Grand Wizard Theodore: From Scratch

Every time you lift up a tone-arm, for those DJs that still carry vinyl, Grand Wizard Theodore must be considered. This man pioneered the scratch you hear on Nas records, and the needle drop you hear nightly at every club. The Bronx-born Hip-Hop luminary has never stopped working in almost 35 years, and 2007 knows […]

Every time you lift up a tone-arm, for those DJs that still carry vinyl, Grand Wizard Theodore must be considered. This man pioneered the scratch you hear on Nas records, and the needle drop you hear nightly at every club. The Bronx-born Hip-Hop luminary has never stopped working in almost 35 years, and 2007 knows no exception.

Theodore’s crates contain Kanye West records, Frank Sinatra records, and even Bruce Springsteen records – but more importantly, this man’s crates contain the sacred records of Hip-Hop, the records that got us here. Read, as Theodore discusses the label business of the early ‘80s, his new responsibilities as a DJ, and the man behind the zigga-ziggas weighs in on if Hip-Hop is dead. Cut it back and check it out. We asked KRS-One this, and we’ve been focusing on it since it’s a hot-button issue. But as a pioneer for DJing, and the inventor of scratching, do you think “Hip-Hop is dead”?

Grand Wizard Theodore: Yes I do believe Hip-Hop is dead, yes, definitely. Elaborate.

Grand Wizard Theodore: I feel that Hip-Hop is dead because you turn the radio on, you’re hearing the same songs over again. Most of these people are talking about the same things. I like the kind of Hip-Hop where people are learning stuff, like dead prez, Common, and stuff like that. Nobody’s really talking about nothing real no more, everybody’s talkin’ about jewelry, guns, big butt women, and what kinda car they drive and how much drugs they sell and all that. That’s not Hip-Hop. Hip-Hop is about peace, love, unity, and havin’ fun. You don’t hear that no more. You have a major following overseas. Is Hip-Hop’s death something that you think we’re only living with in the United States?

Grand Wizard Theodore: Oh yes, definitely! As far as I’m concerned, in the United States, Hip-Hop is dead. As far as other countries like China, Japan, and Europe, Hip-Hop is definitely alive, man. When I hear the local acts, the local acts are talking about things that are uplifting the people. Everybody’s not talking about the same thing. Looking specifically at the DJ, you made the needle drop and scratching cool to so many people. Within the DJ culture, there are problems. The Mixtape Awards in Harlem were a debacle. It seems that time and time again, something as pure as the DJ which can’t talk about those things, sees the reputation getting tarnished. I wanted to get your wisdom on what’s wrong within DJ culture…

Grand Wizard Theodore: I feel that a lot of people really don’t know the history of the DJ. It’s gotten to the point where a lot of people is really, really selfish. It’s like a rat race. Who can make the most money? Who can do the most parties? See, Hip-Hop was created for everybody. As far as I’m concerned, Hip-Hop gave a lot of people a lot of jobs. I be on MySpace, a lot of people say, ‘Thanks to the pioneers, ‘cause if it wasn’t for Hip-Hop, I’d be out robbing people, or I’d be in jail, or I’d be dead.’ Now, it’s getting to the point where there’s so many DJs in the world right now. Instead of going out and getting nine-to-five jobs, people are actually DJing to make money. My main concern is that we have to make sure that we preserve this culture, man. We gotta preserve this culture because this culture has done a lot of good things for a lot of people. A lot of people live and die for this culture. For something like that to happen at the Mixtape Awards was really bad, man. Come on, the brother just died, man, and his vision should be able to live on. For something like that to happen at a place like that, that’s a disrespect, man. It’s really bad. I remember driving an hour to go to see Scratch in 2001. One thing it didn’t cover was the mixtape. How did you go from going from the parks or being a bedroom DJ to the first times you started recording yourself?

Grand Wizard Theodore: When I first started DJing, I had a gift and didn’t even know that I had a gift. I actually created the needle-drop before I had created the scratch. Basically, my brother and Grand Master Flash was down with each other. So in order for us to make tapes, you had to take the boombox and put it in front of the speaker. That’s how we made our tapes. Every time we did a party, we always made tapes. Every party we did, we always made tapes just ‘cause it’s good to listen back to what you’re doing. We started making tapes from day one. How well have you cataloged yourself? Are you still in possession of those ‘70s tapes?

Grand Wizard Theodore: Oh yeah, definitely. Do you think, that like Jazz or Blues, Hip-Hop will ever come to the point where those tapes as parties can ever be released?

