now, an imprint housing artists like Lil Uzi Vert and Jack Harlow. Drama was the last DJ to truly monopolize the mixtape game.
DJ Jazzy Joyce
Since landing her first club gig at the age of 13, DJ Jazzy Joyce has been a force to be reckoned with. Bred in the Bronx, Joyce made a name spinning locally before appearring on rapper Sweet Tee's 1986 hit single, "It's My Beat." In 1987, Jazzy Joyce's battle against DJ Cash Money at the New Music Seminar solidified her rep as one of the best at her craft, gender aside. DJing for rap group Digable Planets, teaching at Scratch DJ Academy and serving as a producer on Hot 97 for 15 years, Jazzy Joyce is a cultural treasure.
Prior to hip-hop fully standing on its own legs, Grandmaster Flowers was one of the innovators that inspired his predecessors with his style and flair behind the turntables. Based in Brooklyn, Grandmaster Flowers' ability to mix records disco and funks records together in sequence while rocking a jam was influential and helped him gain fans in future legends like DJ Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa and DJ Clark Kent. However, Grandmaster Flowers never saw the same level of success of his proteges, and passed away in 1992, without the fanfare reserved for a trailblazer and pioneer he deserved.
Mr. Magic is one of the first radio personalities to represent for the hip-hop community. His name certainly rings bells in hip-hop circles thanks to The Notorious B.I.G. name-dropping him on the song "Juicy": "Every Saturday Rap Attack, Mr. Magic, Marley Marl." Landing his first gig spinning on WHBI-FM in NYC, the Bronx native's Disco Showcase has been credited as the very first rap radio show. However, he is known for his groundbreaking radio show, Rap Attack, on WBLS, which featured DJ Marley Marl. The show was the go-to outlet for aspiring rap stars looking for airtime. Magic's radio show helped to inspire Boogie Down Productions to start The Bridge Wars. After controlling the airwaves during the 1980s, Mr. Magic passed away in 2009 from a heart attack.
Jam Master Jay
As the DJ for Run-DMC, Jam Master Jay helped put rap on the national radar during the 1980s, and was a major catalyst for the group's sound and image. In addition to manning the wheels of steel, Jam Master Jay, a trained musician, played various instruments on albums like P.E.'s Raising Hell, while flexing his skills on the cuts "Jam-Master Jay," "Jay's Game" and "Jam-Master Jammin.'" Launching Jam Master Jay Records in the 1990s, he discovered star acts like Onyx and 50 Cent, and founded the Scratch DJ Academy prior to his murder on Oct. 30, 2002.
Honing his craft under the tutelage of DJ Chuck Chillout, Funkmaster Flex bounced from radio stations KISS-FM to 107.5 WBLS-FM before landing at Hot 97 in 1992, where the Bronx native became the host of the first hip-hop radio show in the station's history. Known for his infamous bomb sound effects used in drops, Flex controlled the airwaves during some of the most fruitful periods for NYC rap. Releasing four gold certified compilations during the 1990s (The Mix Tape Volume II, The Mix Tape Volume III (Final Chapter), The Tunnel, Funkmaster Flex: 60 Minutes of Funk, Vol. IV) rocking The Tunnel nightclub with Big Kap and continuously diversifying his portfolio, Flex will be remembered as the first DJ to truly brand himself in the mainstream. Now he remains active as ever.
DJ Green Lantern
DJ Green Lantern's powers behind the turntables makes his moniker more fitting than most. The Rochester, N.Y. native threw his hat into the mixtape market of the early aughts, quickly setting himself apart from the pack with the creativity of his mixes. Tapped by Eminem to become his tour DJ in 2001, Green Lantern would later hit the road with Nas and Jay-Z. He's gone on to build a strong following internationally. From his Invasion mixtape series to classic collaborative tapes with Jadakiss, Beanie Sigel, Wiz Khalifa and others, Green Lantern's place in the pantheon of DJs is secured.
DJ Doo Wop
When the mixtape game was at its competitive peak, DJ Doo Wop emerged as one of its top contenders. Doo Wop, who began making mixes as early as 1989, hit the scene in 1993, but reached his apex with '95 Live, a two-part mixtape series that helped revolutionize the way mixtape intros were made by recruiting the hottest rappers to open the tape. Inking a deal with Virgin Records before moving on to Universal, Doo Wop, who repped for the Latin community as one-half of the Diaz Bros. with DJ Tony Touch, put together a memorable run that remains legendary.
