Fallen icon: Why the death of the DJ bodes ill for hip hop culture

Hip hop may benefit from a return to the crew and collective mentality, where the DJ is valued and plays a central creative role.

Since the inception of hip hop culture, the DJ has been its cornerstone. The culture’s starting point is widely accepted as the birthday party Kool DJ Herc threw for his sister at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, The Bronx, on August 11, 1973.

Kool Herc’s selection spanned the funk genre, and using two copies of the same record, he extended the break (typically a breakdown followed by a series of drum-only or drum and bass patterns). This pioneering DJ method set the tone for what became the core of hip hop DJing for the past 45 years.

For the rest of that decade and throughout the 1980s, the DJ was the first maker of hip hop and the linchpin of experimentation. The practice of scratching, mixing and cutting evolved through their various iterations and experienced many paradigm shifts thanks to DJs like Grandmaster Flowers, Grandmaster Flash and Grandwizard Theodore, and, later, DJ Cheese, DJ Jazzy Jeff and DJ Cash Money.

The Disco Mix Club, initiated in 1983, has organised world mixing championships for 31 years. These celebrate hip hop DJs’ skills and talents. This year’s winner, Japan’s 12-year-old DJ Rena, is the youngest champion ever.

DJ Rena, the youngest DMC champion ever.

The artistry of hip hop DJing is truly a worldwide discipline. From the incredible teamwork of the United Kingdom’s Scratch Perverts to the multidisciplinary approaches of South Africa’s Grand Master Ready D, mix DJs have revolutionised the broader field of dance music, and they have influenced other music genres too. But there’s now a huge, awkward elephant in hip hop culture’s room: the ghost of the DJ.

Going out

On 7 November 2017, DMC World DJ Champion of 1988, DJ Cash Money (Jerome Hewlett), announced his retirement on Facebook, posting in caps: “IT’S OFFICIAL I’M OUT OF THE GAME!!”

It’s a shockwave the hip hop nation is still feeling, and one that’s raised some questions. DJ Cash Money has toured consistently and successfully since 1988. In his retirement post, he stated that, for him, the music business has become negative. Dealing with overbearing promoters and agents was too problematic. A barrage of people have agreed with him.

The most common issue DJs as independent artists face is promoters’ unrealistic expectations. Coupled with reductions in how much the artist earns, it is understandable that DJs like Cash Money are looking outside hip hop to further their careers.

But there’s more than just money at stake. There’s a greater complex problem within hip hop culture itself: the DJ no longer takes a central creative role with shared responsibility for the overall sound, the design of the cuts and scratches in dialogue with the raps, and the live performance.

Jam Master Jay on the decks.

Run DMC’s Jam Master Jay was an exemplar of these methodologies. During the 1980s – when Run DMC were one of the most celebrated hip hop crews – the DJ’s input was clearly prominent within hip hop’s representations. Most hip hop albums of the time contained an ode to the DJ – a sole track boasting the DJ’s skills – such as Moe Luv’s Theme by Ultramagnetic MCs, DJ K La Boss by EPMD and Cash Money & Marvelous’s The Mighty Hard Rocker.


The exposure gained from success in the DMC Championships also helped their crew’s publicity. But at some point in the 1990s, the DJ’s presence seemed to fade from hip hop, which I believe links to the embracing of the sampler, a piece of digital hardware enabling the breakbeats to be extended without the DJ.

Beautifully produced albums such as “Uptown Saturday Night” (1997) by Camp Lo contain little evidence of DJ practice. It illustrated this increased trend as emcee-producers (rappers who produce their own music) MF Doom, Q-Tip and Lord Finesse set the tone for the arrival of the superstar rapper-producer. Cue: Kanye West.

The “theory of habitus” as presented by philosopher Pierre Bourdieu can help understand the evolution and position of the DJ within hip hop. In Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, Bourdieu explains the habitus as an embodiment of cultural capital evident within skills, disposition and attitude of members of a culture.

This evolution away from the DJ led to a shift in the mainstream construct of the habitus in the hip hop production canon; yet outside this canon the underground maintains solid links to the DJ’s position evident in the sounds of America’s Jurassic 5 and South Africa’s Brasse Vannie Kaap.

Drawing on Bourdieu’s notion, there is a dislocation within the habitus of hip hop. The underground habitus values skills, creativity and practice based on life experience, while the commercial habitus values the monetary gain that can be accrued from consolidation of such skills.

In the underground scene, DJs are clearly present in the final product, although all too often cuts and scratches are farmed out to DJs. These additions become decoration rather than an integral part of the song’s concept, which can drastically weaken the narrative.

Return to the crew

Hip hop may benefit from a return to the crew and collective mentality, where the DJ once again is valued and plays a central creative role. This repositioning could rejuvenate the dynamic that has been gradually engineered out of hip hop music. It can offer a counterpoint to the non-practicing promoters, agents and industry representatives who continue to drive the culture.

Hip hop needs to reflect on its own origins in order to project into the future, working once again from the ground up. DJ Cash Money’s retirement should send a critical message to hip hop practitioners worldwide.

The bottom line is hip hop music cannot be sustained with rappers and producers only, nor can it continue to elevate without its original musician – the DJ – at its core.

