It’s hard to believe, but on Sunday, Aug. 11, Hip Hop celebrated its 40th birthday. Yes, the big 4-0. It’s been four decades of creativity, invaluable efforts and love. Do you remember the doubters who said it wouldn’t last? They sure missed the mark.
Looking back, the DJ has been the most significant element in Hip Hop since its inception. Before the MC (Microphone Controller) became known as the rapper, the DJ led the way. You had DJ Kool Herc and the Herculoids, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Afrika Bamabaataa and the Universal Zulu Nation; It was the DJ who controlled the stage and it was he who introduced new talent to the party people.
In the years leading up to the Hip Hop explosion, the DJ had to take a back seat to the solo artist, commercialization and new technology. Hip Hop changed all of that and to honor that change, the DJs banded together to reclaim their roles as Hip Hop’s most powerful voice.
Aug. 9 through Aug. 12: The Core DJs hosted Hip Hop’s biggest birthday party in Atlanta at the W Midtown Hotel with The Mixed Show Live 4.
What is so incredible about this event is that the Core DJs founder, Tony Neal, and his team have mastered the art of bottling opportunity, celebrity, business, networking and fun into one high-powered weekend just about every six months in a different city.
I was first introduced to the Core DJs in 2009 by industry veteran and marketing strategist Manny “Mad Dog” Ayala, who told me if I was serious about uniting Hip Hop’s entrepreneurs, I had to see what Tony Neal and the Core DJs were already doing. He explained that the DJ was no longer taking a back seat in Hip Hop. The DJs realized they were and had always been the gatekeepers to an artists’ success. Instead of just playing what is in rotation, they have the power to break new music and the Core DJs, representing the core of the country, work as one collective unit.
When I went to my first Core DJ retreat, now known as Mix Show Live, I was absolutely amazed. For the first time in my life, I saw what most thought was impossible: More than 500 progressive Hip Hop DJs, artists and entrepreneurs in a 4-Star hotel with nothing but love and business in the air. Not that Hip Hop hadn’t experienced massive gatherings that didn’t end in violence, with an extra dose of negative stereotypes thrown in for good measure. No, this retreat embodied the art of uplifting, empowering and educating in its purest form.
To fully appreciate the significance of that, remember that in Hip Hop, if you go to a high-profile well-organized event, most of the executives and celebrity talent walk around with their nose stuck in the air. Not at the Core DJs. Not only is Tony Neal highly visible and accessible to the artists seeking advancement, he makes sure all the DJs in the Core, the panelist and the celebrity talent uphold the same honor and respect. I would never think that a man from Milwaukee could lead a charge so great, but in a candid conversation with Neal, he recalled that he thought of himself as a modern day civil rights leader.
He said that like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Jesse Jackson Sr., he feels he has been commissioned to elevate the culture of Hip Hop and fight for respect and dignity within the industry. And he has done just that. He has hosted his dedicated group of DJs, models and conference attendees in more than 10 cities, exposing everyone to new markets and towns. He enlists the most powerful industry personnel to school artists on how to succeed in the music business. He provides a platform for artist to showcase their talent to labels, decision makers and those who can further their careers.
He also lends his stage to reunite groups that have impacted the culture such as Guy, 112, Cameo. The most valiant thing that I think he has done was to introduce the Core Legends DJ Marley Marl, Mix Master Ice, The Awesome 2 and DJ Scratch to pay homage to and educate the attendees on Hip Hop history. No one likes to admit it, but he changed the game, even if his name is not all over it. Without the Core DJs, Smirnoff Master of the Mix on VH1 doesn’t happen, the Global Spin Awards doesn’t happen, countless DJ Coalitions wouldn’t come together, either.
The Mix Show Live 4 should be full of surprises; he has the Cast of Love and Hip Hop Atlanta on deck, 50 Cent, radio programmers from major stations all over the country, The Queens of Hip Hop including JJ Fad, Pebblee Poo and DJ Spinderella, Teddy Riley and many more. I recommend every artist or anyone who is interested in Hip Hop to attend a Mixshow Live event. I can tell your from first-hand experience, it will change your life.
Hip Hop started out in the park plugging the DJ equipment into the light post. Now, we have moved up to the W Hotels, but still doing what we love doing the most. Happy Birthday Hip Hop! Salute the DJ.
Jineea Butler, founder of the Social Services of Hip Hop and the Hip Hop Union, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet her at @flygirlladyjay.
This article originally appeared in the Aug. 14 print edition.