Harry Allen and Rob Swift

MIT hosts harbanger, a battle DJ septet

Eran Egozy, Professor of the Practice in Music Technology at MIT and co-founder and CTO of Harmonix Music Systems, facilitates an intensive two-week course during spring 2020 Independent Activities Period (IAP) centered on the performances of hip-hop battle DJs. The course explores the history of the art form, offers a hands-on introduction to DJing, and serves additionally to assemble harbanger (pronounced “harbinger”); a turntable septet performing in a groundbreaking final concert.

Visiting Artist Harry Allen instructs the class on the history of DJs who have advanced the scratch DJ art form since its inception. Conversations via video conference will be facilitated with prominent and knowledgeable hip-hop experts.

Visiting Artist and DJ Rob Swift leads battle DJ instruction in intensive master classes. Students work to perform a custom score created for the seven-DJ ensemble, with emphasis placed on mastery of highly syncopated styles and techniques.

The DJ septet performance is part of the 2019–20 MIT Sounding series, an annual concert series curated by Evan Ziporyn, faculty director of CAST and professor of Music and Theater Arts, and presented by the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST) and MIT Music and Theater Arts.

Harry Allen, Hip-Hop Activist & Media Assassin, is an expert in hip-hop culture. He has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times; on National Public Radio, MTV, VH-1, CNN, and the BBC, among others. He is also known for his long-time association with the seminal hip-hop group Public Enemy, and for his widely heard “cameo” on their classic record, Don’t Believe the Hype.

Allen hosts the blog Media Assassin where he writes about race, politics, and culture, much as he did for VIBE, The Source, The Village Voice, and other publications for over 30 years. He serves as an advisor to the Archives of African American Music and Culture (AAAMC) at Indiana University.

A frequent guest lecturer at colleges and universities throughout the United States, Allen presents photographs of Public Enemy’s members taken before the band was formed in a talk called Shooting the Enemy. Many of these images are now part of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture’s permanent collection.

Allen was a 2017 Nasir Jones Hip-Hop Fellow at Harvard University. He recently founded the HARD Agency, a boutique for developing “unique and provocative” projects. He and his wife live near Washington, D.C.

More at the artist’s website: Harry Allen



Forward-thinking and naturally geared toward creating revolutionary music, DJ Rob Swift has worked with everyone from Linkin Park and the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Mike Patton and Herbie Hancock.

Swift began his career by learning from his older brother, father, and mentor, and joining the Harlem-based DJ crew that would come to be called the X-Ecutioners in 1991. Within a year, he had achieved the prestigious DMC East Coast title and gained an international reputation as a masterful DJ.

Swift continues to pursue fresh directions to expand his musical palette and connect with audiences from all walks of life. In addition to dropping a DVD titled As the Technics Spin (2009) about the thought process behind his classic battle/club sets, his most recent albums, The Architect and X-Files: Lost & Deleted, blend genres to form the soundtrack for his vision of what hip-hop could evolve into, rather than where it is now.

Swift currently works as a professor of DJing at The New School for Liberal Arts in New York City.

More at the artist’s website: Rob Swift

Upcoming Events

IAP Workshop
January 6-15, 2020
MIT Building W97
345 Vassar Street, Cambridge, MA


the wave function collapses
harbanger DJ Septet Concert

January 16, 2020
MIT Building W97
345 Vassar Street, Cambridge, MA

harbanger (pronounced “harbinger”), a turntable septet featuring Visiting Artists Harry Allen, Hip-Hop Activist & Media Assassin, and X-Ecutioners’ DJ Rob Swift, in a groundbreaking concert. Seven DJs will perform a custom score created for the ensemble.

Eran Egozy, Professor of the Practice in Music Technology and co-founder and CTO of Harmonix Music Systems

Ian Condry, Professor of Global Studies and Languages with joint appointments in Comparative Media Studies and in Anthropology

Philip Tan, Creative Director, MIT Game Lab

If hip-hop is truly an art form, how do DJs make it beautiful? How can we push its boundaries back, while moving the culture forward?


MIT’s Center for Art, Science & Theater and Music and Theater Arts are collaborating with Public Enemy’s Media Assassin, Harry Allen, and the X-Ecutioners’ DJ Rob Swift to test the limits of DJ-ing.

We want to see the result if we put seven battle DJs inside one crew, and tell them to play, all at the same time. What happens, after three or four minutes? Will it work? What would it even sound like?

We’re looking for seven of the best, most creative, most collaborative hip-hop battle DJs to work as harbanger (pronounced “harbinger”) for two weeks, in Cambridge, MA from January 5 – 16, 2020.

For two weeks, those seven DJs, led by Rob Swift, will practice a select set of pieces; ones created exclusively for this experiment by some of the most curious hip-hop composers working today. Then, on Thursday, January 16th, 2020, the septet will perform—live!


Do you want to be a part of this ground-breaking ensemble?

If your answer is YES:

  • Record a 1 minute video of you doing your best turntable work

  • Fill out the application form here by Sunday, September 29

The clock is ticking. Get to work. It’s time to make hip-hop complex and amazing, again.

Only DJs—the people who began hip-hop—can do this.

Let’s advance what’s possible, in this beautiful art, together.



Harry Allen. Courtesy of the Artist.
Harry Allen. Courtesy of the Artist.