Turntablism has been underappreciated for decades now, but there was a brief period at the turn of the millennium when it flirted with the mainstream. The DMC World DJ Championships showcased the world’s best DJs as they impressed crowds with their complex scratch routines, and you could even purchase them on DVD in stores. DJ Babu (with Dilated Peoples) and the X-Ecutioners (with their Linkin Park pal Mike Shinoda) could be found on not just the rap charts, but the pop charts. DJ Hero rode the wave of Guitar Hero and found its way into many living rooms. As popular rappers moved away from the fundamentals of Hip-Hop, this didn’t necessarily push the various DJs to the background but simply shifted the spotlight away. The decline of the Hip-Hop DJ is a discussion for another day, with many touring instead of releasing records, picking up guest features on underground artist’s tracks. The skillset of a turntablist retains this otherworldly magic, thanks to its high barrier of entry (turntables can be expensive) and the time it takes to master even a decent blend. We’ve all been there – pick up some cheap turntables, and a couple of vinyl, and away we go. 99% soon realize it’s difficult, and many accept clubs and weddings may be their biggest audiences. But to put on a routine of beat juggles in front of a large crowd (who are probably also DJs) is a different level.

Now when I hear a DJ cutting and scratching, it feels like a treat, and hearing Mista Sinista (of X-Ecutioners fame) was dropping a new album in 2024, felt particularly welcome. He’s been in the elite turntablist bracket for three decades, so while many ponder over the concept of ageing rappers, not much has been written about the ageing turntablist. Naming his new release “ReBorn” is a bold statement but considering D-Styles, Rhettmatic and Babu have all re-emerged with releases in recent weeks, there is some merit attached to this, even if it’s more of a reawakening than a full rebirth.

The problem that tends to hold back albums by scratch DJs is you either need to go one of two ways so as not to alienate or irritate the listener. You can craft a full-blown showcase piece with displays of skill that make you drop your jaw, interspersed with traditional rap songs; or you can curate a selection of tracks and build your brand of scratching around it so it adds a cherry on top of an already tasty cake. “ReBorn” is a bit of both, with some songs simply mini-routines (“A Turntable Opera”, “Bout to Start” with Rob Swift) and others featuring Sinista on the cuts.

Underground favorites Vinnie Paz and Ill Bill ensure things get genuinely sinister, supplying a “Verbal Assault” with DJ Eclipse getting involved too. I’ve always thought Vinnie Paz’s murderous attitude works well with the slicing and dicing of scratched hooks. It’s these safer pair of hands where the album succeeds, with UG of the Cella Dwellas showcasing his need for anger management on “UG Versus Sinista”, and “The Sinphony Sequel” drafts in QBert, Rugged One and Ace the Lieutenant for a slick take on the Juice Crew classic that makes me want to dig out the old X-Ecutioners CDs. The Jean Grae track “September” from 2013’s EP “Just for Starters” re-emerges, almost as a reminder to us all how brilliant Jean was (or is) at storytelling, taking the listener back to her early days.

I wasn’t as keen on the less familiar emcees, as they lacked the charisma of either the more known names, or the sheer personality Sinista instills into his scratches. The One Chadio on “Liquid Flow” sticks out in this instance, as does Mr. Voodoo on “Sinista Schemes”, with unremarkable rhymes describing a more remarkable rapper, and a similar fate befalls Mic Handz on “Get By”. Something that could have saved these from being skippable moments is if the songs were mixed together because a great DJ can elevate the average. Sinista isn’t mixing these songs into each other, maybe because nobody does this any more, but considering this saw a physical release, it feels like a missed opportunity to make this package more cohesive. Sinista’s performance remains immaculate on “ReBorn”, let down by some substandard rhymes that lack creativity, but has enough moments to remind us all not to take these turntablists for granted.

Mista Sinista :: ReBorn
6.5Overall Score