For any hip-hop fan in the Bay Area, Oliver Wang's new book Legions of Boom: Filipino American Mobile DJ Crews in the Bay Area is an essential history. Chronicling the scenes in Oakland, San Jose, San Francisco and (especially) Daly City in the '80s and '90s, Wang paints a fascinating portrait of a tight-knit community -- the Filipino DJs who threw parties in community centers, garages, schools and church halls around the Bay Area, playing freestyle, disco, Top 40 and hip-hop for friends and family.
From this organic soil grew a revolution in hip-hop DJing, as covered in the award-winning documentary Scratch. The alumni of the Filipino Mobile DJ scene built upon the basics of mixing records to create a new practice that would come to be called turntablism; in short, they began treating the turntable as an instrument, and using rapid cuts and scratches as building blocks for a new form of composition.
Wang's thorough book -- which explores race and family as much as music -- ends roughly on the cusp of this new genre's birth. Therefore, to bridge the two scenes, here are the Top 5 tracks to have emerged from the innovations in the Bay Area's Filipino Mobile DJ community.
5. Shortkut & Cut Chemist - 'Live at the Future Primitive Sound Session'
Recorded in 1997 at Mark Herlihy's Future Primitive Sound Session, this live recording kicked off a series of highly regarded mixes from the likes of Z-Trip, DJ Shadow and others. Promoter Herlihy, half-Filipino himself, made a conscious decision to give the limelight to scratch DJs, and for his first pairing threw Jurassic 5's Cut Chemist and the Bay Area's Shortkut together on stage in a live, unrehearsed improvisation. The result? A meeting of the minds that found the two DJs trading "solos" like jazz musicians over beats by the likes of Afrika Bambaata, Eric B. & Rakim, and an ever-changing array of spoken-word oddities. (Hear the whole thing here.)
4. D-Styles - "Felonious Funk"
The debut album from D-Styles, a Filipino DJ aligned both with the Bay Area's own Invisibl Skratch Piklz and Los Angeles' Beat Junkies, is a horror-movie soundtrack for the year 2025. Phantazmagorea burbles with dark beats, chilling atmosphere and disturbing samples; it's also credited as the first album to be created entirely from scratch, literally, in that every drum, bassline and vocal is scratched. It's hard to pick a representative track from the album, but "Felonious Funk" features Melo-D and Filipino guests Babu and Qbert, and as the liner notes put it, "is a posse track in the vein of A Tribe Called Quest's 'Scenario' and a tribute to Thelonious Monk, all at the same time."
3. Invisibl Skratch Piklz - 'The Main Event'
In 2000, a conference called Skratchcon overtook San Francisco, culminating in a show at the Fillmore that featured J-Rocc, Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow with Steinski (re-creating Double Dee & Steinski's "Lessons") and DJ Radar (who would eventually release the first turntablism 12" to come with accompanying sheet music). But the highlight of the night was the last performance of the original Invisibl Skratch Piklz together, and the climax of their set was the final four minutes, when the tempo rose, the skill level took off, and, starting at 3:15 in the clip above, all three DJs created a highly syncopated unison rhythm in a stunning display of psychic intuition.
2. DJ Qbert - "Inner Space Dental Commander"
Before YouTube, Netflix, and even before the prominence of DVDs, Wave Twisters was the VHS tape to own. An animated feature set to the album of the same name by DJ Qbert, the film is at turns psychedelic, hilarious, terrifying, and crude -- and above all, wildly creative. Called "The Wall for the hip-hop generation," it stunned those who'd bought Qbert's album Wave Twisters, released a year prior, by syncing nearly every scratched sound on the soundtrack to bizarre visuals. Though "Redworm" might be the musical standout on the album, there's no getting over the nightmares inspired by this opening track and its dental-school-gone-wrong segment in the film.
1. Mix Master Mike with the Beastie Boys - "Three MCs and One DJ" (Video Mix)
Skip to 1:45 in the video above to watch the pinnacle of Daly City on a global stage. Mix Master Mike had joined the Beastie Boys for their 1999 album Hello Nasty and accompanying tour, and his dizzying skills are featured prominently in this one-continuous-shot video. Rather than use the beat from the album version, Mix Master Mike here cuts a single record with deft precision, isolating the bass drum and snare in a back-and-forth pattern, and throws in scratch interludes and horn stabs to break up the action -- right on the downbeat. The fact that he does it all without headphones still makes DJs' heads spin, and because it's with the Beastie Boys, it's a performance that'll live forever.