Turntablism YouTube

I recently went a 2200 mile road trip to visit friends and family and as per usual, I caught up on a lot of podcasts, but sometimes people talking could make be sleepy so I'd switch to the best music of 2022 playlist, but I've been hitting that so hard for the last month that it was getting stale and predictable.

So I asked myself: what should I try next to keep me alert, awake, and entertained on multi-state road trips?

DJ Fonki Cheff

Something popped up in my YouTube recommendations completely out of the blue a few weeks ago: DJ Fonki Cheff.

Now, I've never heard of the guy, but when I saw his videos on my YT AppleTV app, I listened for a few minutes then enjoyed it later that night as dinner music. I figured it'd probably work pretty well in a car someday.

Since I didn't care about seeing any video, I downloaded the YouTube Music app to my phone (I pay for ad-free YouTube, pretty sure the music app is thrown in for free?), and at a rest stop on 5G I downloaded a dozen of his 1hr mix videos.

He's got classic hiphop sessions, 90s hiphop, reggae/dancehall, neosoul, old 45s, and even Motown mixes. He barely speaks, spends 99% of their time spinning records, does live scratching between them and beat matches songs pretty well so they melt into one another.

There are probably 20 tasks a good DJ has to do, and he seems great at selecting obscure records and songs I've never heard of (he's fluent in Spanish so you hear a bunch of Spanish language hiphop which sounds great). He doesn't do a ton of scratching, just a bit between tracks, and I have no idea how good he is working a crowd since he doesn't do any of it on YouTube. He seems like a guy with 100,000 records that likes to smoke pot and play rare songs around a genre, and he does it all pretty well.

DJ mixes while driving are pretty great

The best part is that these mixes are often somewhat familiar music, but played in completely unpredictable ways. You never know when Bell Biv DeVoe are going to appear after a riff from a Wu Tang song. I found this combination of familiarity and unpredictability to be a killer feature for a long road trip.

I could keep my eyes on the road and enjoy the tunes, but not knowing what's coming next was fun and perked up my brain and kept me from ever getting sleepy as I wanted to know what the next jam in the mix would be.

YouTube Music

I've avoided using the YouTube Music app for ages because it felt like a weird side product for their existing video product, especially in a car where I don't want to watch any video. But it does a pretty good job taking things from your history and your favorites and your watch later list that are music-focused to play over your stereo.

Another fun aspect of YT Music was after a Fonki Cheff mix was done, it would often grab other DJs doing music on YouTube and I was super impressed any time I heard clips from the Technics DJ World Championships, because these were people at the top of the craft making incredibly complex, layered hip hop mixes out of classic albums.

YouTube also knew I loved mashups and would offer up incredible things I'd never heard like this one of Stevie Wonder's Superstition featuring Cypress Hill samples while Run DMC rap a classic.

And, as always, I enjoy a full concert of Tenacious D from any era of the band, but their concert in Brussels from 2015 has absolutely perfect sound and a crowd that demands so many encores they run out of songs to play by the end and do a REO Speedwagon tune I've never heard them cover in 25 years of following them.

A former coworker was once a lawyer at YouTube and I wish he was still there so I could grill him on how any of music on YouTube works, rights-wise. I can't embed any of these YouTube videos in this blog post because they don't allow for playback on other sites. Some YouTube DJs have huge followings and lots of views but I doubt they get much ad revenue from it, as the original artists should get something for all the samples (but do they get all? Or does YouTube keep a big cut?).

Do DJs on YouTube use the platform to make money in other ways outside of YouTube? I see Fonki Cheff does online lessons in turntable techniques and I imagine people pay him well to show up to spin at their gatherings, but I do wonder if there's an original artist/DJ making new songs out of old ones split that keeps everyone happy, or if they cut DJs out of that completely for rights clearance reasons since the subject is so fraught for hiphop records in general.


Skratch Bastid looks like another good music-while-driving DJ with a bit more scratching/mixing and a bit of live audio on the mic thrown in.