The Man Behind the Scratch: Grand Wizzard Theodore & Hip Hop’s 50-Year Legacy
In the storied history of Hip Hop, DJs have long been the unsung architects of the game, and no one embodies that legacy like Grand Wizzard Theodore. As the pioneer of ‘scratching,’ Theodore used scratching as a means of storytelling and conveying emotion, securing his place as one of the greatest of all time.
So, How Did He Become the ‘Grand Wizzard’?
While most in the industry were vying for titles like Grandmaster, Theodore wanted to break the mold. Cue an unexpected studio session where he melded rock and funk in an alchemic mix that left his MCs, Master Rob and Waterbed Kev, spellbound. “It’s like you’re a Grand Wizzard,” they said, entranced by his transformative approach to DJing. And so, Grand Wizzard Theodore wasn’t just christened— he was destined. An iconoclastic name for a man who would go on to defy norms and elevate DJing into an art form.
“I was born into a world that I was so happy to be in, called Hip Hop.”
Theodore’s introduction to the DJing realm was nothing short of fate. He recounts being six or seven growing up in the boogie-down Bronx. A trip to the corner store was more than just fetching milk—it was a firsthand lesson in the art of freestyling and doo-wop’ing, with local talents turning corners into stages and B-Boys owning every surface they could find. But it was the graffiti that transformed the mundane into the magnificent; subways became canvases, and schools turned into art galleries. And then, the game-changer, “When I seen my brother Mean Gene and Grandmaster Flash with two turntables and a mixer, that’s when everything came full circle. And that’s when I realized that I was born into a world that I was so happy to be in, called Hip Hop.”
“The most important thing for a DJ period is to always remember that, you know, it’s, it’s all about the music.”
His convictions were only strengthened during a trip to Copenhagen, where he encountered a DJ strictly focused on hip-hop. For Theodore, this narrow scope is a limitation. “You’ve got to play everything because when you hear the word DJ, you’re supposed to think of the word ‘open genre’,” he advises. This ‘open genre’ philosophy is what Theodore believes not only elevates a DJ’s artistry but also opens the floodgates to new opportunities. His message to budding DJs is clear: step out of your musical comfort zone, and you’ll undoubtedly become a better artist—a principle he’s lived by throughout his own iconic career.
“Try to think outside the box, create your own style, and you will definitely be recognized.”
How Grand Wizzard Theodore created “The Scratch”
What’s Theodore’s indelible mark on the DJing world? His unique style and innovation. He was the creative genius who brought the world “the Scratch” and “the needle drop,” techniques that revolutionized how DJs performed. “What I have is not a talent; it’s a gift,” he emphasizes.
Grand Wizzard Theodore takes us back to his Bronx junior high years. The invention of “the Scratch,” a monumental moment in DJing history, wasn’t just a stroke of luck, but a beautiful accident while Grand Wizzard Theodore was simply trying to “get better.”
It all unfolded in the lunchroom of Morris High School on 166th Street and Boston Road with a student body fed up with the disco era – they’d had enough of Donna Summers and Van McCoy’s beats. Urged by friends, Theodore got the principal’s nod to try out his own mixtape. With his trusty boombox, he went home and carefully put together his set.
Picture this: a young Theodore, holed up in his mom’s house in the Bronx, mixing beats on a janky Flintstones-like equipment setup. “The music was so loud to the point where my mom came and she just like, uh, kicked the door,” Theodore recalls. In that unexpected moment, while pausing the music to appease his mom, he created what we now know as “the baby scratch.”
His reaction? “I was like, wow. I can incorporate that to all the other things that I’m doing as a DJ because I want to be different from everybody.” And in his eyes, this wasn’t a simple accident. “God gave me this gift, I realized it at an early age, and I just went with it.” The “Scratch” wasn’t just a fad; it fundamentally shifted the DJing landscape. “I’m just so happy to be a part of something that’s bigger than I am, to be a part of something that actually changed the world and changed the world of music as we know it.”
What’s Next for Hip-Hop and DJing?
When it comes to the future of hip-hop and DJing, Theodore sees it as preservation. “We’re standing here at the Hip Hop Museum because we want to preserve all of this. This art form changed the world music as we know it,” he declares. With eyes on the future, Theodore advocates for a strong understanding of the genre’s history, emphasizing how it evolved from disco to ‘the jam’ and then into what we now recognize as hip-hop. “This was nothing, and now look where it is today.” That’s why his involvement in the Hip-Hop Museum is so crucial to him. “This story will be here forever. For everybody to learn,” Theodore affirms. The aim? To preserve the rich tapestry of hip-hop and ensure its stories, innovations, and influences are never forgotten.
“I’m just glad to still be here, to be a part of something that’s bigger than I am.”
On The Next Generation of DJs
Shouting out the next-gen DJs he believes are “carrying the torch,” Grand Wizzard Theodore says, “There’s so many DJs out there that I admire and look up to. You got Qbert, the Scratch Pickles, the Beat Junkies and DJ Rocking Rob”. He also looks back to DJ Jazzy Jeff, and The X-Ecutioners. According to the Wizzard, these DJs are “definitely taking DJing to another level,” each carving out their own unique history in DJ culture. His philosophy? “We’re all on this Earth together, and there’s enough room and knowledge for everyone to capitalize and educate.”
Grand Wizzard Theodore’s Open Genre Philosophy for Aspiring DJs
Among the many lessons Grand Wizzard Theodore imparts to up-and-coming DJs, perhaps the most poignant is his insistence on musical diversity. “At the end of the day, it’s all about the music,” he emphasizes. While skills like scratching and beat-matching might dazzle audiences, the true essence of DJing, according to Theodore, is the music.
Your Favorite DJ’s Favorite DJ
When it comes to the DJ he most admires, Grand Wizzard Theodore doesn’t hesitate: it’s DJ Jazzy Jeff. “I really, really admire DJ Jazzy Jeff because he can go anywhere, man,” says Grand Wizzard. What makes Jeff so special? “It doesn’t matter where he goes, he’s able to play music for everybody.” From Motown tunes to drum and bass, house music, funk, and soul, Jazzy Jeff has the talent to mesh with any crowd. “He plays all around the board. And that’s what I love in a DJ, and he does it his way,” he concludes.
#ThankYouDJs: Grand Wizzard Theodore’s Message to All DJs
“Thank you for playing music for your families. Thanks for playing music for the people in the venues. Thanks for playing music for the people of the world,” he begins. Recognizing the transformative power of music, he continues, “Your job is to make sure that they feel good about the music you’re playing. Take them back to their childhood, take them back to a happy time in their life.” With a nod to the importance of showmanship, he advises, “Don’t hold your head down, hold your head up high and look at the audience and have a good time.” Grand Wizzard doesn’t forget to pay homage to the pioneers, from Grandmaster Flash to Kool DJ AJ, emphasizing that the torch now lies with the next generation. “We are all here together. Thank you DJs for your support.”
So there you have it, —Grand Wizzard Theodore, the man, the myth, the legend, and a keeper of an art form that has forever changed the way we experience music. And he’s not done yet; his gift will keep on giving for generations to come.
Check out Grand Wizzard Theodore’s legendary tribute to 50 Years of Hip Hop on his Instagram.
Don’t miss out on paying tribute to the DJs who have helped shape Hip Hop culture. Feeling inspired? Join the Serato HH50 movement and create your own routine using #ThankYouDJs and #Serato hashtags – and don’t forget to tag @serato so we can help you share the love.