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'Scratch' teaches the moves that scraped new musical ground

Friday, May 31, 2002

By Ed Masley, Post-Gazette Pop Music Critic

A documentary on the art of scratching, "Scratch" begins with a Grand Wizard Theodore tale about his mother's role in music history.


RATING: R for profanity

STARRING: Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Shadow, Q-Bert, DJ Jazzy Jay, Jurassic 5, Dilated Peoples, Grand Wizard Theodore, DXT, Mix Master Mike, X-ecutioners, DJ Premier, etc.


WEB SITE: www.scratchmovie.com



"This one particular day," he says, "I was playing music a little bit too loud and my moms came and banged on the door. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. 'If you don't cut that music down, I'm gonna have to cut it off.' So while she was in the doorway, you know, screaming at me, I was still holding the record and rubbing the record back and forth."

When she left, he recalls with a grin and a tap on his forehead, "I was like, hmmm, that's a pretty good idea."

And for 90 minutes, "Scratch" reminds the viewer just how good that pretty good idea was. The excitement of scratching is captured in awe-inspiring displays of skills by such masters as Cut Chemist, Mix Master Mike, DJ Craze, DJ Q-Bert and DJ Shadow, while such heavyweights as DJ Jazzy Jay and Afrika Bambaataa add their stories to a narrative that traces scratching from its infancy when the DJ was king through the rise of the DJ's court jester, the MC or rapper, and on to the recent triumphant return of the DJ as an underground phenomenon.

Along the way, you'll be surprised how many DJs trace their roots to "Rockit," Herbie Hancock's 1983 hit with scratching by Grand Mixer DXT -- except Mix Master Mike, who made it his mission to find out what the zig-a-zig-a sound was in the Malcolm McLaren song, "Buffalo Gals."

Grand Mixer DXT is also in the house to add his thoughts, including this one: "I know that I have affected the population of the planet Earth. And that's a good feeling."

As exciting as the clips can be, the overall tone of the film is educational, explaining such concepts as breakbeats and beat juggling, concepts the natural audience for "Scratch" already understands. They even tell you what a fader is.

But when that education comes from the DJs who lived it and love it, it's far from boring.

DJ Jazzy Jay recalls the culture evolving from "beating each other up to, like, breakdancing."

Grand Wizard Theodore says before the MC came along, "The only time we would pick up the microphone is when we want to say, like, 'If you own a green truck outside, please move it,' or 'Jerry, your mother's at the door.' "

You'll also feel -- and maybe even share -- the bitterness in nearly every story of the MC taking over. As Bambaataa says, "The DJs are the ones that put the MC out there, but then the MCs became the power."

Like a record that hasn't been scratched, the movie comes full circle, leaving viewers with this thought by Grand Wizard Theodore: "Every time somebody does a scratch, they should give me a dollar, you know? I really feel that."

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