Scratch Theater: DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist Pay Tribute to Afrika Bambaataa


On November 25 at the beautiful Fox Theater in Oakland, California, DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist wrapped up the Renegades of Rhythm tour, a notable moment for hip-hop and DJ culture. The tour launched in early September in New York out of an idea: Before retiring Afrika Bambaataa’s monumental record collection to Cornell University’s archives, Shadow and Cut would take the vinyl relics for one last spin.

The hip-hop heads ate up every minute of the DJs’ choreographed interplay, as they deftly slipped between well-planned track lists and bouts of furious turntablist freestyling on six decks. They laid out a trip through time, playing the funk, disco, soca, calypso, West Indian, West African, electro, and early techno and hiphop classics that not only spawned a million samples but also propelled a cultural phenomenon around the world.

The somewhat muddy sounds from records up to 40 years old only fed the mood of joyous nostalgia. However, the biggest ovation came when the boys deviated from their scratch routines. Cut Chemist took to an ancient drum pad machine of some sort, while Shadow proved that he’s a seriously funky drummer when laying sticks to a drum pad, and the two launched a frenetic beat session that sent the crowd on a bullet train to cray town.

After two full sets the DJs, like a fireworks finale, let rip one last blast of feverish finger work on the turntables for a thunderous roar of approval. It occurred to me that as some DJs were busy doing photo shoots for their endorsement deals, these two artists were rehearsing a fully realized, collaborative show and actually performing music on what—even after 30 to 40 years—is still a new-ish instrument.