The Transform Scratch is a vinyl scratching technique that produces a sound that is more or less reminiscent of a tremolo effect. A tremolo performs slow amplitude modulation on a signal, cutting it out and bringing it back in repeatedly. This is exactly what Transform Scratching is all about. The sound of forward and backward scratches is cut up by opening and closing the cross fader repeatedly in a rhythmic way. The Transform Scratch is an essential skill in the arsenal of any turntablist, so it can be heard on many classic hip hop records.
The Transform Scratch was named after the sound that the robots from the late 1980's cartoon the Transformers made while they were transforming from a vehicle into a robot or vice versa.
A prominent example of the technique can be heard on the track Rebel without a Pause by Public Enemy, off their classic 1988 release It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. The Transform Scratching starts at about 1:20 into the track, right after Flavor Flav's breakdown, while Chuck D says "Terminator X" repeatedly.
There are two DJs that are widely credited for the invention of the Transform Scratch. On the one hand, there is DJ Jazzy Jeff, a.k.a. Jeffrey Allen Townes, whom is perhaps most well known for being Will Smith's former sidekick. Jazzy Jeff is a respected turntablist, however, and apart from the Transform Scratch there is at least one important technique which Jeff has introduced without a doubt. Jazzy Jeff is probably the first one to have used the technique on one of his own records. On the other hand, there are those that believe DJ Cash Money invented the technique. Cash Money was the first DJ to win the notorious American DMC World Championship, the most important DJ contest of the 1980's.
To solve this matter once and for all, this is what the gentlemen themselves have to say on the subject:
DJ Jazzy Jeff:
"I don't like to take credit for that. Grandwizard Theodore invented scratching, and everything we're doing is a takeoff of what he started. The first person I heard do the transformer scratch was a DJ in Philly named DJ Spinbad. What I did was take his concept and flip it, and then Cash Money flipped it. I just put it on record, and it went around the world.
- Eye Magazine
DJ Cash Money:
"This guy named DJ Spinbad back in Philly, he did something with "It's Time," but it wasn't called a Transform and it didn't even sound like a Transform. He was going (imitates) "er-er-er-er," like that. I came up with the idea to lengthen the sound of the "transform." And back then "The Transformers" was the shit for cartoons.."
- Vinyl Exchange
..so there you have it! A relatively unknown DJ named DJ Spinbad invented the move and we can be fairly sure Jeff was the first DJ to introduce the technique to the hip hop community and on a worldwide level, while Cash Money invented the name.
The Transform Scratch is a fairly easy technique to perform. The best result is achieved if a record with a longer, continuous sound is used, so no beats. The record hand should push she record slowly to create a rushing, smearing sound. The cross fader should be closed so the sound cannot be heard. While the records is moving like this, the fader hand
can quickly open and close the fader in bursts so that a short stutter
of the record's sound can be heard. Such stutters can be used to create diverse rhythmic patterns. The Transform Scratch can be performed with a range of different sounds and record speeds to create many different effects. Experiment!
The Transformers-cartoon sound can be approximated by doing the Transform Scratch while turning the record backwards over a beat and slowing down continuously, eventually coming to a full stop.