Behind pop music, hip hop is not only the most listened-to music genre in the world, but it also has the most iconic DJ styles and techniques. Understanding hip hop’s rich DJ culture, which reaches back to the 1970s, may mean that you’ll want to put a special effort into dropping your hip hop jams with integrity and authenticity. Here we break down some crucial hip hop mixing techniques used by established and respected DJs for your inspiration.
Using The Sampler
Most hip hop DJs mix with just two decks, the so-called ‘ones-and-twos’ but with the 21st century’s wealth of technological luxury, DJs can now add flavour to their sets and routines with a few tools and tricks. Perhaps the most powerful tool to consider is using a virtual third deck for creating mashups on the fly: Decks one and two can get busy cutting, mixing or cueing whilst an acapella runs tightly in time with the playing beat on the virtual third deck. This can have an incredible impact if the acapella is well known with double the fun if the beats are too!
Pull this off in Serato DJ or other DJ software by opening your sampler, and drag and drop an acapella in. Ensure ‘M’ (for master) is selected in the sampler’s OUTPUT section to ensure the acapella is played over all your controller’s channels.
Next, click the gear icon and then make sure the pitch lock icon is illuminated to indicate that it is active; this will ensure that the acapella doesn’t change pitch whilst flexing in BPM to match the playing beats’ tempo. Directly underneath the pitch lock icon is a drop-down menu; here you can choose to start your acapella from a cue point for quick-fire access to a hook, chorus or verse. If there is no cue point available in the drop-down list, load the acapella into an available channel and quickly make one on the fly, it will now appear as a starting point in the drop-down menu.
Be sure SYNC is turned on for the acapella, as you will have no access to adjust its tempo manually. Your beat grids need to be on-point, or this may push the blend out of time, resulting in more of a car crash than a smooth ride. Once all of this has been done, find some killer instrumentals and simply activate the sample. Chop and change the instrumental tracks in quick-fire succession to stir up some energy, as demonstrated by DJ Lawrence James in our YouTube tutorial, 5 Ways to mix Hip Hop. Once the sample is no longer required, open up the sampler and turn the sample off to be sure it stops playing.
Let your scholarly knowledge of the hip hop crates shine with this trick! Have two tracks communicate with each other or hand over to one another with a word or phrase on an incoming track directly complementing or mirroring that which had just been said on an outgoing track. For example, in our YouTube tutorial, 5 Ways to mix Hip Hop, DJ Lawrence James mixes All I Do Is Win by DJ Khaled into All The Way Up by Fat Joe. The crux of the mix is the word ‘Up’ which is said by both T-Pain, on All I Do Is Win, and by Fat Joe, on All The Way Up. DJ Lawrence James made a hot cue of T-Pain singing ‘Up’ and stabs at this whilst Fat Joe reaches the conclusion of his sentence ‘Nothing can stop me, I’m all the way up’, resulting in an impressive piece of wordplay sure to garner props and head bops!
To do this well requires an intimate knowledge of your music library. Prepare similar mixes by looking for tracks with nice acapella sections or isolated vocals within the track, and then hone in on a word. Now look for other tracks that have a relationship with this word so you can create similar mixes and concepts. If you don’t have the knowledge to hand, inspiration can be found by searching words in your DJ library. Preparation for this trick may seem tedious, but the results speak volumes.
Another way to show off your scholarly knowledge of the hip hop crates is by bringing together tracks that have been sampled with those that are sampling from it. This can make for a nice blend and have the potential to be a musical history lesson for your audience. If done tastefully, a musical education can be inspirational in a mix. If no samples come to mind, search your favourite tracks on whosampled.com to see if they contain any samples (because hip hop is built on sampling; they probably do!) You’ll even see where those samples occur within the track, giving you powerful information for creating blends and mixes based on samples.
Some incredibly memorable hip hop sets have done this; in our video tutorial, 5 Ways to mix Hip Hop, DJ Lawrence James demonstrates this technique with Michael Jackson’s P.Y.T. The original song gets slowed down and transitioned playfully into Kanye West’s Good Life which is sampled from the former.
The trick of putting sampled tracks together with the tracks that have sampled from them requires some homework. The more you prepare your tunes with hot cues, loops etc, the easier quickly pulling this off becomes. Your efforts to do this will be very impactful in a genre like hip hop where the culture and history are rich.
Keep it simple, and clean, and make sure it compliments what is going on: Simplicity is key with finger drumming. An excellent technique is listening to an incoming track’s drum beat and emulating its kick and snare pattern.
Tracks that have sections where the kick and snare are isolated work best as you can hot cue these isolated parts to quickly trigger at the start of your transition. You can then finger drum a simple pattern as the new track comes in. If you choose to finger drum the incoming tracks’ kick and snare pattern, this will create cohesion between the tracks and raise the excitement level. Better still, if an acapella runs from the sampler underneath the transition or some sound FX play to help smooth the transition.
