His sinuous fingers worked the vinyl like none before him. His nerves were a straight shot from his head to his hands without stopping anywhere along the way. The turntables were nearly another pair of hands. It's hard to say if... [more]
His sinuous fingers worked the vinyl like none before him. His nerves were a straight shot from his head to his hands without stopping anywhere along the way. The turntables were nearly another pair of hands. It's hard to say if he was first to scratch or cut -- there's been arguments on all sides. It's enough to say he was one of the best showmen the early days of hip hop ever saw.
Grandmaster Flash spent enough hours behind the decks to earn himself a doctorate in Turntablism. He was entirely self-taught and so serious about stitching together beats that he studied not only the technical minutiae of the turntables, but also needle types and how they responded to the actual grooves in the records.
This music was new to most listeners. Sure, the style had been around for a few years on the streets and in the parks of upper Manhattan and the Bronx, but it was the
Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash who put out the first LPs, under the Sugarhill Records label. Grandmaster Flash, working with rappers known as the Furious Five, broke into the spotlight in 1981 with "The Adventures of
Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel." The record was acclaimed for its technical and artistic innovations -- audiences who had never paid much attention to the genre were astonished to hear snippets of Blondie and Queen cut and spliced into a new sound.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were also one of the first to bring raps out of party conversation and into social commentary. "The Message" (1982) penetrated to the bottom of inner-city experience, commenting on everything
from bill collectors to doing time. Sugarhill thought such explicitness spelled the end of hip hop's popularity, but the single went platinum. Things only got better with the release of the seminal "White Lines" in 1983. About the dangers of cocaine, it's since become a hip hop classic.
Maybe the "Flash" part of his moniker was something of an omen, considering that by 1983 he was already doing battle in court to end his contract with Sugarhill Records. Though he won the suit, both he and the label deteriorated rapidly after that point. The Furious Five splintered, and a series of solo projects in the late 1980s met with listener apathy. But though his era ended in less than a decade, Grandmaster Flash is still the stuff of legend. Just ask countless DJs, inspired to buy their first secondhand turntables after seeing those famous fingers fly in the classic flick "Wild Style," why. [show less]