College was never this cool. Of course, most college courses aren't held at Seattle's Experience Music Project, and most don't feature a hip-hop tutorial taught by members of the Beat Junkies, Dilated Peoples, and the Jurassic 5.
Members of all three bands took a break from record-shopping and preparing for Friday night's "Word of Mouth" tour performance at the Showbox to set up in the EMP's JBL Theater to deliver a one-hour lesson on hip-hop history, turntable techniques, and MCing.
Beat Junkie DJ Rhettmatic seemed visibly nervous in his role as lecturer but also undeniably excited to have the chance to teach an eager crowd about how he and the rest of his crew, DJs Shortkut and Babu, create their music.
While it's often difficult to see all the hand movements of a lightning-quick DJ, the Junkies slowed down enough for their tricks to be seen by the human eye. The trio cycled quickly through various turntable techniques, explaining the intricacies of mixing sounds and the many forms of scratching, from stabs, chirps, and flares to the transformer scratch, which, as Rhett explained, derived its name from the sound that the robots made on the children's cartoon Transformers.
All three DJs went into detailed explanations of the origins of each technique and who first laid down each sound, paying respect to pioneering hip-hop artists such as Jazzy Jeff and Afrika Bambaataa for their contributions.
First and foremost, though, Rhett stressed that DJing is much more than just technical skills. "It's heart and soul that are the most important. Hip-hop is about expressing yourself on these terms," he said. "Looking to other cultures, other countries for records and music. Whatever is good, whatever has soul."
The Jurassic 5, with their DJs, Cut Chemist and Nu-Mark; freestyle MC Supernatural; and Iriscience from Dilated Peoples then joined the Junkies onstage for a brief question-and-answer session on not just on the music made behind the decks, but on what it takes to MC in front of them. J5's Chali 2Na summed it up best: "Just read. Whether you're sitting in the bathroom looking at the comics or wherever, just read. Learn the language."
A freestyle session hosted by Supernatural topped the course off, with each MC taking turns behind the mic and several extended jams by the DJs before the participants retreated to EMPs lobby to sign autographs and greet their fans.