To wrap up this series on how to DJ hip hop, we need to cover one last crucial element: transitions. Mixing from one song to the next is one of the hardest parts of DJing, no matter what style of music you’re playing, and your skill level with transitions can ultimately make or break your set. Many of the transitions we use in modern digital DJ music came from the early days of hip hop, so learning to DJ hip hop sets will give you a wide set of transition skills that you can apply to all sorts of musical styles.
The Cut Remix Trick
In our first blog post in this series, we talked about the art of cutting in time. After you’ve spent some time perfecting your cuts between two tracks, you can start to get fancy and use the cut technique to create an on-the-fly remix sound by swiftly cutting back and forth between two tracks as they play out.
The key with this technique is not so much knowing when to cut (although that is a factor as well), but finding the right tracks to mix together. This will involve some basic knowledge of beatmatching and mixing in key. (If you need to brush up on your beatmatching skills, check out our how to beatmatch video series, and if you need some help with mixing in key, we’ve got a video tutorial on that as well.) Once you’ve found the right songs, this trick will create a sort of “instant remix” sound as you quickly cut back and forth between two similar or complimentary songs.
Smooth Transitions: The Fade
For smoother transitions that don’t interrupt the flow of your set, try using a transition like the fade. This move involves slowly pulling down the volume of one track while simultaneously pushing up the volume of the next track. This is a classic DJ move which works really well when you want people to keep dancing to a groove, almost as if you haven’t switched songs at all. Again, song selection is crucial for this type of transition, so make sure your beatmatching and mixing in key skills are in good order. The basic technique of the fade is dead simple, but the part that really matters is knowing which songs will work together.
Another option when learning how to DJ hip hop sets is to try to incorporate some of your scratching skills into your transitions. An example of this is the spinback, where you grab the record that’s playing and rapidly spin it backwards before cutting across with the crossfader to the other turntable.
If you’d like to see any of these transitions in action, DJ Kenya has a free video called 4 Essential Transitions where he walks you through all three of the transitions mentioned above, plus a variation on the spinback called the rewind.
Other Creative Options
Once you’ve mastered the basics of how to DJ hip hop transitions, the options are limitless. You can experiment with incorporating different scratching techniques, using different effects, or even take a page from the great Grandmaster Flash’s playbook and try to master some of his Quick Mix Theory and Clock Theory moves.
After mastering some of the basic skills of how to DJ hip hop like transitions and scratching, plus adjusting your mindset to allow you to get into the right headspace to play this classic genre, you should be able to pump out an awesome hip hop set. For more tips on how to DJ hip hop or any other genre of electronic music, check out our Spin Academy Online DJ School.