Adam de Paor-Evans is teaches at the School of Art, Design and Fashion, University of Central Lancashire.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Putting the patient first - insights for hospitals to meet customer service expectations

These emerging solutions are a fine balance between technology and the human touch.

As customers become more vocal and assertive of their needs, their expectations are changing across industries. Consequently, customer service has gone from being a hygiene factor to actively influencing the customer’s choice of product or service. This trend is also being seen in the healthcare segment. Today good healthcare service is no longer defined by just qualified doctors and the quality of medical treatment offered. The overall ambience, convenience, hospitality and the warmth and friendliness of staff is becoming a crucial way for hospitals to differentiate themselves.

A study by the Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions in fact indicates that good patient experience is also excellent from a profitability point of view. The study, conducted in the US, analyzed the impact of hospital ratings by patients on overall margins and return on assets. It revealed that hospitals with high patient-reported experience scores have higher profitability. For instance, hospitals with ‘excellent’ consumer assessment scores between 2008 and 2014 had a net margin of 4.7 percent, on average, as compared to just 1.8 percent for hospitals with ‘low’ scores.

This clearly indicates that good customer service in hospitals boosts loyalty and goodwill as well as financial performance. Many healthcare service providers are thus putting their efforts behind: understanding constantly evolving customer expectations, solving long-standing problems in hospital management (such as long check-out times) and proactively offering a better experience by leveraging technology and human interface.

The evolving patient

Healthcare service customers, who comprise both the patient and his or her family and friends, are more exposed today to high standards of service across industries. As a result, hospitals are putting patient care right on top of their priorities. An example of this in action can be seen in the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. In July 2015, the hospital launched a ‘Smart OPD’ system — an integrated mobile health system under which the entire medical ecosystem of the hospital was brought together on a digital app. Patients could use the app to book/reschedule doctor’s appointments and doctors could use it to access a patient’s medical history, write prescriptions and schedule appointments. To further aid the process, IT assistants were provided to help those uncomfortable with technology.

The need for such initiatives and the evolving nature of patient care were among the central themes of the recently concluded Abbott Hospital Leadership Summit. The speakers included pundits from marketing and customer relations along with leaders in the healthcare space.

Among them was the illustrious speaker Larry Hochman, a globally recognised name in customer service. According to Mr. Hochman, who has worked with British Airways and Air Miles, patients are rapidly evolving from passive recipients of treatment to active consumers who are evaluating their overall experience with a hospital on social media and creating a ‘word-of-mouth’ economy. He talks about this in the video below.


As the video says, with social media and other public platforms being available today to share experiences, hospitals need to ensure that every customer walks away with a good experience.

The promise gap

In his address, Mr. Hochman also spoke at length about the ‘promise gap’ — the difference between what a company promises to deliver and what it actually delivers. In the video given below, he explains the concept in detail. As the gap grows wider, the potential for customer dissatisfaction increases.


So how do hospitals differentiate themselves with this evolved set of customers? How do they ensure that the promise gap remains small? “You can create a unique value only through relationships, because that is something that is not manufactured. It is about people, it’s a human thing,” says Mr. Hochman in the video below.


As Mr. Hochman and others in the discussion panel point out, the key to delivering a good customer experience is to instil a culture of empathy and hospitality across the organisation. Whether it is small things like smiling at patients, educating them at every step about their illness or listening to them to understand their fears, every action needs to be geared towards making the customer feel that they made the correct decision by getting treated at that hospital. This is also why, Dr. Nandkumar Jairam, Chairman and Group Medical Director, Columbia Asia, talked about the need for hospitals to train and hire people with soft skills and qualities such as empathy and the ability to listen.

Striking the balance

Bridging the promise gap also involves a balance between technology and the human touch. Dr. Robert Pearl, Executive Director and CEO of The Permanente Medical Group, who also spoke at the event, wrote about the example of Dr. Devi Shetty’s Narayana Health Hospitals. He writes that their team of surgeons typically performs about 900 procedures a month which is equivalent to what most U.S. university hospitals do in a year. The hospitals employ cutting edge technology and other simple innovations to improve efficiency and patient care.

The insights gained from Narayana’s model show that while technology increases efficiency of processes, what really makes a difference to customers are the human touch-points. As Mr. Hochman says, “Human touch points matter more because there are less and less of them today and are therefore crucial to the whole customer experience.”


By putting customers at the core of their thinking, many hospitals have been able to apply innovative solutions to solve age old problems. For example, Max Healthcare, introduced paramedics on motorcycles to circumvent heavy traffic and respond faster to critical emergencies. While ambulances reach 30 minutes after a call, the motorcycles reach in just 17 minutes. In the first three months, two lives were saved because of this customer-centric innovation.

Hospitals are also looking at data and consumer research to identify consumer pain points. Rajit Mehta, the MD and CEO of Max Healthcare Institute, who was a panelist at the summit, spoke of the importance of data to understand patient needs. His organisation used consumer research to identify three critical areas that needed work - discharge and admission processes for IPD patients and wait-time for OPD patients. To improve wait-time, they incentivised people to book appointments online. They also installed digital kiosks where customers could punch in their details to get an appointment quickly.

These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the marketing team and not by the editorial staff.