DJs Go Back to Old School

A trio of Atlanta mix masters are teaching the next generation how to really cut, scratch and market.

The Academy’s inaugural class of DJs includes a total of 20 radio personalities, producers, songwriters and party rockers who have mastered the art of deejaying and acquired a following in their respective markets — both nationally and locally.

When asked about how one gets into The Academy, DJ Sense described the process as akin to a student applying to college. “You have to have certain scores on the SATs to get into a good school,” he said, laughing. “We go through a process of who we want to have as part of the movement. We want some exclusivity to it in order to create something that is ahead of the curve. Whoever the individuals are that we decide to choose from, those basic skills necessary for success have already been created. They’ve already scored good on the SAT.”

OK, I get it. But as an educator and hip-hop aficionado, I know that scoring well on a standardized test is only part of a student’s success in college. The passion has to be there, along with a fundamental respect for where the culture comes from and a vision for where it is headed. So I got to wondering how these three DJ “school principals” would ensure a return on their investments.

I am told that the talented 20 are young DJs who exhibit many of the same qualities that The Aphilliates see within themselves. “They are the trendsetters who separate themselves from the pack,” Sense said. “They were not following the same guidelines and rules. When we go through the process, we can see early stages of those things being developed. All we want to do is enhance it and develop it, offering certain pieces of advice that can enhance their brand.”

Enhancing the brand of the DJ is not separate from preserving hip-hop culture. With the establishment of The Academy, Cannon, Drama and Sense are joining a community of traditional educational institutions that have committed themselves to creating hip-hop archives and programs that conserve and protect the cultural narrative of hip-hop in an age when its core practices and philosophies of self-knowledge have been clouded by mass media, advertising and commercial greed.

Lord knows, the last thing hip-hop needs is more imposters acting as if they love going to hip-hop school, when the real goal is to start a food fight in the cafeteria. So let’s hope that these 20 apprentices don’t flunk out of The Academy. Let’s hope that they will graduate magna cum laude, move on to the next level of success and remain students of the culture as they build their respective brand identities and the next generation.

“We spoke to a group of eighth-graders during The Academy’s launch week,” Sense concluded. “We talked to them about adversity, leadership, perseverance and not being afraid to be an individual. We took it upon ourselves and said, ‘Let’s be responsible for our culture. Let’s be voices for our culture. Let’s set examples and be role models just to keep interest in what we do [as DJs] alive.’ This is definitely part of what we are doing with The Academy.”

Joycelyn A. Wilson is an assistant professor at Virginia Tech and a Hiphop Archive alumnus fellow at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University.