DJ Kay Slay
Known in hip-hop circles as "The Drama King," DJ Kay Slay spent the peak years of his run dropping the latest exclusives while threatening to slap your favorite DJ in the next breath. A native of Harlem, Kay Slay, a former graffiti writer, entered the conversation of hottest mixtape DJ in New York during the late 1990s and early aughts, contributing to classic beefs and championing New York's aggressive stable of spitters. Spinning at Hot 97 during the 2000s, Kay Slay, who is currently at Shade 45, has released various compilations via his Streetsweepers imprint and remains a voice of the streets.
DJ Clark Kent
Making his break into the industry during the late 1980s as the DJ for rap star Dana Dane, DJ Clark Kent has long been one of hip-hop's chief arbiters of dope. Earning production credits on records by Junior M.A.F.I.A. ("Player's Anthem"), Jay-Z ("Brooklyn's Finest, "Coming of Age," "Cashmere Thoughts") and others, the Brooklyn native also helped facilitate Brooklyn rapper Shyne's record deal with Bad Boy Records. An omnipresence in the DJ world over the past three decades and counting, Clark Kent's raw skills and crowd control has allowed him to remain one of the most sought after jockeys in the game.
Hip-hop's relationship with the U.K. runs deep, with Tim Westwood being credited with helping to bridge the gap while expanding the culture's reach across the pond. Getting his start on U.K. radio stations Kiss FM and LWR during the 1980s, Westwood set up shop on Capital FM, where he held court until his departure from the station in 1994. That same year, Westwood launched Radio 1 Rap Show with a live performance with The Notorious B.I.G. and Diddy. Leaving BBC Radio to return to Capital Radio in 2013, where he currently spins, Westwood's role in championing the art cannot be understated.
DJ Whoo Kid
A product of Queens Village, N.Y., DJ Whoo Kid is an accomplished spinner, with a work ethic that's afforded him a robust resume. After spending the 1990s taking the traditional route to success in the mixtape game, DJ Whoo Kid linked up with 50 Cent and G-Unit, with whom he helped change the way mixtapes were made forever during the early aughts. The man has countless mixtape hosting credits to his name and has traveled the globe spinning far and wide. Branching out and working with the likes of D-Block, Snoop Dogg, Max B and others throughout the years, Whoo Kid has evolved into a media titan, but can usually be spotted in a booth near you. Check him out on SiriusXM Shade45, where you can hear his radio show The Whoolywood Shuffle.
Home to elite, battle-tested lyricists, Philadelphia has always been a hard crowd to impress, but DJ Cosmic Kev has continuously served as a conduit in showcasing the best talent that the city has to offer. Beginning his career at Power 99 FM during the early 1990s, Kev's mixshow provided a platform for local stars like State Property, Major Figgas, Philly's Most Wanted, and even helped facilitate Meek Mill's introduction to Rick Ross in 2010. Known for delivering exclusive freestyles by the biggest stars in rap, Cosmic Kev is synonymous with bars and staying true to the tenants of his craft.
Since dropping his first mix in 1991, Tony Touch has been one of rap's most prolific DJs. Flooding the streets with iconic mixtapes like his 50 MCs trilogy, and touring alongside Cypress Hill, Guru, Rock Steady and the Beatnuts, the Brooklyn rep also made an impact on radio. He landed his first gig on an AM station in Orlando, followed by stints at Hot 97 and Power 105. Ultimately, he ended up at SiriusXM Shade45, where he hosts Toca Tuesdays. Tony Touch, who's released five studio albums to date including his debut LP, The Piece Maker, and over 300 mixtapes, remains a staple at various NYC venues.
DJ Scratch crash landed on the scene in 1988, winning the Battle For World Supremacy DJ championship at that year's New Music Seminar, and earning a gig as the DJ for rap group EPMD. Known for his proficiency in cutting and scratching, the Brooklyn native and three-time Grammy Award nominee first appeared on EPMD's Unfinished Business album and has produced on 44 gold and platinum albums over the past three decades. He is the owner of ScratchVision, where you can tune in to watch Scratch at work. Named the 2010 Master of the Mix champion and the Global Spin Awards' Turntablist of the Year from 2012 through 2014, Scratch is likely your favorite DJ's favorite DJ.
