The Message – Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five – Sugar Hill Records – 1982
In 1982, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five released their debut album, The Message, but putting their sound to vinyl had been a long time coming. Formed in the south Bronx in 1976, prolific DJ Grandmaster Flash and his team of MCs (Melle Mel, Kidd Creole, Rahiem, Mr. Ness, and Keith Cowboy) started playing and rapping at house parties, with local fame and notoriety soon to follow. When “Rapper’s Delight” became the first hip-hop record to garner national attention in 1979, the door opened for the Furious Five to release their sound to the masses and come to commercial and critical success.
Released against a backdrop of an economically ravaged and crime-ridden New York City, The Message is widely heralded as the record that made social-consciousness a subject that could be covered by hip-hop. It’s an album that has received considerable praise, from creating a template from which hip-hop could expand, to setting technological standards by blending hip-hop and electronic music, foreshadowing the evolution of EDM.
In this episode, we examine The Message’s connection to modern hip-hop and rap, speak about the lyrical and musical techniques that excite us every time we listen to it, and take a look at the music that influenced the album, as well as what makes it an enduring influence on artists today.
Episode notes and postscript corrections
- Record Store Day is a wonderful initiative to get people out to buy vinyl (locally, ideally), and we really scored, but, we cannot stress this enough: support your local record stores as often as you can. Three classic shops in the West Village have closed in the past year alone, if that’s any indicator of just how important it is to support small businesses.
- Fanny, you guys. Fanny. We’re so glad we discovered this rad all-female rock group and we wholeheartedly endorse the documentary through which we discovered them, Girl in a Band. See our Further Watching links below for a link to watch the doc (if for no other reason than to watch the standing ovation moment behind this perfect go-to GIF).
- BRB, listening to our new, beloved copies of Marquee Moon (BTW — if Carrie’s dad called Adventure “the red one” one time, we may refer to it as “the black one” at some point in the future) on repeat. Yes, we will be lying on the floor (sorry we said “lay” in the episode; we know better). Yes, we will light multiple candles. It’s a thing.
- Here’s a brief history of rap (as seen previously in our Tom Tom Club notes)
- Sylvia Robinson was a total BAMF — this speaks a bit to why Carly is totally obsessed with her.
- Here’s some further reading on how funk influences hip-hop.
- We love basslines. We love them entirely too much. Enjoy this playlist.
- Hmm… doesn’t “It’s Nasty” sound so familiar? Oh, right. Yeah. That’s because it’s basically “Genius of Love.” Just like hip-hop references what came before it, we’re referencing what came before this episode. As in, revisit our Tom Tom Club episode and notes for a refresher on this particular bop and its history of being an iconic, oft-sampled song.
- Laura Levine is up there with Henry Diltz and Mick Rock as one of Carrie’s favorite music photographers — you should really check out her work.
- One of Levine’s iconic photos of Tina Weymouth and Grandmaster Flash for New York Rocker (a very cool local magazine that ran from 1976-1982, RIP) was included in a MoMA exhibition called “Looking at Music 3.0” in 2011, so we’re not the only ones who think it’s a look.
- Basically, we’d just like to be as cool as these photos when we grow up, let’s be real.
- Hi, let’s talk about vocoders for a minute.
- Here’s a Wikipedia article that will explain what exactly they are much better than Carrie can.
- Kraftwerk’s Autobahn is a great way to introduce yourself to what extensive usage of a vocoder sounds like. Listen to it. Maybe don’t listen to Neil Young’s Trans. (Or do?)
- While Zapp incorporated vocoder into their funk music, “Scorpio” took that and gave it a rap edge. So much so that Complex called “Scorpio” the greatest vocoder song ever.
- Yes, we’re talking about Kanye West. He’s an asshole, but he’s a talented asshole. (Side note — we would love to have a conversation about whether or not you can separate art from the artist, and what your threshold is).
- Here’s that enlightening video from Vox we talked about. It’s very technical and is not Kanye-stanning. Bets are, if you listen to this podcast, you have a pretty open mind; give it a chance.
- Kanye West is an innovative producer because he views the human voice as the greatest instrument, and his “Scorpio”-influenced usage of the vocoder and electronic music-influence has pushed hip-hop and rap into a new direction over the past 10 years. Building these family trees of music is fun.
- “It’s A Shame (Mt. Airy Groove)” makes a dip into social conscious rap — we’ll get into this more extensively in a minute — that is both of its time and ahead of its time at the same time.
- Honestly, though, it IS a shame that we’re still thinking the same things called out in a song that’s 35 years old.
