Even though DJs like Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, and Grand Wizard Theodore were the leading figures of hip-hop during the 1970s, by the time rap hit the mainstream in the mid-'80s, the MC had begun taking over the stage. After all, to have any chance at radio airplay and commercial crossover, tracks obviously needed a vocal focus. Inevitably, the mixers responsible for the first hip-hop street jams were inevitably pushed to the back. Though the balance will probably never be righted, the increasing focus on all aspects of rap culture during the mid-'90s resulted in the emergence of Turntablism as a separate style. The stars here were the DJs, and instead of tight rhymes and smooth flow in their repertoire, they had scratching, spinbacks, phasing, and two-turntable acrobatics (or beat juggling). Some of the most popular mixers (DJ Shadow, most notably) constructed their mixes with literally thousands of records at their disposal, and the more obscure the better. Most were either drum breaks from rare jazz, soul, or funk records (instructional and educational records were also popular, given the nonsensical vocal samples). The avant-garde figure Christian Marclay began constructing turntable symphonies in the early '80s, using material from a variety of musical sources. In 1987, a relic of the disco era named the Disco Mix Club (later just DMC) held its first mixing championship. The contest soon became the stage for turntablists to flaunt their talents and earn the respect of their peers. Excellent second-generation DJs like QBert, Mixmaster Mike, DJ Apollo, and Rob Swift became leading figures of the emerging turntablism, some as individuals and some as part of new turntablist collectives like Invisibl Skratch Piklz, the X-Men (later the X-Ecutioners), and the Beat Junkies. Though albums by turntablists never quite crossed over to rock audiences, a new breed of mixer -- exemplified by DJ Shadow -- earned acclaim in critical quarters by downplaying the role of live performance and physical skills in favor of full-length studio works of art.
Other Styles in Alternative Rap