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Two Turntables: A Hip-Hop Discovery

Before our special exhibition RESPECT: Hip-Hop Style & Wisdom opened, Oakland’s own legendary MC Jahi of PE 2.0 visited the Oakland Museum of California’s archives, where he discovered something he didn’t expect. Here, Jahi tells the behind-the-scenes story of finding OMCA’s 1928 Edison turntable. Plus, don’t miss a chance to see Jahi perform with PE 2.0 this Friday, May 4, at 7 pm during our Friday Nights @ OMCA Block Party!

Thanks to some very cool people at the Oakland Museum of California, I was afforded a unique opportunity to visit the Museum’s archives. (I cannot tell you where it is, other than it’s in Oakland.) I was completely amazed by the artifacts, clothing, hats, and indigenous items from California inside. When I inquired if there were any musical instruments, our guide unlocked and opened a few large doors and, to my surprise, there were two turntables in a case made of glass and wood. It startled me. If you know anything about Hip-Hop, then you know that the DJ and two turntables is like the uniform for the culture. Never in a thousand years did I think I would be inside of a museum archive, and never in ten thousand years did I think I would find turntables there, either. 
What I knew at the time was Thomas Edison invented the phonograph. But I’d never seen two turntables from 1928—a dual turntable, as it is called—which was used to play music in silent films. The way it was designed is the same way many of us as DJs have our turntables set up, especially if you are working and using your own equipment. This 1928 turntable has handles on both sides. It also has a repeat button, a needle holder, a light, a dial in the center that controls each turntable, and a glass casing over each phonograph. Dual turntables were invented in 1927 and this one now on exhibit at RESPECT: Hip Hop Style & Wisdom is a first edition from 1928.
The turntable is everything to Hip-Hop. Without the DJ, the narrative of Hip-Hop would be a lot different today. It was the DJs before the MCs who moved the crowds. You also have to remember that at the beginning of Hip-Hop culture, there were no “Hip-Hop” records. DJs played everything: Soul, Funk, R&B, Reggae, Afro Beat, Classic Soul, and anything else you can name. Our education in sound, in culture, in knowing what good music is, and where the break is—it all comes from the DJ. For me to find this turntable at OMCA’s collection, and to now have it on display in RESPECT, is a personal honor, but, more importantly, it connects our culture to the past as we take it into the future.  
Two turntables and a mic changed my life at 13 years old in East Cleveland, Ohio. It’s also the reason why I moved West and now have happily called Oakland my home for more than 18 years. I was always told by my teachers and elders to be proficient in more than one element: I am a MC first, but DJing is a close second. I’ve learned so much about the power of musical vibration being a DJ. Just as museums curate art, the DJ curates sound. The right song can make time stand still. The DJ is the conduit. His instrument in Hip-Hop is two turntables. 
A few who I want to shout out: Terminator X, DJ Lord, RIP Jam Master Jay, DJ Noize (CHP), RIP Pam The Funkstress, DJ Nina Sol, DJ Davey D, DJ Premier, DJ Scratch, Spinderela, DJ Jazzy Joyce, DJ Cash Money, Kool Herc, DJ Red Alert, Rene de Guzman, and Kelly McKinley.
And to all the DJs—Maximum Salute!!

RESPECT: Hip-Hop Style & Wisdom is on view through August 12, 2018.