Now, I don’t know what happened to this kid after high school, but I think it’s safe to assume he’s not a logic professor. Still, maybe he was more prescient than I’m giving him credit for, considering that within a year of his prophecy, Run D.M.C. and the toxic twins’ cover of “Walk This Way” dominated MTV and radio alike. Wait, come on– anyone who’s even remotely aware of hip-hop knows scratching ain’t scratching unless there’s a turntable involved.
Not surprisingly, Aerosmith are nowhere to be found on Scratchology, the latest mix CD in a series that previously put the Beat Junkies’ DJ Babu, Dan the Automator and Slum Village to the mixtape challenge. This time around, Sequence aims to outline the history of scratching with tracks selected and mixed by that highest-profile of turntablist crews, the X-ecutioners. Moving from 1981 to the present, in roughly chronological order, the X-men sprinkle spoken testimonials in with impeccably arranged rare tracks and standard-bearers, giving the disc an aural documentary feel that, though nowhere near comprehensive (and it’s not intended to be), is as enlightening as it is enjoyable.
After an adroit X-men introduction, they get right to work with the first scratch-oriented song ever recorded, “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel”– the best possible point of entry with Flash’s sleight-of-hand effortlessly turning “Rapper’s Delight” into “Another One Bites the Dust” and back again, like a hip-hop David Copperfield. From there, it’s a short ride through the 80s, touching on both the ubiquitous and the ultra-rare. Herbie Hancock’s electrojazz masterpiece “Rock It”– once renowned more for its video’s creepy robots– stands as testimony to the scratching skills of Grand Mixer DXT. Mixmaster Gee’s “Like This (Full & Fresh)” is just the contrary; according to X-man Rob Swift, “A lot of people don’t even know this record exists,” increase Scratchology‘s value tenfold.
The 90s section runs a little heavy on back-patting with solo tracks by Swift and fellow X-ecutioner Roc Raida, along with several more by various combinations of their contemporary crews, The Beat Junkies and Invisibl Skratch Piklz. Of these, Raida’s “I’ll Kick Ya Ass” definitely fulfills its promise in a back-to-basics nod to some of the disc’s earlier cuts. Also representing for that decade: a Pete Rock mix of Public Enemy’s “Shut Em Down” and Gang Starr’s “DJ Premier in Deep Concentration,” two fine examples from scratch-masters who came to prominence in the late 80s and chose to work through most of the 90s with emcees, rather than banding together with fellow turntablists.
The X-men even throw in “Premier’s X-ecution”– one of the few redeeming moments from last year’s Built for Scratch— a DJ equivalent of the posse cut that sounds much fresher far, far away from that record’s Linkin Park love-in. If you thought, as I did, that the X-ecutioners had ditched their integrity for five minutes on MTV, don’t count them out just yet: let this bit of DJ history as heard through their ears serve as a statement of intent, and hope their next record of original material delivers substantial evidence.