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How a 12-Year-Old Pioneered the Art of Scratching Records

Scratching is an incredibly popular technique used by DJs across the world to enhance their sets and further transform the songs they remix. Scratching involves the manipulation of the record that a DJ is spinning by sliding it back and forth slightly on the turntable, momentarily distorting the track. Despite the many technological advancements for turntables, which now have built in functions that digitize many old school techniques, scratching remains one of the cornerstones of DJ sets today.

Given the widespread fame of scratching, its origin story comes as a shock to many: the founder and creator of this technique was a mere 12 years old when he discovered it.

Theodore Kingston, best known under the pseudonym Grand Wizzard Theodore (pictured to the right), is one of the most influential figures in DJ and turntable history. Hailing from the Bronx, New York, Kingston grew up in the 1970s surrounded by other historically prominent DJs. One of these creatives was Grandmaster Flash, who Kingston grew up watching and learning from, as Flash worked closely with his older brother, Mean Gene. Flash worked as a mentor figure for Kingston and was a big influence as he began to develop his DJ persona.

One day, when Kingston was practicing his DJ set in his room, his mother came in and yelled to him to turn the music down. As any rebellious 12 year old would, he initially didn't comply, so she began to scold him. In an effort to hear her better through his headphones, a shaky Kingston paused the record by holding it down. Due to the pressure applied and his shakiness, the record manipulated to create a warped sound. This distortion piqued his interest, and what started off as an accidental response from a child being scolded by his mother set off an experimental period for Kingston as he incorporated the never before seen technique into his set.

After he discovered and perfected the scratching technique, he brought it to Grandmaster Flash. Impressed by the innovation, Flash suggested that Kingston begin using it during his live sets in the Bronx. As he showcased his skills around New York, other DJs noted his unique artistry and incorporated scratching into their own sets. Throughout hip-hop's defining moments in the 70s and 80s, scratching gained immense popularity, spreading like wildfire through the music community. In no time, Kingston's technique became an integral part in nearly every set in New York and beyond.

In a sweet twist where the student becomes the teacher, Grandmaster Flash even began to incorporate scratching into his produced music. His track titled "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheel of Steel" utilizes this technique, and as one of the first produced tracks to utilize scratching, it serves as an iconic emblem in DJ culture.

In the year 2023, more than five decades since the birth of this pioneering technique, DJs from every corner of the globe continue to embrace and work scratching into their craft. While some argue that the technique is simple, others disagree, marveling in the complexities that exist within different methods that have arisen. From baby scratches to tear scratches, the slightest nuances of movement on a disc can greatly impact the way a track will be transformed.

Regardless of where you stand on the argument of scratching complexity, it is still incredible to think about the impact of a chance musical discovery made by a 12-year-old. Grand Wizzard Theodore's unintentional innovation will forever remain iconic in hip-hop and DJ history, with the landmark serving as a testament to the power of creativity, experimentation, and, most importantly, listening to your mother.

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