Music Monday: Happy Birthday, Grandmaster Flash! | Los Angeles Public Library
Print this page

Music Monday: Happy Birthday, Grandmaster Flash!

Keith Chaffee, Librarian, Collection Development,

Hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash was born on January 1, 1958.

Grandmaster Flash is a DJ who performed with Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five in the 1980s. He pioneered and advanced many of the techniques that are now standard for DJs, such as creating long repeating loops of a short phrase by manipulating copies of the same record on multiple turntables, or punching short phrases from one record as an interjection into another record. The group's 1980 single "Freedom" is believed to be the first appearance of record scratching on a record; it had been an important part of live performances by DJs for several years.

The group's most important song was 1982's "The Message," a song about poverty in the inner city that featured the refrain "It's like a jungle sometimes / It makes me wonder how I keep from going under." It was among the first hip-hop songs to offer social commentary. It also marked a shift in hip-hop from the DJ to the rapper as the central figure. In fact, Grandmaster Flash himself doesn't actually appear on "The Message;" his DJ'ing was central to the group's concerts, but on their records, the group's rappers more often performed with studio musicians.

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five only recorded two albums before splitting up, The Message in 1982 and On the Strength in 1988. Between those two, Grandmaster Flash released three solo albums, They Said It Couldn't Be Done, The Source, and Ba-Dop-Boom-Bang. He published a memoir, The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash, in 2008.

While the performing career of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five was short, it was deeply influential, and its importance has been recognized in a variety of ways. In 2002, "The Message" was one of the first 50 recordings added to the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry; it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2011. In 2007, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five became the first hip-hop act to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.