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Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five

“The Message” review

Grandmaster movie still with several men aligned in two rows facing each other

It’s 1982, disco music rules the radio waves, Prince William is born, Ozzy Osbourne is eating bats on stage, and New York City is a mess. It’s also the year in which Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five release their debut album – “The Message”. Some things are about to change.

If you’ve never heard of them, you may need to update your record collection. After all, without these six guys we might have never had Snoop Dogg, Wu-Tang Clan, Tupac Shakur and… basically the entire hip hop scene that followed in their footsteps.

Starting out in 1978 in the rough South Bronx, Grandmaster Flash (real name: Joseph Saddler) and his 5 mates have arguably done more for rap music than most other artists before or after. Although they did not single-handedly invent the genre, they steered it in a new direction, bringing quality production to the homemade “block party” sound of the ‘70s, while ensuring a clear demarcation line with disco music.

If you are curious about getting a taste of the scene back then, we can highly recommend “The Get Down” by Netflix, directed by Baz Luhrmann.

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five brought critical acclaim to rap without “selling out”: a careful listen to their successful title track will highlight smart and poignant social commentary. Before the big money flowed in, rappers did not sport the classic look we’re used to today, but they were already dealing with core issues such as racial inequality and harsh living conditions in ignored and neglected neighbourhoods. Along with fast rhyming and skilled sampling, all the ingredients were already there.

Fun fact: even the origins of the genre name – “hip hop”, are traced back to Keith Cowboy, one of the Furious Five. He incorporated the rhythmic cadence of soldiers marching into free-style, scat singing that was so common at informal parties in NYC.

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