“The turntables might wobble but they don’t fall down”- Run DMC’s “Peter Piper”
As Run DMC ignited a revolution in music by breaking barriers and bringing hip-hop to the front lines, Jam Master Jay, who originally joined Joseph “Run” Simmons and Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels because he just wanted to be a part of the band, pioneered the art, and established the legitimacy, of the DJ as a true musician in mainstream music culture.
What was once an underrepresented culture is an increasingly growing phenomenon, cultivated by scene stealers like Jam Master Jay, who is, arguably, the progenitor of the DJ movement.
Today, it’d be quite the feat to escape any sort of DJ performance at a night club or music festival. DJ’s and producers have crushed the current barriers to mainstream music culture with their colossal presence on popular radio stations, in TV commercials, and at concerts across the globe, proving to have become this generation’s all-encompassing, new-age rock stars.
Though it has been ten years since Jam Master Jay’s tragic passing, his legacy continues to live on through Scratch DJ Academy, the world’s first DJ and music production school founded in 2002 by the late Jam Master Jay and Rob Principe.
Together, Jay and Rob introduced DJ’ing to the masses, making today’s booming DJ culture possible, as they launched the Academy with the mission to lower the barrier, and provide unparalleled education and access, to the dynamic art form of the DJ and producer.
Today, Scratch DJ Academy is widely recognized as the world leader in DJ and music production education, teaching over 100,000 people annually through its physical locations in LA, New York, and Miami, as well as national tours.
Co-Founder and CEO Rob Principe took the time to share his story with House Music or Die, giving us the inside scoop on his involvement with, and the evolution of, Scratch DJ Academy.
House Music Or Die: What was the initial idea and vision behind opening Scratch DJ Academy, and how did the partnership between you & Jam Master Jay begin?
Rob Principe: Scratch Music Group started with an idea that came to me one night after attending an event where I witnessed first-hand how a talented DJ could whip up a crowd of more than 1,500 people. Somehow he knew what song I wanted to hear before I knew I wanted to hear it. I left that night saying to myself, ‘how do I learn how to do that?’ That’s where the beat began – literally and figuratively.
What I discovered very quickly was that despite the popularity of DJing a formal on-ramp and teaching program for the art of DJing did not exist. Realizing this disconnect, I decided to launch a business that spoke to this and other needs I saw in the space. I then approached the legendary DJ from Run DMC to partner with me on this initiative. Fortunately, when I pitched him in the green room of the David Letterman show, he couldn’t wait to get started. The rest is history.
HMOD: What are your current responsibilities with regard to the Academy?
RP: The Academy is the heart and soul of Scratch Music Group and the heritage of the Scratch brand. I’m very involved in every aspect of the Scratch DJ Academy, from the curriculum to overall strategy and operations. I am proud of its explosive growth and the reputation it has cemented in the DJ community. Regardless of genre and skill level, our students come to us not only to learn the art of DJing but also to be part of the DJ culture and community.
HMOD: With the tragic loss of Jam Master Jay in 2002, how does Jay’s legacy continue to live on through the Academy?
RP: It was truly a tragic loss and we wanted to find a way to carry on his legacy and give others the opportunity to learn this incredible art form. As a result, a number of us including Lyor Cohen, Russell Simmons and others got together and created the Jam Master Jay Foundation for Music.
This charitable foundation operates under the simple premise that regardless of socio-economic status, every child deserves equal access to the arts. The Foundation supports the idea that social Justice, Arts and Music (J.A.M.) education should be in every school, in every region of the country, giving children the opportunity to expand their world-view through artistic expression.
Through these efforts we’ve made numerous grants allowing many deserving and talented kids to enrich their lives. Similarly, at the Academy we honor his legacy by continuing to provide the best possible education and access to the art form possible.
HMOD: Being the world’s first DJ and music production school, what sets the Academy aside from all the other DJ schools in existence today?
RP: Aside from being co-founded by Jam Master Jay, we’ve taught more people in more states and countries than anyone else, utilizing our copyrighted curriculum, latest equipment and technology, legendary and celebrity DJ instructors and flexible and affordable classes.
Our highly acclaimed software developed by us in partnership with Stanton, Scratch DJ Academy MIX! is sold at Best Buy and Guitar Center nationwide. We’ve written the book on DJing, literally, the bestselling book published by St. Martin’s Press “On the record: The Scratch DJ Academy Guide.” But what truly sets us apart is the incredibly tight knit DJ community that we’ve cultivated over the past 10 years.
HMOD: Since the Academy opened, how has it evolved and what is your most memorable moment throughout the Academy’s history?
RP: The Academy’s programming, strategy, equipment and physical spaces are always evolving. What remains the same is our commitment to continue to educate all those interested in learning this art form as well as providing a community in which to join, flourish and thrive.
As for my most memorable moments, well, those happen every day. Every time I walk into the Academy and see an instructor making a connection with a student, it’s memorable. Every time a student has that “aha” moment, it’s memorable. Every time we connect people to each other and the DJ community, it’s memorable. I guess you can say I’m lucky, because just about every day here is memorable.
HMOD: How has the recent explosion of EDM/house music in the last few years affect the school and the curriculum offered? Do you see a significant rise in demand for classes specializing in these music genres?
RP: We have been genre agnostic for a long time at the Academy. We teach the foundation of DJing that is the cornerstone of any great performer. With the explosion of EDM/house music we’ve benefited with greater enrollment and interest. And of course we have expanded our offerings to provide more specialization and expertise in house music.
HMOD: What is your perspective on the recent boom in EDM/house music and superstar DJs?
RP: My general take is that all the attention EDM and celebrity DJs are getting is good for the industry. Anything that can shed light on this dynamic art form and generate interest with the broader music enthusiast community is more than okay by me. Bring it on.
HMOD: How do you see the future of the Academy evolving in the next year? In the next 5 years?
RP: In terms of the Academy’s evolution, we will always be responding to the needs of the marketplace and our consumers. It’s our responsibility to continuously provide the best possible DJ and music production education and experience through all the changes our culture experiences. Music is more than a hobby today. It’s a currency. We always need to be enabling people to interact with and trade in this currency. We’ve done a phenomenal job for the past ten years and plan on doing so for the next ten years plus.
HMOD: What can the Academy offer aspiring artists to help them along their path to potential stardom?
RP: The Scratch DJ Academy provides a place where beginners through advanced DJs and producers can learn and improve their skills with the best instructors, curriculum, community and experience possible. Our instructors take a personal interest in all who come through the Academy and want each one to maximize their potential in the art form.
As such we are constantly mentoring and nurturing talent to realize their dreams and goals. Careers take twists and turns, but we can guarantee that anyone who comes out of the Academy will be richer for it.
HMOD: Thank you!
P.S. If you are a DJ/producer (or ANYONE that is interested in DJ/producing), and local to the LA, NY, or Miami area, make sure to check out this awesome promo that the Academy is offering exclusively to HMOD readers!
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