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Up to Scratch: These DJs Win the Day

December 22, 1998|SOREN BAKER

The next time the Olympics are held in Los Angeles, don't be surprised if the Beat Junkies perform at the opening ceremonies.

Last month, the 13-member City of Angels-based DJ collective won the International Turntablist Federation's team competition for the second year straight. Held in Amsterdam, this year's event represented the worldwide, underground renaissance hip-hop DJs are currently enjoying.

"People used to look at the DJ as the guy who [stood] behind the emcee on the stage," says Beat Junkie Melo-D. "Now, with the surge of turntablism, [DJing] is headed in so many directions."

Turntablists are DJs, normally associated with hip-hop, who use turntables as their instruments. Top-tier hip-hop DJs combine an exacting dexterity for scratching and a keen ear for emerging talent with a presentation that they hope will separate them from other DJs with comparable talent.

Turntablism is an emerging musical form, with artists such as DJ Shadow signed to major labels and earning mainstream, critical acclaim. No music is off-limits to turntablists, who routinely mix and mesh opera, country, rock, rap or any other style, including sound bites from television talk shows.

Founded in 1992, the Beat Junkies are among hip-hop's most celebrated DJ collectives. These vinyl manipulators are renowned for being premier battle DJs in competitions. Still, members of the crew perform on radio shows, produce rap artists, play in dance clubs and moonlight as on-air personalities with hip-hop stations like Power 106 (105.9 FM) and the Beat (92.3 FM).

The popularity of hip-hop DJs is transcending the genre. Musical acts such as Beck, Sugar Ray and Portishead now incorporate DJs into their live shows.

"Other musicians are realizing that the turntable is an equivalent to their guitar, their drum, their bass," says Beat Junkie Babu. "They've realized that it can give the music something it's missing."

In addition to recently releasing "The World Famous Beat Junkies Vol. 2," a two-disc mix album of underground hip-hop songs and Beat Junkies performances, the group plans to make an album of turntable music.

Despite winning a number of contests, it is likely the Beat Junkies will retire from competition. The members say they've achieved all they can in that arena. Nonetheless, many cannot comprehend their craft.

"My mom would never in a million years understand what I'm doing," Babu says, "besides that I'm ruining a record."

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