We continue our celebration of hip-hop’s 50th with a deep dive on DJs—exploring party-rocking and the art of scratching through a series of audio specials, DJ mixes and, of course, a handpicked collection of classic records and must-hear playlists.

A DJ Saved My Life

Mannie Fresh once said a great DJ can change someone’s world. Not forever. Maybe not even for a day. But put yourself in their hands for a couple of hours and whatever problems you think you’re having suddenly disappear. He used to watch his dad do it at little hole-in-the-wall clubs around New Orleans in the days when hip-hop was Grandmaster Flash and “Planet Rock”, DJs marking drum breaks on vinyl records with crayon and grease pencil and spinning them back to precise spots in real time to make loops that could last as long as the party needed. It was mystifying, Fresh said. The DJs didn’t just play records—they played the crowd. Throw in a drum machine and a Moog synth for basslines and you get the beginnings of production and beatmaking: Just listen to the way Fresh’s own tracks sound more like club music than what we think of as hip-hop per se. Stick to records and you get the athletic feat-like work of Qbert and the hallucinatory mixes of Houston’s DJ Screw. And whether you were listening to Mr. Magic on Rap Attack on WBLS in the ’80s or Funk Flex on Hot 97 ten, twenty, thirty years later, hip-hop radio wasn’t just about playing new tracks but curating an experience whose banter, freestyles and creative juxtapositions kept the culture growing. So when a younger MC like Tyler, The Creator decides to frame his album like a DJ Drama mixtape (2021’s CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST), it isn’t just to appease listeners old enough to remember Gangsta Grillz in 2006, it’s to remind current listeners that the DJ is the conduit through which hip-hop spread, whether it was Mannie Fresh driving to Baton Rouge with a trunk full of tapes or Dr. Dre selling mixes at swap meets in Torrance. MCs had the message; these are your Paul Reveres.

All Episodes

Have a listen to our original audio series on hip-hop’s foundational figures and storylines, hosted by Ebro.

Exclusive DJ Mix and Playlist

Must-Have Mixes

Few things in hip-hop have played as significant a role in nurturing talent, fostering exposure and shaping the culture as mixtapes. What exactly is a mixtape, you may be asking… Well, the answer to that depends on when you came of age. In hip-hop’s earliest days, these tapes were recordings of one-off parties, performances and even radio mixes, dubbed from cassette tape to cassette tape to share an experience. In the ’90s, they became vehicles for talent to express themselves beyond the confines of the industry, with DJs, producers and MCs showing off what they were capable of without the input of the machine. Today, most mixtapes are closer to unofficial albums, letting artists share material with fans between projects, while the DJ-specific versions have transitioned into online mixes. Apple Music understands how important mixtapes have been—and will always be—to hip-hop culture, and has taken great pains to bring listeners some of the most revered mixtapes in hip-hop history. We’re talking titles from names like Kid Capri, Mr. Cee and Mick Boogie. Stay tuned to the DJ Mixes space as we expand our mixtape collection, giving you access to all the titles you’d have been trying to get your hands on back in the day. And you won’t even need to have a Walkman with you.

  • Native Tongues
  • Public Enemy
  • '88 Hip-Hop
  • Run-DMC and Whodini
  • Breakbeats
  • Sugar Hill Records
    • You Don't Know How Much I Love You
    • Alphonse Mouzon
    • Comin' from All Ends
    • New Birth
    • For Meg
    • On the Might of Princes
    • Hey! Last Minute
    • The Meters
    • Turn My Chicken Loose (Bonus Track)
    • The Fame Gang
    • Odyssey Revised
    • The Fabulous Three
    • Funk for Your Ass
    • Fred Wesley & The New J.B.'s & Bootsy Collins
    • Mandatory Psycho-Freakout
    • The Ladies
    • Baby, This Love I Have
    • Minnie Riperton
    • So Much for the Fourth Wall
    • The Ladies
    • Our Way to Fall
    • Yo La Tengo
    • Visible Distance
    • Universal Order of Armageddon
    • The Panther
    • Manu Dibango
    • Craziest
    • Sonny Khoeblal
    • Funk Pump
    • The Counts
    • Love Brings Happiness (feat. Loren Oden)
    • Lonnie Liston Smith, Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed Muhammad
    • Free Angela (Thoughts… and All I've Got To Say)
    • Bayete

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