Scratch (2001 film)

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Promotional movie poster
Directed by Doug Pray
Produced by Brad Blondheim, Ernest Meza
Starring Z-Trip
DJ Shadow
Grand Wizard Theodore
Mix Master Mike
Cinematography Robert Bennett
Edited by Doug Pray
Distributed by Palm Pictures
Release date(s) 2001
Running time 92 min.
Country U.S.A.
Language English

Scratch is a documentary film, directed and edited by Doug Pray. The film explores the world of the hip-hop DJ. From the birth of hip-hop, when pioneering DJ's began extending breaks on their party records (which helped inspire break dancing and rap), to the invention of scratching and beat-juggling vinyl, to its more recent explosion as a musical movement called turntablism. The documentary opens with Grand Wizard Theodore (New York) telling the story of how he first introduced scratching. Throughout the documentary, several artists explain how they were introduced to the field of hip-hop and scratch while providing stories and anecdotes of their personal experiences.



In the first chapter, Grand Wizard Theodore explains the differences between rap and hip-hop which are often confused by many people. He explains that graffiti, break dance, DJs, MCs, as well as the way you talk and dress represent the elements of hip-hop. Afrika Bambaataa presents us a neighborhood in the Bronx which used to be called "the house of hip-hop" where violence and gangs were common. After his trip to Africa, he created what is known as the Universal Zulu Nation, a group of socially and politically aware rappers, B-boys, graffiti artists and other people involved in hip-hop culture. The importance of the Dj is also emphasized on how he/she selects and controls the music constantly in respect to his/her audience's needs. The relation and differences between DJs and MCs are explained going through their roles and importances in the music industry. Each artists explains the beginning of hip hop and its evolution since the 70s featuring DJ Jazzy Jay, Grand Mixer DXT, Almighty K.G., Kevie Kev, Dot A Rock and Steinski. Many concerts of break dance and DJ performances are shown such as The Herculords, Electronic Boogaloos, Original Graffiti Rock, "Wild Style" 1982 with Busy Bee & Grand Wizard Theodore and Grand Master Flash.


In the second chapter, Mix Master Mike opens by telling us his first experience to scratch through the 1984 Grammy Awards with Herbie Hancock & Grand Mixer DXT. This is the evolution and influence of a new hip-hop transmitted to from DJs to DJs. Passionate about their work, they focus on the importance of seeking their own style and being different from the others. DJ QBert (Daly City) give us an explanation on how the turntables function describing each part. He compares it to "talking" or communicating. While Mix Master Mike scratched with DJ QBert, they used their scratching to communicate together. They describe it as an art and a form of intelligence. Other artists describe the popularity it had in the 80s amongst the youth in parties and battling. Many of them got famous through their talent in battles. Some of them made the existence of the DJ without the MC possible.This chapter also features the DJ Marz, DJ Eddie Def, DJ Cue, DJ Quest (Bullet Proof Space Travelors), Billy Jam, Dave Paul, DJ Relm, DJ Flare, DJ Shadow, Apollo, Rob Swift (X-ecutioners),


This section of the film describes the beginning of Turntablism, which involves the manipulation of the machine. DJ Babu was the first to describe this method using this term. He believes that the turn table can be a musical instrument “as long as you see it as [one].” Babu explains that turn tables have notes, measures, different beats, timing, and rhythms. A short interview with John Carluccio presents the method used to communicate compositions by transcribing scratching onto paper. Through Steven Dee, the film transitions to the next section of the film, Battling.


Battling became popular as a result of Steven Dee’s attitude that there is always room for improvement. Various DJs are shown commenting about the competitiveness of the industry especially now that there are competitions, such as the DMC (Disco Mix Club) where DJs have six minutes to showcase their skills and abilities. Each competitor works on their set and practices their routine for months. Creativity and competitiveness are very important component in winning the competition.

DJs with MCs[edit]

Still, Scratch has lots of work to do, for even though the movement is young, it has undergone enormous, frequent, ongoing transformations. Beyond this, hip-hop notoriously involves multiple facets. Theodore testifies, "When you say hip-hop, you say graffiti, you say break-dancing, you say DJs, you say MCs, the way you dress, the way you talk. All the elements into one, that's hip-hop."

Scratching, like each of these elements, draws from all the others. And, as this vibrant film makes abundantly clear, by definition, scratching does not stand still. As much-respected Steve Dee puts it, "Hip-hop is asking you a question, and that question is, what are you going to do?" And you need to come up with an answer, day after day. Discussing the ways that battling shapes his much-adored art and profession, Steve Dee confesses, "I'm competitive. If it's drawing a straight line, I wanna draw the straightest line." Believe it: this guy draws seriously insane straight lines.


This concept of competition, wanting to be "the best," does not keep turntablists apart ("It ain't like real beef"). Rather, they make a point of working together, sharing ideas and encouraging one another. They go on "digging" jaunts (DJ Shadow leads the handheld camera through a basement so stuffed with records that he can barely walk through—he calls it "my little nirvana," then warns the crew: "Careful, I once found a mummified bat under one of the records"). Several scenes involve artists playing with one another: Mix Master Mike (perhaps most famous for his work with the Beastie Boys, and also a member of Invisibl Skratch Piklz) and the popular Filipino DJ Qbert (also of Invisibl Skratch Piklz); Shadow and Cut Chemist working with Steinski; and Jurassic 5 on stage with Cut Chemist and DJ Nu-Mark (who says of working with these pioneering MCs, "It's fun, but it's always a challenge").

