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“Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five was a pivotal group in the early days of rap, developing crucial aspects of the genre.” NRR Flash is “largely credited with the popularization of scratching” FR in which DJs mixed songs together and MCs would improvise verses – or rap – over the top. CR The style grew out of block parties in the Bronx in the mid-1970s when DJs would set up sound systems and play records. CR “What had once been a party trick became the most significant cultural movement of the next three decades.” CR
Sugar Hill Records tapped Flash & Co. to bring their talents to the recording studio, resulting in “the first record made solely from mixing other records.” CR Ed “Duke Bootee” Fletcher, a schoolteacher RS500 and the house band percussionist, CR wrote a poem which Sugar Hill’s co-owner Sylvia Robinson decided to turn into a rap record. RS500
With Melle Mel providing the main rapping, “The Message” “detailed the hardships of life in the urban environment.” FR It was “a breakthrough in hip-hop, taking the music from party anthems to street-level ghetto blues.” RS500 That “focus on urban social issues” NRR mapped “a course followed by many later rap artists.” NRR “Without this song, the entire course of the genre could have been very different indeed, and some of its most prominent voices might never have surfaced.” TB
Flash and the crew weren’t enamored with the political message CR and apparently Robinson only got them to agree to record it by promising it wouldn’t be a single. WI Of course, the song would be released and it became “an instant sensation on New York’s hip-hop radio.” RS500 As Flash said, “It played all day, every day. It put us on a whole new level.” RS500
Of course, its success went beyond lyrical content. “What’s obvious is how much the words were abetted by the music: melody sketched by synthesizer, pulse provided by fun bass and glowering drums, comment added by scratchy rhythm guitar.” MA It “was hardly the first rap record, but its sonic power…and the astonishing immediacy of its lyrics combined to make it the official announcement of the start of something truly new.” WI The song posed the concern, “Sometimes I wonder how I keep from goin’ under,” and critic Dave Marsh suggested, “Apparently dancing helps.” MA
Resources and Related Links:
- DMDB page for “The Message”
- Grandmaster Flash’s DMDB Music Maker Encyclopedia entry
- see lyrics
- CR Toby Creswell (2005). 1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time. Thunder’s Mouth Press: New York, NY. Pages 391-2.
- FR Paul Friedlander, Paul (1996). Rock and Roll: A Social History. Boulder, Colorado; Westview Press, Inc. Page 274.
- MA Dave Marsh. (1989). The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made. New York, NY; New American Library. Pages 61-2.
- NRR National Recording Preservation Board of the Library of Congress The Full National Recording Registry
- RS500 Rolling Stone (12/04). “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.
- TB Thunder Bay Press (2006). Singles: Six Decades of Hot Hits & Classic Cuts. Outline Press Ltd.: San Diego, CA. Page 198.
- WI Paul Williams (1993). Rock and Roll: The Best 100 Singles. New York, NY: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc. Pages 204-6.