By Maya Mabern
DJ Grand Wizard Theodore revolutionized hip-hop when he invented “scratching” — the technique of moving a vinyl record back and forth on a turntable — in 1975.
DJs such as Grandmaster Flash, DJ Jazzy Jeff and Jam Master Jay all implemented the technique and the sound became synonymous with hip-hop in the 1980s and 1990s. What Grand Wizard Theodore probably didn’t predict was how scratching would influence mainstream pop and rock in the late 90s and early 2000s.
I was listening to my “Summer Sing-Along” playlist on Spotify in an attempt to forget that winter is coming when one of the most important songs of my generation came on: “Teenage Dirtbag” by Wheatus.
This song has almost as much scratching in it as a Run-DMC song. It blew me away. I looked up group photos of the one-hit wonder and they really beg the question, “What business did they have scratching to this degree? Who does Wheatus think they are?”
Upon further reflection, however, I’m starting to think of Wheatus as a stand-out in a school of pop and rock music that I’m deeply nostalgic for.
The late 90s was a period in which pop music was churned out factory-style. Everyone was an industry plant. The music was cheesy, uniform and I love it dearly. It was fun in its purest form and as much as I hate to say this, I credit a lot of that to the co-opting of hip-hop by major label music producers.
Sure, some of these songs sound like failed attempts to sound Black — just take “Fly” by Sugar Ray, “Butterfly” by Crazy Town or, let’s be real, anything by Sublime.
But “Teenage Dirtbag” strikes that perfect balance of infectious grungy-pop and hip-hop influence. The more I listen, the more the scratches sound seamless. It wouldn’t be “Teenage Dirtbag” without it and I wouldn’t have it any other way.