Turntablism is the art of manipulating sounds and creating music using phonograph turntables and an audio mixer. The term was created in 1994 by DJ Supreme to describe the difference between a DJ who just plays records and one who actually performs, by touching and moving the records to manipulate sound. The word was never meant to be the actual title of the art form. It was regularly stated as an example while explaining the need for a new word to describe a newly emerging and totally unique instrumental art form. The intention was for the original creators of the art form to confer and decide on a title. While the idea of the need for a new word spread, some DJs just began to use the example word “turntablist” before the originators had a chance to proclaim an actual title.
DJ Babu has defined a turntablist as “One who has the ability to improvise on a phonograph turntable. One who uses the turntable in the spirit of a musical instrument;” while the Battlesounds documentary film suggests a definition of:”A musician, a hip-hop disc jockey who in a live/spontaneous situation can manipulate or restructure an existing phonograph recording (in combination with an audio mixer) to produce or express a new composition that is unrecognisable from its original ingredients.”
Hip-hop Turntablist DJs use turntable techniques like beat mixing/matching, scratching, and beat juggling. Turntablism is generally focused more on turntable technique and less on mixing. Some turntablists seek to have themselves recognised as legitimate musicians capable of interacting and improvising with other performers.
In the 1990s, turntablism achieved new levels of attention. Dedicated DJs had gradually refined the practice, and it expanded on its own, apart from the MCs who had largely neglected DJing as rap developed.
New DJs, turntablists and crews owe a distinct debt to old-school DJs like Kool DJ Herc, Grand Wizard Theodore, Grandmaster Flash, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Afrika Bambaataa and other DJs of the golden age of hip-hop, who originally developed many of the concepts and techniques that evolved into modern turntablism.
Within the realm of hip hop, notable modern turntablists are the cinematic DJ Shadow, who influenced Diplo and RJD2, among others, and the experimental DJ Spooky, whose Optometry albums showed that the turntablist can perfectly fit within a jazz setting. Mix Master Mike was a founding member of the influential turntablist group Invisibl Skratch Piklz and currently DJs for the Beastie Boys. Cut Chemist and DJ Nu-Mark are also known as virtuosi of the turntables.