Grandmaster Flash (Joseph Saddler) b. 1/1/57
Melle Mel (Melvin Glover) b. 5/15/??
Kidd Creole (Nathaniel Glover) b. 2/19/??
Cowboy (Keith Wiggins) b. 9/20/?? d. 9/89
Rahiem (Guy Williams) b. 2/13/??
Mr. Ness aka Scorpio (Eddie Morris) b. 11/12/??
Born in Barbados, Grandmaster Flash is one of the Holy Trinity of Hip Hop.
Flash learned the basic art of cutting between records from Kool Herc in the mid-70’s.
Along with Afrika Bambaataa, Flash was an early competitor of Herc. Flash recalls Herc embarrassing him because he didn’t have the system (nor did anyone else at the time) that could compete with Herc’s. He decided to make up for what he was missing in volume with flawless technique.
Not only could Flash cut from one record to the next without missing a beat, he added in a new element. He would take phrases and sections of different records and play them over other records. He installed a device that would allow him, through the use of headphones, to hear what was going on on each record. Herc didn’t use this technique until much later.
He began to develop a following from house parties and block parties. People would come to hear and see Flash and his partner “Mean Gene” Livingston. Gene’s brother, a 13 year old named Theodore, practiced with Flash and is often credited as the inventor of “scratching.” Obviously this technique was mimicked by every DJ and became standard practice.
By 1978, Flash had surpassed Herc in popularity, but there was a decided shift in the realm of hip hop. While still important, deejays began to take second place to MC’s.
Flash rapped and made the shout outs on his own at first, but he knew if he wanted to remain innovative and retain his flawless turntable technique he needed some help.
He worked for a short time in 1978-79 with Kurtis Blow before recruiting a few of his friends Keith (Cowboy) Wiggins, and two brothers, Melvin (Melle Mel) and the older sibling, Nathaniel (Kidd Creole) Glover. They soon began writing their own rhymes and calling themselves The Three MC’s. Over time they added in Guy (Rahiem) Williams and Eddie (Mr. Ness/Scorpio) Morris and became the legendary group Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.
The group recorded the single, “We Rap More Mellow” on Brass Records under the name, The Younger Generation. They also released a along with a live version of “Flash To The Beat” on Bozo Meko Records under the name Flash and The Five.
They went on to record for Enjoy! Records before moving over to the land of Sugar Hill Records.
Flash is also credited with using the electronic beat box. He would put it between his turntables and use it to play the beat in between records.
Flash briefly appears in the hip hop film Wild Style cutting records in his kitchen.
In 1981, Flash released what is considered the most influential display of cutting and scratching ever recorded- “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel.” On it he uses sections of Blondie’s “Rapture”, Chic’s “Good Times,” Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” and sections from some of their previous work. This was the first time that people heard a song of nothing but a record on a record.
But, without question, the most influential song ever recorded by this group was released in June of 1982, only one week after The Sugar Hill Gang had released “The Lover in You” a much more typical Sugar Hill record. “The Lover in You” peaked out at #55 on the charts.
“The Message” peaked at #4.
“The Message” changed the playing field for what a rap record could do. It showed that you could make things other than party songs and still sell records. It featured Melle Mel and Duke Bootee (a Sugarhill session musician named Ed Fletcher). It is known that Melle Mel is angry about how everyone else shared credit for the song. Duke Bootee wasn’t even credited on the song at all. Critics raved about the song, despite rumors that many members of the group didn’t want to record it in the first place. Nevertheless it paved the way for such acts as Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions who would also go on to infuse much of their music with political and social commentaries.
Also along the same lines as “The Message” was the anti drug song “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” which was supposedly a tribute to cocaine before the “don’t do it” was added in later.
By 1983, Run DMC was emerging and Flash and the Five began their fall from the spotlight. Flash sued Sugar Hill Records for $5 million in royalties. The suit split the group in half. Melle Mel leading one side (which included a performance in the film Beat Street) and Flash on the other. Although they did reunite in 1987 to record a new album, it was not well received and the group disbanded permanently.
In 1989, Cowboy died after spending nearly two years strung out on crack. He was twenty eight years old.
Production duties for Flash away from the Furious Five and his own material was Donald D’s “Don’s Groove” in 1983 Just Ice’s 1990 album “Masterpiece” was solely produced by him.
Group members appeared in the documentary film The Show.
Melle Mel and Scorpio released an album in entitled “Right Now” 1997.
Grandmaster Flash was the musical director of HBO’s The Chris Rock Show. He also appeared in Jon Favreau’s 2001 motion picture “Made”.
Melle Mel also lent his vocal talents to the Sugarhill Gang for their album “Jump on It.”
Both Flash and Melle Mel released new CD’s in the beginning of 2002. Melle Mel with his new group Die Hard and Flash on his own entitled “The Official Adventures of Grandmaster Flash” and “Essential Mix: Classic Collection”
Grandmaster Flash has also been working on a new mixer, a turntable tournament, and other projects.
The group was recognized at the VH1 Hip Hop Honors in 2005.
Official Site – GrandmasterFlash.com
Check out a live performance of “The Message”
Additional info by Ed Roberts, Solomonic and Da Ewoks and TMGanalog