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For the past ten-ish years of my life, I basically devoted myself to my love of electronica, turntablism, PLUR, and the rave life. I do not regret my decision in the least bit, because it opened my eyes to a world of love, acceptance, and some of the best music I've ever heard. (What can I say, that first rave I attended changed my life.)
In the rave scene, there's a lot of admiration and respect for the best DJs who can scratch records during a battle. Why? Because it's incredibly difficult to do well, and because it requires fast hands, excellent coordination, as well as an exceptional musical ear. There's a reason why DJing is one of the key elements of hip hop, after all.
This list is a pick of some (but definitely nowhere near all) of my choices for the best DJs who can scratch up a storm—and why they are so great. Go ahead, and fill your vinyl hearts with joy.
My favorite turntablist out there also happens to be one of the best DJs who can scratch to ever touch a record: DJ Qbert. The Los Angeles-raised DJ is known for being the only DJ in history to create a hip hop-turntablist opera. (It's called Wave Twisters, if you're curious.)
His trademark scratch techniques combine old school 90s hip hop elements with seriously complex fader techniques—or at times, even forgoing faders altogether. The end result is a sound that no one has ever quite duplicated, and that's what makes him legendary in the scene.
In New York, Grandmaster Flash isn't just one of the best DJs who can scratch up a storm; he's known as one of the godfathers of hip hop as a whole. He was scratching records when most of his current fans weren't even born yet, and made some of the oldest scratching techniques in turntablism.
I can't even begin to talk about how much he's done for hip hop and turntablism as a whole. Back spin and punch phasing are both his inventions, and that's why he's the first DJ to ever be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Jam Master Jay
Known for being a member of RUN-DMC, Jam Master Jay was one of the best DJs to ever hit up the hip hop scene. Though he may have passed on, his techniques continue to live on—and his son actually has decided to follow in his father's footsteps.
The fact is that Jam Master Jay's techniques were legendary for a reason. His classic scratches still are used in remixes today, and are known for being iconic in old school hip hop.
While you might have heard of Grandmaster Flash and Jam Master Jay, most people outside the hip hop or turntablist scene haven't heard of DJ Scratch. This Brooklyn-based DJ is known for being one of the best DJs who can scratch currently still in the underground.
Truthfully, though, it's only a matter of time before he becomes as mainstream as Jam Master Jay. He's been featured on Hot97, has hit up concerts with a number of major headliners, and has won some of the most competitive turntablism competitions in the world.
DJ Jazzy Jeff
Yes, DJ Jazzy Jeff is one of the best DJs who can scratch a record to ever hit the scene. He's performed throughout the world, has some of the fastest hands in the industry, and thoroughly knows how to channel the grit, energy, and love of hip hop's roots into every set he spins.
Of course, most people know him for his epic singles and for working with Will Smith. That being said, he's also a pretty awesome comedian and actorr—proving that he's got more talent in one pinky finger than most people have in their entire body.
Multiple turntablism world championships under his belt and being the one who totally reinvented beat juggling is what makes DJ Babu one of the best DJs who can scratch records to come out of Washington D.C. That being said, his championships alone aren't why you'll love him.
The reason why you'll love his work is because it's perfect for lighting up a joint and sipping a martini to. Seriously, turntablism never sounds as sophisticated as when Babu is behind the decks.
Much like Jazzy Jeff and Grandmaster Flash, it's hard to have a list of the all-time best DJs who can scratch records without involving DJ Nabs. He's the OG turntablist of the Atlanta, and he's been on tour with almost every major Dirty South rapper out there.
Many of America's best hip hop artists call him a favorite DJ of theirs. Among some of the famous names he's worked with are Michael Jackson, Ciara, and Ludacris. If that alone doesn't tell you volumes, I don't know what else can.
DJ Premier is one of New York City's most popular DJs in hip hop, and if I were going to be honest, he's also one of the city's best DJs who can scratch up a storm. For the past 30 years, he's been keeping the classic NYC art of record scratching alive in mainstream records.
Chances are, if you're hearing a record scratch on a major record label, Premo may have had something to do with it. He's one of the top East Coast DJs on this list right now, and it's very likely you've already heard his stuff. Most recently, he's worked with A$AP Ferg—and totally killed it, as you can see.
Alongside DJ Qbert, DJ D-Styles is one of the best DJs who can scratch a record and claim both hip hop and underground rave roots. He's a member of the Beat Junkie Institute of Sound—and their reputation for having distinct scratch styles precedes them in more ways than one.
D-Styles mixes gritty West Coast sound with phat bass that verges on 90s hardstyle distortion, and the result is something that needs to be experienced. To date, he's one of the very few DJs who has given me goosebumps with his mixes.
Admittedly, most of the people you'll see on all lists of the best DJs who can scratch have gotten mainstream recognition. I don't want this list to be solely hip hop DJs who have become legendary in the mainstream rap industry, because that'd be selling turntables short.
Turntables can do more than spin sick hip hop beats, and I felt it was necessary to show how different sounds can be with the right vibe.
Many DJs that I'd consider some of the best record-scratchers out there aren't necessarily hip hop. DJ SY, for example, was one of the biggest names in the old school rave scene up until the early 2000s. He's worked with Hixxy, ICEY, and even MC Storm—huge names in the OG happy hardcore scenes.
Unlike others on this list, he's known for muted scratches and bouncy kicks. This is to be expected though, since he was one of the biggest DJs in the underground rave scene prior to hardstyle's takeover.