Zoë Blade's notebook

DJ battle tool

A DJ battle tool is a record featuring breakbeats, a cappellas, or other sounds that are useful for DJing.

Since the early 1970s, a hip hop group's DJ would play breakbeats for the MCs to rap over. This involved spending a lot of time in record shops, sifting through funk records to find a good breakbeat, and getting two copies to switch between back and forth, in order to extend the break indefinitely.

By the 1980s, there was enough demand for breakbeats that Breakbeat Lou put out a whole series of bootleg compilation records, Break Beats, later re-released as Ultimate Breaks and Beats. Each record in the series consisted of several songs, each chosen for its briefly exposed breakbeat.

This was soon followed by DJ battle tools that dispensed with the full songs entirely, such as Beats, Breaks & Scratches, which featured isolated breaks, and Acapella Anonymous, which featured isolated vocals. Not something you'd sit down and listen to, these were purely tools for DJs.

In the late 1980s, Akai introduced a reasonably affordable sampler that became a studio standard, the S900. Combined with a MIDI sequencer such as on the Atari ST, and a DJ's record collection, it was enough to make whole tracks. The MPC60 even combined the sampler and sequencer into a single machine.

Many DJs became producers, evolving DJing yet again into music making via collage, placing snippets of other people's music into a new context. As DJs with decks became producers with samplers, the breakbeat bootleggers catered to their evolving needs by making CDs cramming in hundreds of uncleared breaks, vocals, and other short sounds onto a single disc, such as the Datafile series.

Making sample CDs became a niche industry, eventually becoming legal as companies like Zero-G and Best Service started to commission original breaks and other sounds.

Notable examples

Hip hop culture: Breakbeat | DJ battle tool

Sampling: A cappella | Breakbeat | DJ battle tool | Personal sample library | Pingpong loop | Sample CD