Pillars of Hip Hop: DJing (Grandmaster Flash!)

Grandmaster Flash was an innovative and highly respected DJ who had begun to rival DJ Kool Herc as the most popular DJ on New York’s street party scene in the earliest ’80s. Flash was among the first to employ a technique that allowed him to take lyrics and rhythmic phrases from one record and play them simultaneously over other records. Also, while he didn’t invent “scratching“–hip hop histories generally agree that Grand Wizard Theodore was the first DJ to popularize it on the streets–Flash perfected the technique and became well-known as a disc-spinning master. He and his crew of rappers, known as the Furious Five, rose to prominence in the New York hip hop scene. In 1982 Sugarhill records released “The Message,” a rap about the many frustrations and struggles non-white youth faced on America’s streets and the song became a massive hit. (“Don’t push me ’cause I’m close to the edge, I’m trying not to lose my head….It’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder how I keep from going under.”) The rap’s success assured lyricists that they didn’t necessarily have to dilute their messages to find radio play or even achieve stardom well beyond the boundaries of the Bronx. In this video we watch Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five perform “The Message” on Soul Train in 1983. The group’s main rapper on the song isn’t Flash himself, but Mellie Mel.

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