When a DJ like Marley Marl gets name-dropped in one of the greatest hip-hop songs of all-time, it's just another sign he's got the hip-hop creds to secure his spot when highlighting some of the best DJs of all-time. The Notorious B.I.G. gave Marley his props back in 1994 on the song "Juicy," when he spit, "Every Saturday Rap Attack, Mr. Magic, Marley Marl." Aside from the DJ forming the Juice Crew with Mr. Magic, he received props for producing Roxanne Shante's classic track "Roxanne's Revenge" and inspiring plenty of the game's rap stars from RZA to DJ Premier. His production work can be found on his own albums like In Control Vol. 1, in addition to golden-era artists like Big Daddy Kane and LL Cool J.
While there will forever be debate over who jumpstarted the trend of layering vocals from R&B classics over breakbeats, Ron G made it his signature sound. The DJ, who cites DJ Red Alert as his inspiration, helped bridge the gap between genres while pushing the culture forward. Hailing from Harlem, Ron G, who also produced tracks for a list of rap artists, including Fat Joe, The Lost Boyz and the late Tupac Shakur, was named Best Mixtape Producer at the 6th Annual Justo Mixtape Awards, a testament to his excellence.
If it wasn't for Stretch Armstrong, it's quite possible that we would have never heard of some of the greatest rap artists of all-time. In 1990, Armstrong, a New York native, hooked up with Bobbito Garcia to launch The Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show, an underground hip-hop radio show that helped put relative unknown rappers at the time like Nas, Jay-Z, The Notorious B.I.G., Wu-Tang Clan, Big L and others on the rap radar. Continuing to spin for the love of the craft, Armstrong's place in hip-hop history is secured.
Ever since earning the attention of the legendary Kool DJ Red Alert, who asked Enuff to fill in for him on his radio show on 98.7 KISS FM years ago, DJ Enuff has been a fixture in the rap world. In 1994, Enuff's career went on the uptick when Diddy asked the Brooklyn native to become the official road DJ for rap star The Notorious B.I.G., whom he worked with until his death in 1997. The famed DJ has had a longstanding career as a radio DJ on Hot 97, helping break records from rappers within the five boroughs and beyond. The creator of the Heavy Hitters, a crew of DJs across the country that includes Kanye West, DJ Enuff is not only an ambassador, but a legend.
DJ Jazzy Jeff
Equally beloved and respected, DJ Jazzy Jeff has spent over three decades leaving listeners in awe. Becoming a breakout star as one half of the rap duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, the Philly rep helped popularize the transformer scratch on records like "The Magnificent Jazzy Jeff and "Live at Union Square (November 1986)," a standout track in his arsenal that set him apart from his contemporaries. Releasing two compilation albums, The Magnificent and Return of the Magnificent, hosting his annual PLAYlist Retreat and spinning at events around the globe, DJ Jazzy Jeff's longevity and staying power is unprecedented.
In hip-hop, when it comes to securing exclusive records and freestyles, DJ Clue is in a class of his own. During the mid 1990s, the Queens native sent the industry and the street into an uproar with his mixtapes, which included unauthorized, unreleased songs by rap's elite. He flipped his hustle into a career on radio, becoming the first DJ to release a platinum certified album with his 1998 release, The Professional. Throughout his career, Clue discovered and signed multiplatinum rap star Fabolous. DJ Clue's track record as a party rocker, talent scout and mixshow DJ is without blemish.
Afrika Bambaataa, a DJ based out of The Bronx River Houses in the South Bronx and an early champion of the breakbeat, became the leader of a movement after forming the Universal Zulu Nation during the late 1970s. In 1982, Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force released the single "Planet Rock," which heavily incorporated elements of electronic music, inspiring a number of artists and DJs to tap into the genre. Nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, Afrika Bambaataa's impact and influence remains significant within the culture.
First reaching prominence during the late 1980s and early 1990s as the DJ for rap legend Big Daddy Kane, Mister Cee's contributions to hip-hop are invaluable. An early champion of The Notorious B.I.G., the Brooklyn native served as an associate executive producer on Biggie's Ready to Die album, before spinning on New York radio station Hot 97 for 21 years. Currently holding down the afternoon slot on Radio 103.9 (WNBM-FM), Mister Cee continues to control various crowds on the NYC club circuit while bridging the gap between the old and new school.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Roc Raida and the X-Ecutioners mastered the art of turntablism. Born in New York City, Roc Raida confirmed his status as a formidable DJ with his win in the 1995 DMC World DJ Championship, before manning the boards for rappers MF Grimm and Busta Rhymes throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Roc Radia was inducted into the DMC Hall of Fame in 1999, and won the Mash-Up Mixtape of the Year at the Justo Mixtape Awards for his Rock Phenomenon album in 2005, before passing away on Sept. 19, 2009, from cardiac arrest.
