Two Turntables and A Mic: A Music History of the Disc Jockey

The term “two turntables and a mic” refers to a disc jockey’s basic equipment: turntables to play the records on and a microphone that is connected to a mixer. This set up was originally claimed to be used by Jimmy Savile in 1947 for continuous play. The term has been used by many famous hip hop and rap artists in their songs such as Run DMC and Eminem.

The disc jockey, otherwise known as the DJ, is the person you hear on the radio picking out and playing your favorite music. There are many types of disc jockeys with the most common being the radio DJ. You might find a DJ at a club, wedding and even private parties. In certain types of music you will find the DJ’s using different types of equipment; hip hop DJ’s use more than one turntable, while in reggae the disc jockey is actually someone who raps over pre-recorded rhythm tracks with someone else being the one playing the tracks.

When the first disc jockey emerged onto the scene in 1909, the term was actually disco jockey, which was later shortened to disc jockey by Walter Winchell in the mid 1930’s. The term disc meant something completely different than what it does today. The disc was actually a phonograph or gramophone record, otherwise commonly now known as a vinyl record. The gramophone record was introduced in the late 1800’s and was mass produced in the music industry. In the beginning the phonographs were played on turntables, which were only able to play for a few minutes at a time. Today, full length records are able to be played continuously on the turntables, but DJ’s no longer just use vinyl records, they also use compact discs, and even computer media files.

Today’s deejays use more sophisticated equipment than their more contemporary counterparts. The basic equipment of a DJ today uses headphones, a DJ mixer, a sound system with amplifier, preferred medium of music, and two of the preferred DJ’s musical devices to play the music on. Many of the DJ’s use computerized equipment instead of turntables though club DJ’s use turntables for a more intimate and spontaneous environment. Their radio DJ counterparts are looking for a smooth transition between songs and don’t want or need the same type of equipment as their fellow club DJ’s.

DJ’s have had a large influence on hip hop. DJ Kool Herc is widely credited as being one of the leading pioneers in hip hop. He was born in Kingston, Jamaica and moved to New York as a child. Musically, he is credited with the break beat deejaying tradition. This gave way to breaking, otherwise known as “breakdancing”.

  "Herc would purchase two copies of the same record and play them on separate turntables next to each other. He would play the break beat on one record then throw it over to the other turntable and play the same part. Doing this over and over, he could rock any house in NY. (Not to mention it being an early form of looping that would be made easier through electronic sampling.)” [1] 

Rap, also known as MC’ing (emceeing, has its roots in hip hop and toasting, which is found in reggae. It began as a lyrical improvisation over beats of music created by the DJ. Gangsta rap, also known as hardcore hip hop, is another form of hip hop, where rappers focus on the street life of gangsters and thugs.

Deejaying has helped to revolutionize music, including hip hop, which is widely considered to be not just a form of music, but a culture. There will always be a special place for disc jockeys despite our need for technological advances and our need to simplify everything. In fact their future can only be brighter with the technological advances.

To find out more on the history of the DJ check out the links below.

Disc Jockey: Facts, Discussion and Encyclopedia Article: A detailed look at the history of the DJ.

History of Beat Mixing: A short look at deejaying and mixing.

Kool Herc: A profile on DJ Kool Herc

History of the Edison Cylinder Phonograph: Providing a detailed look at the history of the phonograph.

Charles Cros: The man who invented the phonograph at the same time Thomas Edison did.

The History of Turntabilism: A comprehensive time line of the turntable history.

Breakbeat: A look at the history of break beat.

Turntable History: A detailed look at the history of the turntable.

A History of Music: A comprehensive look at the different styles of music and their evolution.

History of Rap Music: A look at the history of rap music.

A Brief Summary of Jamaican Music: The different forms of Jamaican music.

When Did Reggae Become Rap: The evolution of reggae music.

King Tubby Profile: A biography the man who pioneered dub.

Good Tips for DJ Equipment: A look at what equipment a DJ needs.

Hip Hop Time Line: A time line for the history of hip hop.

Examining Hip Hop Culture: Links to interviews with well known hip hop artists.

The True Meaning of Hip Hop Culture: An article by Afrika Bambaataa, a well known DJ.

Run DMC: Who is Run DMC? A famous hip hop group.

Eminem: A famous white rapper.

[1] JohnG in Kool Herc biography