Scratch (2001, Dir. Doug Pray)
I’ve recently become enamoured with the early stages of Hip-Hop culture after listening to the Wild Style soundtrack a few weeks ago. This has resulted in me going through some of the early classics of the genre and watching countless breakdancing videos on YouTube. There’s something utterly endearing of the New York roots of Hip-Hop and just the opportunity it provided young teenagers in the late 70s/early 80s to express themselves via any medium they so chose. I truly believe Hip-Hop was the American version of Punk.
A key part of the early stages of Hip-Hop was the role of the DJ; that was the individual laying down the hard work for MCs to rap over or for dancers to break to. The turntabalism style they utilised in the way they’d cut/scratch records to make a beat is to this day mindblowing.
Doug Pray’s documentary Scratch is a tremendous love letter to a style of DJ’ing that played a focal part in Hip-Hop and Electronic music culture in general. It focuses on the early forefathers of the style; Africa Bambaataa, Kool DJ Herc, Mix Master Mike, Grandmaster Flash, Grand Mixer DXT among others and brings it right up to speed (circa 2001) with DJ Q-Bert and DJ Shadow. It’s a fairly accessible film that doesn’t bombard newcomers to the style with jargon or intricate information that would go over heads; it tells the stories of people involved in the culture and shares some amazing footage along the way.
I’m now tempted to really look into the early emcees of the genre, specifically Rammellzee who is someone that’s a complete enigma both lyrically and personality wise (he seemed to be speaking about things from a completely different perspective than most). Despite this intrigue though, I don’t think the story of the MC is as focal to the genre of Hip-Hop as that of the DJ and I think Scratch really makes that point abundantly clear.