Hip Hop (Un)Scene: The MC/DJ Relationship

Don't make a memory for yourself at the expense of the people

Nov 3, 2009 at 2:06 pm

I remember the first time I decided I wanted music to be my career and/or life.

Still in high school, my friend Zone and I went up to Columbus to see Method Man and Redman perform. When I saw Method Man walk over the crowd’s hands like Jesus walked on water, it was a wrap. Those dudes knew how to put on a show.

Now, a week prior to that, I had just rocked my first ever talent show at my high school, and you couldn’t have told me we weren’t the flyest performers on the planet. After seeing Meth and Red, as well as video of my wack-ass performance, I was quickly humbled.

Good DJ/artist combinations are hard to come by, but when they’re good, they’re great. With that said, the next few columns are going to deal with the DJ/artist relationship.

Now, depending on where you hustle in the Hip Hop spectrum, this can mean one of two things, so I’m splitting them up into two columns.

The first one deals with the artist and DJ in the traditional sense — show interaction and performance. Next time, I’ll get into the club DJ who promotes and pushes an artist’s mixtapes and projects (think Drama and Jeezy pre-Twitter beef).

To give both sides of this equation, I had to take in some advice from DJ Rare Groove. For those who don’t know him, he’s DJ'd in Cincy for over a decade, is on local radio, tours the world and, most importantly, lives off of his craft. The man knows how to put a dope set together (and his record collection looks like the stockroom at Kmart).

One of the biggest ideas Groove brought to the table was the actual set up of an artist’s show. To paraphrase, a good show is broken up into three parts. How you want to split these sets are up to you.

But splitting your set into sections allows you to adapt to the type of club or crowd you’re performing to. Maybe you have a really good set of female songs that would work better at Baba Budan’s than The Ritz. It’s nice to have that in the back pocket.

Rehearse with your DJ as much as possible for each show. Not only does it make your set a lot more seamless, it allows both of you to nitpick the set and come up with little intricate ideas that separate you two from everyone else.

Find a good rehearsal space where you can move around (preferably with a mirror in front of you). Study your movements, both with your body and how you move across the stage. Study footage of past shows to see what you like and don’t like. Study your favorite performers live or on YouTube.

As you begin getting paid for shows, the artist/DJ split for money should be discussed before the checks are cut. If you’re not sure what a DJ should get paid, ask other artists or DJs how they split and go off of that.

Show up at the venue for sound check (I’ve been bad about this in the past). Study the sound, room and mic before the show.

Oh, and help your DJ carry all his shit into the venue for sound check. Don’t just go post up at the bar until you go on. All MCs have to carry is a mic. DJs have a little more to worry about.

Finally, not to get all KRS-One on y’all, but I have to drop some quick performance commandments. I’m not saying I’m the dopest performer in the world, but these “trends” need to stop, because, from a crowd perspective, they make you sound straight shitty.

• Thou shall not rap over thine vocals (it sounds like shit)

• Thall shall not bring 40 of thy boys on stage (Thou art not Wu-Tang)

• Thou shall not cup microphone

• Thou shall not clap for own performance and B-Boy stance thine other acts on bill

• Thou shall not grab genitalia excessively unless female or covering Prince. (I did this on my first televised show and all my mom could say when she saw it was, “Why are you grabbing yourself?”)

• Thou shall look at audience when performing

• Thou shall not spend thy set blaming ye soundman and DJ for not making your set bang (if there’s an issue, address it after the show and work around problems)

I never said there were 10 commandments. Rinse and repeat the first three.

A DJ and artist’s interaction is vital to a good show. Something I learned years ago is that no one will remember your lyrics and no one will remember your beats — the audience came to make a moment and memory. It’s your job to give them that memory, and it’s easier said than done.

Don’t make a memory for yourself at the expense of the people. This is how you stand out.

Next month, I’ll return with DJ Drizzle to break down the other side of the artist/DJ relationship.

ILL POETIC is a multi-tasking Hip Hop producer/performer whose "Hip Hop (Un)scene" column appears here once a month. Check out his latest activities at illpoetic.com.