In 1983, Tommy Boy Records held a remix contest to promote G.L.O.B.E. & Whiz Kid’s “Play That Beat (Mr. DJ).” The unanimous winner was Steve “Steinski” Stein & Douglas “Double Dee” DiFranco’s “Lesson One: The Payoff Mix.” Two more Lessons soon followed: “Lesson Two: The James Brown Mix” and “Lesson Three: The History of Hip-Hop.”
“Lesson One” became an urban radio hit within days, but was never commercially released because of its extensive and eclectic samples. Clearing the sound clips — a diverse collection ranging from Mae West and Humphrey Bogart to Ed McMahon and Herbie Hancock — would have been a legal nightmare under copyright law.
Made in a cutting-edge studio with Steinski’s extensive vinyl collection, these three tracks paved the way for current cut-and-paste turntablist experimentation. Countless basement DJs were influenced by The Lessons, including DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist, who both released unofficial tributes called “Lesson Four.” It was way ahead of its time, and deserves to be heard beyond vinyl bootlegs traded by DJs.
Update: If you want to know more about the origins of these songs, read this fantastic Village Voice article from 1986. “[Steinski]’s just a perpetually disillusioned optimist who still assumes that the sounds and images rippling through the American consciousness are, forget copyright, every American’s birthright — that we’re all free to interpret and manipulate them as we choose.”