Hip Hop History: Grandmaster Flash

Perhaps no artist pioneered hip hop music more so than Grandmaster Flash. Born in Barbados in 1958, Flash later moved to and grew up in the South Bronx, where he began DJing at public block parties as a teen. As he entered technical school for electronics, he continued his record-spinning career and developed many techniques seen as DJing staples today, such as “cutting,” “back-spinning,” “phasing,” and other methods of altering and mixing tracks with a turntable. His mixing innovations allowed him to collaborate with R&B artists and early rappers, and he eventually teamed up with Melle Mel, Cowboy, Kid Creole, Mr. Ness aka Scorpio, and Rahiem to form Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five in 1977. Along with establishing the relationship between tricky DJing and clever MCing, the group also introduced political commentary to rap music, heavily influenced by the social criticism from spoken word artists like Gil Scott Heron and The Last Poets. Thanks to Grandmaster Flash, the South Bronx is often referred to as the birthplace of hip hop. Flash’s initial public performances reflect hip hop’s fixation with the public sphere, where disenfranchised blacks could use cheap supplies to express themselves artistically. Hip hop spread around the nation’s ghettos so quickly because its four pillars – rapping (emceeing), DJing, breakdancing (B-boying), and graffiti art – were so cheap and accessible. The Grandmaster’s influence is immeasurable, and his beats and lyrics are still sampled by rappers, DJs, and electronic producers regularly.

“The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (1982)

“The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (1981)

“Check Yo Self (The Message Remix)” by Ice Cube (1993)

 

Grandmaster Flash experimenting with his legendary turntable skills. Credit: TheUrbanDaily.com

flash

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