Why Doesn’t Hip-Hop Respect Controllerism?

DJ Iceman | Read time: 3 mins
controllerism hip hop
Last updated 28 September, 2017


“I’m DJ Iceman and I’m a controllerist.” This is how my greeting would start at the DJs Anonymous meeting, shortly before being kicked out of the room for not being a “real DJ”. This is how it is in the realm of hip-hop. I’ve been a DJ for 30 years, the last five being digital, and it seems that in an age of “keeping it 100”, in hip-hop circles there is no room for the kind of progress controllerism promises.

Please let me tell you my story. I started my DJ journey in 1982, following behind my uncle A.D. (who was a big deal at the time, being the first DJ from Brooklyn to be down with the Universal Zulu Nation). I would bug him endlessly to teach me how to DJ. At seven years old I really didn’t know what it was to be a DJ, but I saw A.D. do block parties and the crowd going nuts, and I wanted to make the crowd go nuts too.

My analogue years

Well, I got my chance in May of ’82. when A.D. got some gear – and I got the old stuff! Fast forward a year and after I did my first block party with A.D., I knew that this was my calling.

Over the next 24 analogue DJ years there were all the usuals ups and downs most “real-life” DJs go through: Stops and starts, DMC qualifiers, DJ contests, mixtapes, shows, a four-year hitch in the Navy, various nine-to-five jobs, marriage, divorce, kids, and life in general, but I still DJed when and where I could.

So now it’s 2002, and after a stint as a corrections officer, I’m starting on my MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) career. With fights come after-parties, and I end up DJing one of these parties. And guess what? My co-DJ was using CDJs. I admit, I kind of lost it! Wow, he was doing everything I was but on CDs – and being the hip-hop purist, I promised I’d never go that route.

Time to go digital…

A few years later there I am, deciding to get into DJing full time again – yet with kids and not a lot of money, a full set-up is out of the question. But a friend of mine gives me a go on this new program called “Virtual DJ”, and I’m blown away.

Hercules MP3
The Hercules MP3 controller: One of the first, but alas, not one of the best.

I go out and do a few gigs, giving the other DJs a very good laugh when I walk in (by now digital vinyl has taken hold). They’re genuinely shocked when they see I can actually hold the crowd. “But it’s not really DJing!”. “The computer’s doing all the work…”

Nonetheless I decide to go the “controller” route. The first controllers I try (Hercules MP3, Numark Omni Control) truly suck as the jogs aren’t touch-sensitive, but I keep at it – and of course we all know how much controllers have now changed since these early days.

However, one thing that hasn’t changed is hip-hop’s attitude: Every DJ wants to “preserve the culture”, and that culture is seen as having two turntables and a mixer. It’s been decided that Serato Scratch Live is OK, but that controllers are “toys” – something no serious DJ would use.

Never mind that the same thing was said about Serato and the other DVS systems (and CDJs – yes, by me too!) when they first appeared: It’s plainly evident that it’s going to take a plenty longer yet for controllers to gain any respect in hip-hop circles.

The big question…

So having found myself on both sides of the argument, I confess I’m still mystified as to why hip-hop is remains set in its ways. As a controller evangelist, I find myself regularly getting into discussions and outright arguments about this. What I find even stranger is this: isn’t a DVS system basically the same? I look at DVS as simply a different form of controllerism.

For me, with many clubs downsizing their booths, I needed something small, and after my MMA career my back isn’t what it used to be! So having a controller is just easier. The way I see it, as long as you can keep the crowd going nuts, why should it matter?

Yet despite having absolutely nothing to prove as a DJ, I still to this day find myself fighting to get respect as a controllerist playing hip-hop – and I am at a loss to explain why, here in 2012, this is should still be so.

• DJ Iceman has been a DJ for 30 years and a controllerist for the last five. He currently resides in Tacoma, Washington.

So why do you think hip-hop is still holding out against to onslaught of controllerism, especially as it has taken digital vinyl to it heart? Are you a hip-hop DJ who’s faced the same prejudices at DJ Iceman? Or are you on the other side of the fence, feeling that think hip-hop and vinyl should forever be interlinked? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Mixing For Mobile & Wedding DJs