Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5 - Biography
Real name: Joseph Saddler / Born: January 1 1958, Barbados, West Indies
DJ Grandmaster Flash and his group the Furious Five were hip-hop's greatest innovators, transcending the genre's party-music origins to explore the full scope of its lyrical and sonic horizons. Flash was born Joseph Saddler in Barbados on January 1, 1958; he began spinning records as teen growing up in the Bronx, performing live at area dances and block parties. By age 19, while attending technical school courses in electronics during the day, he was also spinning on the local disco circuit; over time, he developed a series of groundbreaking techniques including "cutting" (moving between tracks exactly on the beat), "back-spinning" (manually turning records to repeat brief snippets of sound) and "phasing" (manipulating turntable speeds) -- in short, creating the basic vocabulary which DJs continue to follow even today.
Flash did not begin collaborating with rappers until around 1977, first teaming with the legendary Kurtis Blow. He then began working with the Furious Five -- rappers Melle Mel (Melvin Glover), Cowboy (Keith Wiggins), Kid Creole (Nathaniel Glover), Mr. Ness (Eddie Morris) and Rahiem (Guy Williams); the group quickly became legendary throughout New York City, attracting notice not only for Flash's unrivalled skills as a DJ but also for the Five's masterful rapping, most notable for their signature trading and blending of lyrics. Despite their local popularity, they did not record until after the Sugarhill Gang's smash "Rapper's Delight" proved the existence of a market for hip-hop releases; Flash and the Five's debut, "Superrappin", followed on the Enjoy label in 1979, and a year later they signed with the famed Sugar Hill Records.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's Sugar Hill debut, 1980's "Freedom," reached the Top 20 on national R&B charts on its way to selling over 50, 000 copies; its follow-up, "Birthday Party," was also a hit. 1981's "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel" was the group's first truly landmark recording, introducing Flash's "cutting" techniques to create a stunning sound collage from snippets of songs by Chic, Blondie and Queen. Flash and the Five's next effort, 1982's "The Message," was even more revelatory -- for the first time, hip-hop became a vehicle not merely for bragging and boasting but for trenchant social commentary, with Melle Mel delivering a blistering rap detailing the grim realities of life in the ghetto.
The record was a major critical hit, and it was an enormous step in solidifying rap as an important and enduring form of musical expression. Following 1983's anti-cocaine polemic "White Lines", relations between Flash and Melle Mel turned ugly, and the rapper soon left the group, forming a new unit also dubbed the Furious Five. After a series of Grandmaster Flash solo albums including 1985's They Said It Couldn't Be Done, 1986's The Source and 1987's Ba-Dop-Boom-Bang, he reformed the original Furious Five line-up for a charity concert at Madison Square Garden; soon after, the reconstituted group recorded a new LP, 1988's On the Strength, which earned a lukewarm reception from fans and critics alike. Another reunion followed in 1994, when Flash and the Five joined a rap package tour also including Kurtis Blow and Run-DMC. A year later, Flash and Melle Me also appeared on Duran Duran's cover of "White Lines".
Listen: Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five - New York New York (Sugarhill 1983)
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