12/30/2013, 1:12 p.m.
DJ, Pioneer, Hip-Hop Legend
Square Peg Into A Round Hole
There are lots of stories about the birth of jazz and the beginning of rock n’ roll, but hip-hop has founding fathers: one of them is DJ Grandmaster Flash. In the early 70’s Joseph Saddler was living in the South Bronx and studying electrical engineering. However, Saddler, a native of the Bronx, had a much deeper passion for music; he had been experimenting with his father’s vinyl since he was an toddler. His knowledge of audio equipment led him to an idea that would revolutionize the way he played music: the turntable would become his instrument.
The career of DJ Grandmaster Flash began in the Bronx with neighborhood block parties that essentially were the start of what would become a global phenomenon — the dawn of a musical genre. He was the first DJ to physically lay his hands on the vinyl and manipulate it in a backward, forward or counterclockwise motion, when most DJs simply handled the record by the edges, put down the tone arm, and let it play. Those DJs let the tone arm guide their music, but Flash marked up the body of the vinyl with crayon, fluorescent pen, and grease pencil—and those markings became his compass.
He invented the Quick Mix Theory, which included techniques such as the double-back, back-door, back-spin, and phasing. This allowed a DJ to make music by touching the record and gauging its revolutions to make his own beat and his own music. Flash’s template grew to include cuttin’, which, in turn, spawned scratching, transforming, the Clock Theory and the like. He laid the groundwork for everything a DJ can do with a record today, other than just letting it play. What we call a DJ today is a role that Flash invented.
By the end of the 70s, Flash had started another trend that became a hallmark around the world: emcees followed flash to the various parts and parties to rap/emcee over his beats. Before long, he started his own group, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Their reputation grew up around the way the group traded off and blended their lyrics with Flash’s unrivaled skills as a DJ and his acrobatic performances—spinning and cutting vinyl with his fingers, toes, elbows, and any object at hand.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five went Platinum with their single, “The Message.” Meanwhile, the single “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” introduced DJing to a larger listening audience than it had ever known before; it became the first DJ composition to be recorded by a DJ. The group’s fame continued to grow with “Superappin,” “Freedom,” “Larry’s Dance Theme,” and “You Know What Time It Is.” Punk and new wave fans were introduced to Flash through Blondie, who immortalized him in her hit, “Rapture.”
The rock n’ roll hall of fame also recognized Flash with an honor no one else in hip hop has received: Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five became the first hip hop group ever inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. Flash is the first DJ to ever receive that honor.