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“The ‘DJ’ Style of Hip-Hop Seems to Have Transitioned in Nomenclature to ‘Beat Tapes’”


In his recent interview with Stereogum, Mike Doughty of Soul Coughing and now burgeoning project Ghost of Vroom made the admission that “‘I’m just… into DJ music, and sampling, and that kind of stuff that was being generated as a sidebar outside of the Knitting Factory.’” The Knitting Factory, then, is what you might call ground zero of what used to be known as “DJ music” but apparently is today somewhat orphaned in nomenclature, housing as it does DJ Logic’s Live at the Knitting Factory 1/22/99 (an album which just came out this year, strangely enough). 

DJ Logic’s Wikipedia page lists him as hip-hop, rock and house, in genre. To me, somebody with a perhaps inexplicable compulsion to categorizing music, this is troubling for the fact that he himself doesn’t rap or play guitar, or create music that could be described as techno. Indeed, in the true tradition of “DJ” as a STYLE of music, it’s hip-hop without the rapping: it’s like a CD you can put on at a party and take turns rapping over.

This style seems to have converted to the new christening of “Beat Tapes,” at least if Bandcamp is any indication, which offers artists like CESRV on a page called “The Best Beat Tapes on Bandcamp: April 2020.” The weird part is, a listen to this guy’s music uncovers an artistic blueprint considerably more complex than just the primitive clustering of 808 hats, kicks and snares that seems implied by the categorical term “beat tapes.” Right away, that is, the sampling is rampant: CESRV employs horns from one recording and vocals from another, combining them into one almost disorientingly rich soundscape which would certainly position the project as more like art than just a hobby, or a style subservient to rappers, as seems to be suggested. 

The verse to the opening track, “Lotus,” splatters a sampled rap vocal pervasively, giving way to a chorus, which features a sampled trumpet line as its spotlighted statement. This is what used to be known as “DJ,” simply, that is, in the spirit suggested in a review for DJ Logic’s [1] Zen of Logic: “Building on his legacy and contribution to the DJ genre, Logic is an artist who at once pays homage to his predecessors, while pushing the envelope, bringing new sounds and a unique style to a modern moment (sic).”

This indication of a “DJ genre” certainly harbors some head-scratching as to why no such “genre,” or style [2], would exist on Wikipedia. Also conspicuously absent are “beat tapes,” or “beats.” Now, it’s true, it’s hard to fashion a radio hit single out of this sort of aesthetic — programmed drums and sampling with no live vocals, as in either rapping or singing. I don’t think the music is without it’s appeal and listenership though — actually it happens to be one of my favorite styles of music, an opinion nothing but bolstered by Mike Doughty’s involvement with it. Actually, it’s almost like hip-hop without the ego: you get the soothing rhythm of systematic drums and sounds along with the incredible sense of freedom, and “soul,” opened up by sampling. This makes it great work music or music to meditate to and its lack of unifying “message” might obviate just as much in the way of emphasis on exploration and experimentation as it would a lack of “focus,” or ambition, as would seem to be the maligning stereotype.

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[1] This is of course not to be confused with the rapper Logic who cut the albums No Pressure, Bobby Tarrantino II, etc.

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[2] Technically I think it’s a “style” and not a genre since you can produce DJ (beat tapes) or hip-hop with the same rudiments, assuming every functioning DJ has vocal chords and a mixing device which would allow him to master a vocal track. DJ/beats could also be a “style” within electronica, since the drums are programmed and not live, but either way it doesn’t constitute a “genre” in and of itself since the raw materials required are part and parcel with hip-hop and do not traverse the minimal equipment requirements of hip-hop production.  

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