Grand Wizard Theodore: Oh yeah, definitely. Trying to explain what it was like back in the days; you had to be there. A person can sit you down for eight hours and try to explain back in the days, but you just had to be there. Just to feel it – going to the park and seeing the graffiti writers, the beat-boxers, the DJ, the MC, and stuff like that. Just havin’ fun, no fights – I really miss those days. I really wish that those days could come back. Flash, Bambaataa, and Jazzy Jay all got record deals in the ‘80s. Recording was a big priority. For you, you had “Can I Get a Soul Clap?” with The Fantastic Five, but you recorded to a lesser extent. Why?

Grand Wizard Theodore: It’s really, really hard to keep five personalities thinking as one. Fantastic Five, there was five within the group. You had one person who wrote all the rhymes, then you had one person who choreographed the dance steps, then you had one person to choreograph the harmonization, so it was hard to keep these guys together. Me, myself, just for the love of the music, I stayed in the streets. The streets is what made me who I am today. As far as recording, I really couldn’t find the right record company that would give me the deal I wanted. Bambaataa, they was down with Tommy Boy [Records], and I feel that they got a really shady deal. Then you had Grand Master Flash and them that was down with Sylvia Robinson [at Sugar Hill Records], and Sugar Hill was selling all these records, but the groups wasn’t getting the money. The record company was getting all the money. That’s why you had Grand Master Flash and The Furious Five broke up. That’s why the Funky Four + 1 More eventually broke up. That’s why Raheem got down with Grandmaster Flash and them. It seems like all the groups that’d get down with these labels weren’t making any real money. The Treacherous Three was down with Enjoy Records, they were selling records, but they wasn’t getting paid. The only money that [these groups got] was from doing shows. When it came down to getting royalties, they wasn’t even getting the royalties that they deserve. Eventually, they left. My thing is that I’m not gonna record anything I was gonna get something out of it. I’m not gonna record something and have a record company make money off my blood, sweat, and tears. I wasn’t trying to go that route. I’m the type of person where, I can see things before they happen. I’m looking around, and these guys are with these record companies sellin’ all these records, but not makin’ no money. You did record for Tuff City Records. Of all the labels you mentioned, only Tuff City and Tommy Boy have endured. Tommy Boy has changed its style up a bit. Did you think they’d last?

Grand Wizard Theodore: [Founder/owner] Aaron Fuchs, he’s a real shady character. He would go and buy the rights to a song from an existing record company, when the record company had folded, and re-release it. That’s the only thing he’s been doing. He’s a real savvy businessman, and he had the longevity. That’s all I can say. He stepped on a lot of toes, man. He bought up a lot of copyrights to a lot of our stuff, and he’s re-releasing it in different countries. By him releasing it in different countries, he’s able to stay in business. He doesn’t have to sell anything in the United States, everything’s sellin’ overseas. After the Rakim’s and Run-DMC’s came in, and that first wave of Hip-Hop was pushed to the side, was it hard for you to sustain a career?

Grand Wizard Theodore: I never stopped DJing; I never went on a hiatus. I was doing the sweet-sixteen parties, I was doing the strip clubs, I was doing bar-mitzvahs, I was doing wedding receptions. I kept going. I never stopped. There’s always work for a DJ. I’m good at what I do. I own my own sound system. I keep up with all the new records; I’m in the record pools. I go digging. I keep up with everything. I stay working ‘cause a DJ is only as good as the tools that he uses. You are a pioneer in a culture. When you’re playing a sweet-sixteen party, how difficult is it to play records that you don’t want to hear?

Grand Wizard Theodore: I’m the kind of person where I’ll do whatever I need to do to make the people are having fun. When I’m working, I’m not working for myself – I’m working for the person who hired. Whatever they want, they will get. If they want the radio stuff, they’ll get it. This is my nine-to-five, this is how I pay my bills. I live in a condo now, and I also have a house for my equipment. I got 100 and some crates of records. I got brand new turntables, mixers, CD players, I got everything, man. It all boils down to, I’ll do whatever I have to do to make sure the crowd is satisfied. What do you have planned in 2007?

Grand Wizard Theodore: In 2007, I got my CD coming out. It’s my first one. It’s not a mix CD, it’s an album. I’m gonna have some new talent on there. It’s mostly gonna be party stuff, like Fat Man Scoop type stuff. I want people to get on the floor and dance, have fun. I’m gonna tour Europe with KRS-One. I just did the Nike 25th Anniversary party; it was nice, man. In ’07, I’m still doing my tours.

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