The code of the beat.

DJ’ing to Build Your Beatmaking Skills, Should You Start with Vinyl or Digital?


If the Roots of Hip Hop/Rap Music Is Your Aim, You’re Better Off Starting with Vinyl


Youknowmysteeze22, a TBC (The BeatTips Community) member, posed a great question about getting into DJ’ing to help his beatmaking skills, “First DJ set up.”. In his comment, he mentioned a debate that he had with a friend regarding whether or not boom bap is dead. He argued, and rightfully so, that “boom bap will never die.” Youknowmysteeze22’s original question, followed by my extensive reply.

“After reading beat tips it has inspired me to want to learn how to DJ, to get back to the roots of hip hop and help my beatmaking skills. What route do you guys think I should go to get the equipment. Should I go the vinyl route or the digital?” —Youknowmysteeze22

My reply:

Here’s the thing. The four main DJ skills that will translate the most to beatmaking are: (1) A knack for diggin’ in the crates; (2) the development of a good ear; (3) a deeper knowledge of music history; and (4) timing and beat/rhythm blending/matching skills. Thus, before you make your investigation into DJ’ing, please keep that in mind.

As I state in The BeatTips Manual, a DJ background certainly helps, but it’s not necessary. A number of beatmakers get into DJ’ing because they feel like they missed something or because they believe a DJ background will help. That’s cool. But more than anything, think about the skills that you hope to extract from learning how to DJ. This way, you’ll be sure to pick up the things that will broaden your skills as a music maker.

Now, as far is what route to take? If your aim is the “roots” of hip hop DJ’ing, then *starting off* with digital is not the way to go. To me, it seems counterproductive. If it were just a case of you wanting to play some tunes on a couple of decks like a so-called celebrity DJ (think of a female model on Serato at a Manhattan night club), then maybe that would be the move. But if you’ve decided that you want to dive into the roots, then at least *start with vinyl. There’s nuance involved with vinyl and decks. Plus, there’s a mental connection to the tradition and a long list of beatmakers who have some level of DJ’ing skills in their background. That may matter to you (or not). Listen to Diamond D’s “Best Kept Secret”. Then consider the fact that he started as a DJ. No coincidence…

As far as cost, my DJ mixer (Numark DM 1200) cost me just $120 brand new! You could probably get a cheap Gemini joint (with no EQ on the channels) for $90, maybe $50 used. And I bought two used Technics 1200 turntables in the last several years off of Craigslist. I paid $150 for one and $175 for the other. So total cost for a decent DJ setup could be $425, maybe even less! And you can buy vinyl off line if there are no vinyl stores near you. Last month, I bought a mint condition Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds album for $10. *If I could have found that exact album at a vinyl shop in New York or at a record show, it likely would have cost me at at least $75 for the same condition. And the thing is, you don’t need like 500 vinyl records to get going. You can rock with two records (same record) and practice your blends. Then you build your collection as you go.

Truth is, you can always build your DJ rig up slow and cheap. And for vinyl records, you can shop online at Dusty Grooves or Bonanza, and other similar sites.

Bottom line: If you want to go for the “roots” of it all, you know what I mean, if that’s what’s inspiring you, then do it. You can always switch to a digital setup later. Serato or Serato-like technology isn’t going anywhere. Always go in the direction that you’re already leaning. That’s your gut feeling trying to guide you…


The BeatTips Manual by Sa’id.
“The most trusted name in beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education.”

Articles, Beatmaking Themes, Theories, and Concepts, BeatTips, Diggin' in the Crates, Editor's Choice, The BeatTips Community (TBC)

About Author

Amir Said (aka Sa’id) is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of BeatTips. A writer, publisher, and beatmaker/rapper from New York, Said is the author of a number of books, including ‘The BeatTips Manual,’ ‘The Art of Sampling,’ ‘Ghetto Brother,’ and ‘The Truth About New York.’ He is also a recording artist with a number of music projects, including his latest album 'The Best of Times.' Follow him on Twitter at: @amirsaid and @BeatTipsManual