In our YouTube tutorial, 5 Ways to mix Hip Hop, DJ Lawrence James has a special DJ edit of Drake’s One Dance which has an acapella intro kicking off the transition; he then triggers the snare roll, leading to the hook of the track. Whilst the acapella intro plays, DJ Lawrence James finger drums the snare and kick pattern of One Dance, using gated, isolated snare and kick hot cues from the previous track, Young Thug’s The London, so when One Dance finally drops, we’re already excited and ready to hear it!
This is an absolute classic hip hop mixing technique that doesn’t escape any serious hip hop set. Originally the reason hip hop DJs owned two copies of every record they bought. Say hello to beat-juggling! One track plays, and the exact same track plays on the other channel, at the same tempo and with the same amount of volume gain, but with a half-beat delay. The crossfader is now used to splice between the channels creating some interesting patterns and also giving a nice stutter effect to vocals.
Nowadays, your wallet is saved the inconvenience of needing to buy your tracks twice; you also don’t need to have cat-like cueing reflexes to get the effect. Simply team the instant doubles feature with beat jump, and you’re onto a winner!
Here’s how to do it in Serato DJ and other DJ software – Load your track, then double-tap the LOAD button on the opposite channel to load your Instant Double. Ensure the Instant Doubles feature is active by going to Settings, DJ Preferences, and selecting the Instant Doubles box in the ON SONG LOAD section. Now choose beat jump on your controller’s pads and hit the half-beat back pad to set the cued track half a beat behind the playing track.
You are now ready to start cutting up some patterns with the crossfader.
In the video, 5 Ways to mix Hip Hop, DJ Lawrence cuts the crossfader at every half beat, demonstrating the classic method of this trick. Practice this by counting, to the beat, “one and two and three and four.” Cut at every number and also at every ‘and’.
DJ Lawrence exits the sequence with a brake effect, bringing the track quickly back to normality. For the brake effect, open Settings – Go to ‘DJ Preferences’ and under BRAKING ensure that the Stop Time dial is set to roughly around the 9 o’clock position. When you stop the track it will have a nice turntable-platter stopping effect.
Alongside all of this, keep practising and evolving the techniques and tricks you may know, or are learning, from mixing other genres to give yourself the ultimate flexibility to play almost any track at any occasion. For example, if a track doesn’t have an appropriate intro, why not loop its outro and hot cue to the first verse when the transition completes. Or perfect your beat jumping skills to quickly double a chorus or hook by jumping back 16 bars when in the mix. It’s also good practice to have a bunch of transition tracks at your disposal so you are not locked to a BPM. These can be tracks which have a natural BPM shift within them or have high energy but a low BPM, or vice-versa, a chilled vibe with a high BPM, so switching to another tempo is not jarring.
These are some sure-fire, tried and true techniques of energy building which are sure to impress any audience. Use them to bring an authentic hip hop vibe to your sets.
If you want to learn some of these other techniques then make sure to check out our comprehensive Hip Hop Mixing Course below.
What’s Inside The Hip Hop DJ Course?
This course contains over 35 lessons in which you’ll learn:
We’ll show you how to get started on your equipment. We’ll also show you exactly where to download/access the music used in the course and Crossfader DJ Samples so you can easily follow along step-by-step.
We will teach you how to understand beats, phrasing, and timing in your music, which is essential to mix music accurately.
No waveforms, no beat counters and no sync. Here we will help you master the art of beat matching with only your ears, a skill all DJs should learn when starting. We will give you all the theory, tools and techniques you need to master this. This is especially important when mixing hip hop. You will discover most music analysis performed by the software is incorrect, meaning you will need to learn how to determine the BPM and correct these issues.
It’s time to put all the theory and techniques you’ve learned together to start mixing tracks. We’ll show you where and when to blend in and out and how to use EQs and filters. After mastering the basics, we take it up a level and introduce multiple techniques for mixing between songs, from fader to looped mixes, drop mixing to beat jumping and much more! Learning these techniques will arm you with various ways to mix and transition, keeping your DJ sets engaging and fresh.
This section introduces how to start scratching practically in your DJ sets. Scratching is an essential tool for most hip hop DJs, unlocking a much more comprehensive range of possibilities. Please note this isn’t a fully comprehensive scratching course. You can find that .
One of the most fun elements of a hip hop set is mash-up techniques to blend different styles, sub-genres and more. We break down how to mix acapellas into instrumentals, transition creatively with acapellas and more.
Transitioning Wide BPM Ranges
Learn how to mix from 100bpm to 60bpm in one mix, and master those broad BPM transitions, so you don’t get stuck mixing just one type of hip hop music. This course section will unlock your ability to play to any crowd and not be restricted by the wide range of BPMs found in hip hop music.
Using DJ Samples
DJ samples are essential to any hip hop DJ set. This section will show you how to use the Crossfader DJ samples to level up your transitions and add energy to your DJ set.
In the final part of the course, you will get to follow along with extended mixes along with breakdowns to help you understand how all the techniques taught can be applied to an entire DJ set. See the methods in action and learn from following along, step by step.