Legendary DJs Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Hip Hop and Reflect on the Importance of Mixtape Culture
Recently, BET.com was up in the Boogie Down Bronx, the birthplace of hip hop, to pay homage to the legacy of the mixtape DJ, as well as to examine their importance as part of the bedrock of hip hop culture.
The event, hosted by Rémy Martin, was held at the Universal Museum of Hip Hop, and connected the dots between the comfortable relationship between cognac and music. The result is the VSOP Mixtape Volume 3 Limited Edition. The culture took center stage as some of the most iconic DJs in the history of the game were celebrated. To make the evening even more special, several exhibits featuring virtual artifacts of early rap culture were unveiled as part of the ongoing celebration of Hip Hop’s 50th anniversary.
Everything from Slick Rick the Ruler’s plush throne to the late Biz Markie’s Gucci sneakers and dope chain to LL Cool J’s vaunted Kangol crown graced the friendly confines.
While DJ Suss One played some of our favorite and most memorable selections from yesteryear through today, attendees enjoyed libations while basking in the positive energy that permeated the event. Special guests included the NYC crew with Kool DJ Red Alert, Marley Marl, Spinderella, and DJ Cocoa Chanelle, while DJ Yella of NWA and DJ Shortkut represent the West Coast, DJ Jelly representing the South, and DJ Jay illa representing Chicago, all basked in appreciation of the outpouring of gratitude and heartfelt love.
BET.com was in attendance on a mission to speak with these greats about the importance of mixtapes and DJs past and present. It was clear that these musical giants had no idea of the impact they were making back in the day.
"Wow, you know, I didn't even realize what mixtapes meant to hip hop culture until I started doing Mr. Magic’s Rap Attack. And we would do it on Friday and Saturday nights. By Monday it would be in Tokyo," said Marley Marl of the Juice Crew.
"We’d be like, ‘Wow, how is that happening?' Those were like really the first mixtapes to go across the globe because it was the first rap show on radio, period. So, our tapes would go around the world in like three days. And we didn’t understand how that was happening.
The importance of mixtapes in hip hop, that's one of the most important things in the beginning because there was no internet. The mixtape was the internet. It was like the internet because it let you know what's going on in certain regions."
DJ Red Alert expressed a similar sentiment as did DJ Spinderella. Indeed, whether it was DJ Ron G, Kid Capri or Doo Wop, every mixtape aficionado had their favorite.
“The mixtape game is important because they were the musical engineers of our time at the beginning of the culture,” explained Red Alert. “Because, in order for people to experience, acknowledge and to witness what they were listening to, they [needed] the tapes. Whether it was the DJ doing it from home, in the streets, in the clubs, as well as on the radio. Mixtapes traveled and took the culture to many places.
“I felt like they helped broaden the understanding of what the mixtape was all about. I know that we’re currently in a social media world, but you have to know about the blueprint. Because, in the beginning, Black people didn’t really have a lot of things going on other than the radio and the cassette tape. Guys would be listening to the radio and tape off the radio whenever they had a cassette.”
Spinderella (formerly of Salt-N-Pepa) witnessed firsthand how the mixtape culture thrived within hip hop. "I got to see how some of the DJs were breaking records and breaking artists. I think that's probably the most important thing," she said. "We got introduced to a lot of artists that mixtape culture introduced. So, that’s important.
Women in Hip-Hop music have long been overlooked and under celebrated. This is why it was so important for both Spinderella and DJ Cocoa Chanelle to get their special shoutouts during the gathering.
"A big part of my legacy is being a woman DJ on television at a time when it wasn't really being seen," said DJ Cocoa Chanelle, who became the first DJ featured on BET’s "Teen Summit" after getting her start on New York’s HOT 97 and Kiss FM.
"I was a DJ when there were no women doing turntable tricks and scratching, and that had never been done on live television. I used to be with a crew called Kings of Swing back in the day. When I got there, a lot of people knew I was the DJ, but they kind of thought the guys just had me out there and I couldn’t actually DJ. I am honored to be able to say that I had a role in helping women DJs be taken seriously."
The night didn’t stop once these amazing talents received their applause. Guests were surprised by a special breakdance performance by the Hip Hop Dance Junkies. Classic VSOP cocktails, infused with Rémy Martin, and with names like The Marley Marl, The Red Alert, The Spinderella, and The Cocoa Chanelle flowed throughout the night as the illustrious cognac brand also introduced their Mixtape Street Art Museum. This traveling exhibit features the art work of illustrator Xia Gordon and features pieces that spotlight eight DJs who have contributed to mixtape culture and continue to spread that glory (albeit in new ways) to every corner of the nation.
Rick Hazell is a freelance Arts and Entertainment writer who has written for EURweb, The Washington Post and The Bleacher Report among other outlets. He lives in New York City.