At a time when uptown set the tone for what was hot in New York's streets, DJ Brucie B was at the epicenter of it all. Starting his journey in 1977, the Bronx native caught his first big gig spinning at the legendary Disco Fever nightclub. However, Brucie B's apex came during his time at Harlem hotspot The Rooftop, with live recordings of his sets going for upwards of $100. A 1990 conviction on drug charges stalled his momentum, but stints working with Bad Boy Records and Roc-A-Fella Records, as well as his involvement in the film Paid in Full, has kept his legend intact.
Hailing from San Francisco, DJ Qbert is universally regarded as one of the best to ever drop a needle on a record. A member of the Rock Steady DJs, Qbert is the owner of multiple DMC titles, including USA Champion 1991 (solo) World Champion 1992—Rock Steady DJs (Qbert, Mixmaster Mike & Apollo) and DMC World Champion 1993—Dreamteam (Qbert & Mixmaster Mike). A member of the DMC DJ Hall of Fame, DJ Qbert has become a fixture in pop culture, appearing as himself in Tony Hawk's Underground and DJ Hero 2.
Few figures were more pivotal in highlighting West Coast talent than DJ King Tech, who helmed the 1s and 2s during The Wake Up Show's initial run in the 1990s. Winning a competition that gave Tech and Sway Calloway the opportunity to air a 40-minute mix on local radio station 106.1 KMEL, the duo flourished, with The Wake Up Show becoming a flagship program in San Francisco and beyond. From embracing up-and-coming artists in the area, to introducing future stars like Jay-Z, Wu-Tang Clan and Eminem to a West Coast audience, King Tech's contributions to hip-hop are monumental and garners the ultimate respect of his peers.
DJ Chuck Chillout
When a resume includes helping introduce DMX to the masses, the hip-hop card is certified. Chuck Chillout lays claim to that accomplishment, being one of the first DJs to play the rapper's debut track "Get at Me Dog" in the late 1990s. But even before then, Chuck got his start on the radio at WRKS 98.7 Kiss FM in New York City in 1982. The Bronx native has been repping hip-hop for nearly 40 years, almost as long as the genre has been alive and thriving. From becoming a member of the group The B-Boys to releasing his Masters of the Rhythm album with Kool Chip, he's made his mark in the game. These days, Chuck Chillout can be heard spinning on Saturday nights on radio station WBLS in New York City.
A member of the World Famous Beat Junkies DJ crew, DJ Babu's arsenal of awe-worthy tricks behind the wheels precedes him. Raised in California, Babu, a prolific battle DJ with wins at the Vestax World Championships and multiple ITF titles, is credited with making advancements in the art of beat juggling with his "Blind Alley" routine. He also produced the classic battle record Super Duck Breaks under the name The Turntablist. Finding commercial success as a member of Dilated Peoples, Babu currently spins on Beat Junkie Radio on Dash Radio, and teaches at the Beat Junkie Institute of Sound alongside his crew.
Being a mentee to an iconic figure in your craft can result immense pressure, however, DJ Envy has spent the past few decades carving out his own lane. Taken under the wing of DJ Clue, Envy grew into his own during the early aughts, with a succession of mixtapes setting the streets ablaze. Releasing The Desert Storm Mixtape: Blok Party, Vol. 1., in 2003, Envy has since released multiple compilations while navigating the club DJ circuit with sustained success. After a lengthy tenure on Hot 97, Envy is currently a host, alongside Angela Yee and Charlamagne Tha God, on Power 105's The Breakfast Club, a gig he's held down over the past decade.
The youngest DJ to ever win the DMC World DJ Championships, all three major DJ competition titles (DMC, ITF and Vestax), and the first to win five World Championships, DJ A-Trak's run during the late 1990s is unparalleled. Becoming Kanye West's tour DJ in 2004, A-Trak founded Fool's Gold Records with Nick Catchdubs and Dust La Rock in 2007, which become one of the most influential and diverse imprints in music. And with his ties to rap stars like Jay-Z, Lupe Fiasco, Kid Cudi, Juicy J, Danny Brown, Run–DMC, The Roots and more, A-Trak's credentials within the culture are certified.
The DJ and rapper are synonymous in hip-hop and Bronx native Pete Rock drove that point home with precision as part of the duo of Pete Rock & CL Smooth in the 1990s. Their union began in 1991 with the EP All Souled Out, which showcased Pete's knack for using obscure soul and jazz records. One of their most acclaimed songs, "They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)," proved once again just how nice Pete Rock was behind the boards. Though the group split up, that didn't stop Pete's career. As a DJ, producer and hip-hop connoisseur, he's gone on to craft the beats for countless rap albums, from old school to new, and release his own instrumental packs. Last year, he dropped the Retropolitan album with Skyzoo, providing just another example that Pete Rock's flair with the soundscapes only get better with time.
