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Music / Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five

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From left to right: Scorpio, The Kidd Creole, Grandmaster Flash, Keef Cowboy, Rahiem, and Melle Mel.

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five are one of the pioneers of Hip-Hop. They introduced many innovations that are still a cornerstone of the genre today. Grandmaster Flash was a skillful DJ and turntable expert, who introduced the backspin technique, punch phrasing and perfected scratching. Band member Keef Cowboy was the first to use the word hip hop, while Cowboy's brother Melle Mel was the first rapper to call himself MC (Master of Ceremony).

They are best known for their three hit singles The Message, The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel and White Lines (Don't Do It) and are seen as the progenitors of Conscious Hip Hop and Political Rap. While many other hip hop acts were basically clowning around, Grandmaster Flash and his band used their skills to provide socially conscious messages about the hardships of modern life.

Despite being huge during the early 1980s the band faded away halfway the decade. Grandmaster claimed his label didn't pay their royalties and tensions in the band caused a split. Grandmaster Flash, Kid Creole and Rahiem continued as Grandmaster Flash, while Melle Mel, Cowboy and Scorpio went on as Grandmaster Melle Mel & The Furious Five. They briefly reunited in 1987 for a charity concert. Band member Cowboy died of a cocaine overdose in 1989. A definitive reunion came about in 1994, but they never managed to return to the charts again. Their musical contributions haven't been forgotten, though. In 2002 they became the first rap act to have one of their songs, The Message inducted in the National Recording Registry and in 2007 they were the first hip hop artists to be honored into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel, Scorpio, and Raheim all continue to make music and perform, but The Kidd Creole was charged with second-degree murder in 2017 and was convicted of manslaughter in April 2022.

Albums by the band:

Albums by Grandmaster Melle Mel & the Furious Five:

  • Grandmaster Melle Mel & The Furious Five (1984)
  • Piano (1989)

Albums by Grandmaster Flash:

  • They Said It Couldn't Be Done (1985)
  • The Source (1986)
  • Ba-Dop-Boom-Bang (1987)

Grandmaster Flash is also interviewed in the 1986 Hip-Hop documentary Big Fun in the Big Town.

The classic lineup:

  • Grandmaster Flash (Joseph Saddler)
  • Keef Cowboy (Keith Wiggins)
  • Melle Mel (Melvin Glover)
  • The Kidd Creole (Nathanial Glover)
  • Scorpio (Eddie Morris)
  • Raheim (Guy Williams)

Tropes on the Wheels of Steel:

  • Added Alliterative Appeal: Furious Five
  • Alliterative Name: Melle Mel.
  • And the Rest: Grandmaster Flash is backed by five furious, yet uncredited rappers.
  • The Big Rotten Apple: "New York, New York" directly talks about the dog-eat-dog, hand-to-mouth world of the poor districts of New York. "The Message" also contains the same themes, though it doesn't name the city.
  • Conscious Hip Hop and Crapsack World: One of the first rap bands to start rapping about poverty, violence and dead-end lives of Afro-American youth.
  • Despair Event Horizon:
    • "The Message":
      Don't push me
      Cuz I'm close to the edge.
      I'm trying not to lose my head...
    • "New York, New York" talks about a young mother who went insane upon having the stress of a Teen Pregnancy and poverty visited upon her.
  • Drugs Are Bad: "White Lines (Don't Do It)" is an anti-cocaine song.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Their first few singles, "Superappin'", "Freedom" and "The Birthday Party", didn't have the social-conscious element present in later recordings, being not too different in theme from other contemporary rap groups' recordings, and also were longer than their later material.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Melle Mel's last verse in "The Message" had already appeared in their single "Superappin'", three years earlier, also as Melle Mel's last verse in the song.
  • Epic Rocking: "The Message" and "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel". Even then, both are outdone by their first single, "Superappin'", that clocks in at twelve minutes.
    • They did this a lot, particularly for a hip-hop act. Lots of their other songs also pass the six-minute mark with ease, from "Flash to the Beat" (almost eleven minutes long!) to "Beat Street Breakdown" to "White Lines (Don't Do It)" to "World War III" to "New York" and on and on, though many of them have been released in several different mixes of varying length. The three-disc anthology Adventures on the Wheels of Steel has an average song length of just under six minutes and twenty seconds.
  • I Am the Band: Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.
  • Instrumental Hip Hop: "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel" is a track made entirely out of samples.
  • Non-Appearing Title: Nowhere in "The Message" is the word "message" actually used.
  • Old School Introductory Rap: In what might be the only straight example of this structure in actual hip-hop music, the song "Birthday Party" has this as a line. Even then, the second half of the bar uses neither "in a major way" nor "in the U.S.A.".
    "Melle Mel and I'm here to say, I was born on the 15th day of May".
  • One-Woman Song: "That girl is fresh!" in "She's Fresh".
  • Political Rap/Protest Song: "The Message" talks about the hardships of living in the ghetto, "Survival (Message II)" continues the themes, while "White Lines (Don't Do It) warns of the dangers of cocaine use.
  • Prison Rape: The fate of one who does not heed the message in "The Message" and "Survival (Message II)".
  • Sampling: Used samples often. "The official adventures of..." from "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel" would be sampled in itself countless times.
  • Singer Namedrop: Just like any other hip hop band, they enjoyed doing this too.
  • Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: Despite being credited under the group's name, Grandmaster Flash himself doesn't actually appear on many of the group's songs and was more visible during stage performances when he played the turntable.
  • This Song Goes Out to TV Tropes: "Dreamin'" opens with a dedication to Stevie Wonder, "cause he's the greatest!"
  • A Wild Rapper Appears!: Steppenwolf rerecorded "Magic Carpet Ride" in 1988 with Grandmaster Flash.