Grandmaster Flash Interview: Cross The Fader

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by RiotSound contributing writer Todd Davis

Pioneering Hip-Hop DJ Joseph “Grandmaster Flash” Saddler is one of the chief architects of breakbeat DJing, cutting and mixing, as well as a founding member of the legendary Hip-Hop group Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five.

In his early years Flash played illegal parties and worked with luminaries such as Kurtis Blow and Lovebug Starski before eventually forming his own group in the late 1970’s. Originally known as Grandmaster Flash and The Three MCs, the group featured Flash, the late Cowboy, who is actually responsible for coining the term “Hip-Hop”, Melle Mel and Kidd Creole. Shortly thereafter two additional members, Rahiem and Scorpio, were recruited and The Furious Five were born!

After signing with Enjoy Records in 1979 and releasing the classic “Superrappin’”, the group went on to ink a deal with Sugar Hill and drop numerous popular singles. Released in 1982, “The Message” would prove to be Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five’s most enduring as well as thought provoking hit, however, aside from Melle Mel, who is historically the first rapper ever to refer to himself as an “MC”, no other member of The Furious Five ever lent their vocals to one of Hip-Hop’s most timeless tracks. A breakthrough hit, “The Message” would go platinum in less than a month and Flash would appear in the classic movie Wild Style the same year.

Shortly thereafter internal strife between Flash and Mel would lead to a split between the group’s members that eventually culminated in a permanent disbandment. Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five would eventually reunite in 1987 for a charity concert and release what many felt was a lackluster album the following year. Another brief reunion would follow in 1994, although clouded by the untimely death of Cowboy, who had succumbed to drug addiction several years earlier.

An enduring legend and one of Hip-Hop culture’s most important figures, Grandmaster Flash recently signed a deal with Doubleday Publishing Group to release his official memoirs. In addition Flash hosts a show on Sirius Satellite Radio and tours regularly in the US as well as abroad. On March 12, 2007, Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five became the very first Hip-Hop group ever to be inducted into the prestigious Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Congratulations on your 2007 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame! How did you feel when you first found out that you were going to be, not only inducted, but also being the very first DJ to ever receive this highly prestigious honor?

GRANDMASTER FLASH: Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would be included with some of the world’s greatest entertainers. I looked at it as an honor, and as me opening the door for more compadres to be included.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Although that is an incredible feat in itself, do you feel that it is actually time for a Hip-Hop Hall of Fame as well? Should we, as a culture, eventually head in that direction?

GRANDMASTER FLASH: I believe it is long overdue. There should have been a building or structure in the Bronx long ago.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You presently host a show on Sirius Satellite Radio, what else have you been up to lately?

GRANDMASTER FLASH: I am presently doing a worldwide search for undiscovered and unknown talent to include on my upcoming album, The Bridge.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You are also penning your memoirs, what can we expect from your forthcoming book?

GRANDMASTER FLASH: [With the book, I want to show people] that through the most difficult times accomplishing anything is possible.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Being a DJ for over three decades how has your approach to the art evolved over that time?

GRANDMASTER FLASH: Since I was the first DJ to use the turntables as an instrument and doing everything with analog equipment, it took me a long time to step into the digital world. I am now using the Traktor Scratch digital application and I will be doing a tour promoting this [digital module].

RIOTSOUND.COM: From the beginning of your career you always sought to push the boundaries of the equipment you used and you often modified various components in order to specifically fit your needs. When you look at all the complex tools and digital instruments that DJs use today, what do you make of all that?

GRANDMASTER FLASH: I believe that the new equipment is an offspring of my spirit. Everything must evolve.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Some fans may not realize this but you actually coined the term “beat boxing”. You had a piece of equipment that you called a “beat box”, can you talk about that?

GRANDMASTER FLASH: A “beat box” is a manually operated drum machine that I purchased from a drummer. I then learned how to play it and my MCs would rhyme over the beat. So I would go from cutting to manually playing this drum machine that I called a “beat box.”

RIOTSOUND.COM: Going back to the very beginning, where did your impulse to pursue music originally come from?

GRANDMASTER FLASH: I began by tampering with my father’s electrical equipment, which was considered taboo. I took lots of beatings, but, of course, to no avail. I continued to mess with his equipment and records.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You are originally from Bridgetown, Barbados, is that correct?

GRANDMASTER FLASH: No, I was born in the Bronx. My family is from Barbados.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Oh, okay. So, what kind of music did you really grow up on? And how would you sum up your own overall vibe?

GRANDMASTER FLASH: My early music influences were James Brown, Miles Davis, Tito Fuente and Michael Jackson. I would describe the music that I create and perform both as energetic as well as joyful and versatile.

RIOTSOUND.COM: When Hip-Hop was first taking shape in the mid ‘70’s, there wasn’t really one distinct scene at that time; what was it like back then in those early years?

GRANDMASTER FLASH: Hip-Hop was born in the Bronx. There was a triad; Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa. The three of us had separate tiers; Herc had the West Side of the Bronx, Afrika had Bronx River and I had the South Bronx. There was also another DJ by the name of DJ Breakout who had the North Bronx. Everything eventually meshed together.

RIOTSOUND.COM: In your view, what does it take to withstand the test of time and stay relevant for as long as you have?

GRANDMASTER FLASH: I believe that if you love what you do and have faith, your passion for whatever you do will take care of you.

RIOTSOUND.COM: As far as the current trends in Hip-Hop, what are you most happy about, and also, what are you most disappointed with?

GRANDMASTER FLASH: I am happy that the thoughts of three DJs have manifested into a worldwide culture. I am disappointed that there are no foreign Hip-Hop collaborations or foreign MCs being heard on the radio in America.

RIOTSOUND.COM: In general, does today’s Hip-Hop music still appeal to you?

GRANDMASTER FLASH: Yes.

RIOTSOUND.COM: As a DJ, what do you think is more important, mastery of technical skills and dexterity, or the knowledge of music and having a vision of what you want to present to your audience?

GRANDMASTER FLASH: I believe both are very important. I put DJs into two classifications, technicians and performers. A performance DJ will let more of the record play, and a technical DJ will take more of an element and move it in a backward and forward motion to make it his own. This is where the two audiences divide.

RIOTSOUND.COM: What would people be most surprised to know about Grandmaster Flash?

GRANDMASTER FLASH: That I am a normal human being who like so many of us took his gift and pushed until it became publicly recognized.

RIOTSOUND.COM: What types of extracurricular activities do you enjoy getting into?

GRANDMASTER FLASH: Reading Dr. Wayne Dyer or any other publication on alternative medicine.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You’ve performed so much overseas, what’s different about audiences outside of the United States?

GRANDMASTER FLASH: The audiences overseas are more open minded to different genres of music.

RIOTSOUND.COM: As far as the immediate future, what’s next for Grandmaster Flash?

GRANDMASTER FLASH: My book, my album, lectures, soundtracks, jingles and remixes.

For more news and info on Grandmaster Flash stay tuned to www.GrandmasterFlash.com