Making beats[edit]

During the fifth chapter of the film Doug Pray explores the art of producing beats and examines the future of the DJ industry. DJ Premier, a Gang Starr Record Producer, opens the chapter by explaining the evolution of beat making throughout the past 30 years and what his life as a Record Producer is all about. Then, DJ Swamp from The Allies explains some of the beats that he has put together and describes how many artist have begun playing vinyls that are made specifically for turntabalist and battle DJ’s. The film proceeds by demonstrating the vast array of beats that have been produced by turntabalist and the auspicious future the industry holds. Doug Pray then goes to the 2000 N.A.M.M. Music Convention in Los Angeles, California. There they conduct a series of interviews that mostly aim at describing the optimistic future of the industry. The chapter closes by describing the influence that the Invisible Scratch Pickles (DJ QBert, Disk, and Shortkut) have had on the industry.

Full circle[edit]

The final chapter of the film reviews the goals and aspiration of some of the most recognized DJ’s in the industry and what they hope to achieve via the distribution of their music. In a short segment, DJ QBert explains his understanding of the interconnectedness of the human race and how his “destiny” is to better the lives of others through his music. Grand Mixer DXT describes how good he feels about being the role model of so many of the great DJ’s out there today. Mix Master Mike states that his goal is to show the world that there’s “something really cool out there, you know, something different.” The film ends with Z-Trip and Cut Chemist performing together side by side on four turntables. This is also known as a 2 x 4 performance.


The film progresses primarily through the interviews and commentary by different DJs of the hip hop world. There is no narrator or interviewers included in the film and some DJs are present throughout the film. Important interviewees include:

  • Grand Wizard Theodore: he explains how he invented the technique known as scratching.
  • Mix Master Mike: he talks about how he used cassettes to practice his mixing techniques because he couldn't afford a turntable.
  • The X-ecutioners (Rob Swift, Total Eclipse, Roc Raida, Mista Sinista): they explain how hip-hop DJing is recorded in a fashion similar to that of a regular band.
  • John Carluccio: has worked extensively with turntablism and developed a method of recording scratches and other techniques onto paper, allowing DJs to communicate their compositions to others.
  • Afrika Bambaataa: founder of the Universal Zulu Nation; he wanted to turn gang affiliation into something positive and helped to establish turntabalism as its own genre.
  • Grand Mixer DXT: the first DJ to establish the turntable as a fully performable and improvisational musical instrument; developed the technique of altering the pitch of the sound on the LP record.
  • Grand Master Flash: developed the technique of cutting and mixing.
  • Steinski: Began to share techniques and methods with those wanting to learn; before DJs were very secretive about their techniques and which music they choose and he decided to share what he knew via an album titled “The Lessons."
  • DJ Qbert: he explains how he DJs for fun now and does not compete as often as he did before because of the large amount of work necessary to develop a routine.
  • DJ Flare: influential scratch DJ that invented the “flare scratch” where sounds are split into two parts.
  • DJ Babu: produced the most popular battle record and established turntablism as a style of music separate from the MCs and rappers that were leaving DJs behind.
  • Steve Dee: explains how he dedicated one year to becoming the best at what he does and as a result he became the founder of a technique known as beat juggling. He also is a huge influence in the competitive aspect of turntablism.
  • DJ Craze: winner of 3 consecutive DMC competitions; explains how competitions are important but also enjoyable for the competitors.
  • Christe Z Pabon: She is the coordinator of the DMC competitions. She comments that she appreciates those who bring something new and are not afraid to be different.
  • Jon Bernson: Director of an afterschool programs for DJs as well as MCs and rappers.

Other featured DJs included:


Director Doug Pray pays tribute to the innovative art of DJing in the electrifying documentary Scratch. When he was first approached, Doug Pray didn’t know much about hip-hop DJs. He decided to make the movie after meeting Mix Master Mike of the Beastie Boys fame. Scratch is Doug Pray’s second film. His first, Hype!, from 1996, is about the grunge music scene in Seattle. Scratch follows musicians of another genre, the underground hip-hop DJs whose instrument is the turntable.


Scratch was produced by Brad Blondheim and Ernest Meza, co-produced by Heidi Rataj and executive produced by Allen and Albert Hughes (“Menace2society”, “From Hell”), and it was shot in 16mm film by Doug Prays’s good friend, the late director of photography Robert Porter Bennett.


Scratch had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2001 and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award by the Independent Feature Project (IFP). In 2002, it was released in theaters nationwide by Palm Pictures, distributed internationally by Intermedia Films, and the DVD is still widely available in video and music stores. After its release, the film inspired two world tours of top DJs, and a performance movie named Scratch: All the way live (also directed by Doug Pray and produced by Brad Blondheim).

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