- But, it’s not surprising. Every generation has their own “What’s happening to this world?” anthem, and each draws upon what has come before it.
- Shoutout to Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five for not letting toxic masculinity keep them from writing a song all about how much they admire another man.
- “Dreamin’” is basically how we talk about our own heroes, though, so we’re not throwing any shade. We’d do it, too, if we could.
- Gospel music certainly influences hip-hop (see current mastery of it from artists like Chance the Rapper); it’s just that “You Are” misses the mark.
- You can’t understand “The Message” without understanding the history of New York in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. We went into the CliffsNotes version, but to go more in-depth, we recommend documentaries like NY77: The Coolest Year in Hell or Blackout (links below in our Further Watching section), or reading Love Goes to Buildings on Fire.
- “The Message” is still excruciatingly relevant. New York didn’t get cleaner without some people paying a price. The problems evident in “The Message” still exist today, just amplified in smaller pressure cookers, exacerbated by issues like gentrification, the war on drugs, and the way the war on poverty has turned into a war on the poor.
- The lineage of “The Message” is evident in current hip-hop, from Jay-Z to Kendrick Lamar. We’ll have some examples in our master playlist on Spotify.
- The recording of “The Message” actually caused some discord within the group. According to this video note by Rahiem, each person auditioned to have a part on the track, and Melle Mel was the winner — but the rest weren’t pleased that it was just him.
- “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” was a bonus track released first as a single, then as the final track on the 1982 UK release and subsequent reissues.
- Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five doesn’t have a happy ending as a group; they’ve broken up twice and performed under different combinations of alliances with no real clear chance of getting the original group back together. Animosity between some members still exists: in 2015, Scorpio made headlines when he accused Grandmaster Flash of being a “fake” DJ.
- Their legacy lives on, however, from the current hip-hop and rap scene to shoutouts in Hamilton to the Netflix series The Get Down.
- Shoutout to anyone who has been lucky enough to see Hamilton by now. If you haven’t, and you can miraculously get your hands on tickets: GO. SEE. IT.
- Seriously, watch The Get Down. It will bring you joy.
- We have several issues with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s induction process, and we’re pretty sure we’re not alone — DM us, @ us, email us — we’d love to talk.
- Pssst — if you like us, shares us with your friends, and please rate and review us in the iTunes store. We would very much appreciate it and you would be a friend of the pod for life.
- As always, talk with us! Even if your question can be answered from our FAQ page here, never hesitate to shoot us an email, message us on Facebook, or follow and DM on Twitter to get at us with questions, comments, or just to say hi. We’ve had some great conversations so far.
Favorite track(s): It’s Nasty and Adventures…Wheel of Steel (Carly) | It’s Nasty and The Message (Carrie)
Least favorite track: Scorpio (Carly) | You Are (Carrie)
Grandmaster Flash (Joseph Saddler) – turntables, drum programming, Flashformer transform DJ device
Keef Cowboy (Keith Wiggins) – Lead and background vocals, writer and arranger
Grandmaster Melle Mel (Melvin Glover) – Lead and background vocals, writer and arranger
The Kidd Creole (Nathaniel Glover, Jr) – Lead and background vocals, writer and arranger
Mr. Ness/Scorpio (Eddie Morris) – Lead and background vocals, writer and arranger
Rahiem (Guy Todd Williams) – Lead and background vocals, writer and arranger
Doug Wimbish – Bass guitar
Skip McDonald – Guitar
Reggie Griffin, Jiggs, Sylvia Robinson – Prophet Sequential
Dwain Mitchell – Keyboards
Gary Henry – Keyboards
Keith Leblanc – Drums
Ed Fletcher – Percussion
Chops Horn Section – Brass
Hip-Hop Evolution | 2016
Girl in a Band | 2015
Blackout | 2015
NY77: The Coolest Year in Hell | 2007
“The Message” music video | 1982
Grandmaster Flash explains his DJ theory | Date unknown, likely early ’90s
Grandmaster Flash Beats Back Time | The New York Times (August 2016)
Grandmaster Flash: ‘Hip-Hop’s Message Was Simple: We Matter’ | The Guardian (August 2016)
So What Exactly Is ‘the Get Down’? Let Grandmaster Flash Explain | Vulture (August 2016)
‘The Message’ by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five is the Embodiment of New York City’s Spirit | Culture Creature (June 2016)
The 50 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time | Rolling Stone (December 2012)
Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever | 2012
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s The Message (reissue review) | Pitchfork (July 2005)