Manipulating a crowd using music is a key component in being a great DJ, but being able to keep the public holding on to your every word is what separates the elite from their counterparts. DJ Hollywood was among the first to display a knack for both, as the Harlem native littered his sets with lengthy syncopated rhyme skills, effectively birthing what we now know as "flow." He also graced the stage with his partner-in-rhyme Lovebug Starski throughout the 1980s. The first DJ to perform at the Apollo Theater in Harlem by using turntables and a mixer, Hollywood reigned supreme from the mid 1970s through the early 1980s. He's revered by hip-hop historians and true school enthusiasts.
DJ Cash Money
Philadelphia is highly regarded as a breeding ground for talented DJs, a reputation that was started, in large part, by DJ Cash Money. He's lauded for his arsenal of tricks, which includes signatures like the Transform scratch, the Pee Wee Herman scratch and the Chirp scratch. Winning the New Music Seminar Supermen DJ Battle in 1987, and the DMC World DJ Championships title the following year, Cash Money, the first inductee into the DJ Hall of Fame, has worked with Snoop Doog, Busta Rhymes, Public Enemy, and others over the years, leaving a lasting impact on Philly hip-hop in the process
DJ Greg Street
DJ Greg Street has consistently remained near the top of influential DJs out of the South. Born in Mississippi, Street's ingenuity shined through when he began connecting his guitar to his turntables, ultimately taking his talents to a succession of radio stations in the region, including 93 BLX in Mobile, Ala., Magic 102 in Houston and K-104/KKDA in Dallas. Currently spinning on V-103 in Atlanta, Greg Street's role in helping break rappers Future and Travis Porter, along with his expansive musical palette providing the soundtrack to the streets, has bolstered his standing within the southern rap community.
Michael "5000" Watts
As the Houston rap scene began to bubble during the mid-1990s with DJ Screw's chopped-and-screwed sound at the forefront, Michael "5000" Watts, a DJ from the North Side of Houston, began building an empire of his own. Founding Swishahouse Records with partner OG Ron C in 1995, Watts' influence in putting H-Town on the map was evident throughout the aughts, with acts like Slim Thug, Mike Jones, Chamillionaire and Paul Wall achieving mainstream success. With 30 years in the booth under his belt, Michael "5000" Watts is regarded as an O.G. in the South, with a passion for pushing the culture forward.
When a DJ gets inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, their place within hip-hop culture is solidified, which is exactly what happened to Terminator X. The DJ built a name for himself manning the turntables for Public Enemy during the rap group's first run of classic albums like It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. After he left the group in 1998, he released his own projects, Terminator X & The Valley of the Jeep Beets (1991) and Super Bad (1994), featuring artists Chuck D, DJ Kool Herc and the Cold Crush Brothers. In 2013, X and Public Enemy were inducted into theRock & Roll Hall of Fame. These days, X spends his time as an ostrich farmer in rural North Carolina.
While DJing in hip-hop is often looked at as a boys' club, Spinderella proved that the ladies were just as welcome. Her work as a DJ for Salt-N-Pepa, which kicked off in the late 1980s, allowed her to showcase her flair and skills on the 1s and 2s. Mixing records, hyping up the crowd and gracing the stage with the rap duo wasn't her only claim to fame. Spinderella's production savvy appeared on several of Salt-N-Pepa's albums including "Blacks' Magic" on the 1990 album of the same name and "Step" on 1993's Very Necessary. Throughout the years, she's taken her talents to spin on radio station KKBT 100.3 in Los Angeles, and launched the Spinderella DJ Academy. She's also a Grammy Award-winning artist, taking home Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group with Salt-N-Pepa for their song "None of Your Business" in 1995.
Statik Selektah made his presence known during the early aughts with his Spell My Name Right mixtape series, which led the Boston native to a gig spinning on SiriusXM Shade 45 in 2005, which he holds to this day. In 2006, he formed ShowOff Records, which features a string of compilations by Statik, as well as collaborative projects pairing him with the likes of rappers Termanology, Saigon, Curren$y, Freeway, Freddie Gibbs, Action Bronson, Bun B, Paul Wall and others. He has since become one of the standard bearers for pushing lyrically-driven hip-hop to the forefront and ranks among the greatest DJs to ever come out of New England.