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Rap Biographies: Grandmaster Flash

Grandmaster Flash
Grandmaster Flash (born Joseph Saddler on January 1, 1958 in Barbados) is a hip hop musician and DJ; one of the pioneers of hip-hop DJing, cutting, and mixing.

Saddler's family migrated to the United States, and he grew up in the Bronx. He became involved in the earliest New York DJ scene, attending parties set up by early luminaries. Learning from Pete Jones and Kool Herc, he used duplicate copies of a single record and two turntables but added a dextrous manual edit with a mixer to promote the break (a point of isolated drum rhythm) - the ordinary playing of the record would be interrupted to overlay the break, the break could be repeated by using the mixer to switch channels while the second record was spun back. The speed and dexterity needed showed why Saddler was called Flash, although he got the nickname in school due to the fact that he hung around with another guy named Gordon (from Flash Gordon). He also invented the technique initially called cutting, which was developed by Grand Wizard Theodore into scratching (AMG).

Flash played illegal parties and also worked with rappers such as Kurtis Blow and Lovebug Starski. He formed his own group in the late 1970s, after promptings from Ray Chandler. The initial members were Cowboy (Keith Wiggins), Melle Mel (Melvin Glover) and Kid(d) Creole (Nathaniel Glover) making Grandmaster Flash & the 3 MCs. Two other rappers briefly joined, but they were replaced more permanently by Rahiem (Guy Todd Williams, previously in the Funky Four) and Scorpio (Eddie Morris, also used the name Mr. Ness) to create Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five. Soon gaining recognition for their skillful raps, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five pioneered MCing, freestyle battles, and invented some of the staple phrases in MCing. They performed at Disco Fever in the Bronx beginning in 1978.

Signed to Sugar Hill Records in 1980 by Joe Robinson, they released numerous singles, gaining a gold disc for "Freedom," and also toured. The classic "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel," released in 1981 was the best display of their skills (combing elements of Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust", CHIC's "Good Times" and samples from Blondie's Rapture), but it was their least successful single at the time. The group's most significant hit was "The Message" (1982), which was produced by in-house Sugar Hill producer Clifton "Jiggs" Chase and went platinum in less than a month. In 1983, Flash and Mel released a 12" single, "White Lines," which went on to become one of their signature songs. Flash sued Sugar Hill in 1983 over the non-payment of royalties, and in 1984 the group split between Flash and Mel before disintegrating entirely. Flash, Kid Creole and Rahiem signed to Elektra Records while the others continued as "Grandmaster Melle Mel & the Furious Five." (Mel notably appeared on Chaka Khan's I Feel for You). They reformed in 1987 for a charity concert, to release one album and then fall apart again. There was another reunion, of a kind, in 1994, although Cowboy died in 1989 from a drug overdose due to the effects of his crack cocaine addiction.

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 aka Scorpio (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; after releasing "We Rap More Mellow" as the Younger Generation, Flash and the Five recorded "Superappin'" for the Enjoy label owned by R&B legend Bobby Robinson. They then switched to Sugar Hill, owned by Sylvia Robinson (no relation), after she promised them an opportunity to rap over a current DJ favorite, "Get Up and Dance" by Freedom (the idea had probably been originally conceived by Crash Crew for their single "High Powered Rap").

That record, 1980's "Freedom," the group's Sugar Hill debut, 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 Da Bop Boom Bang, he reformed the original Furious Five lineup 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-D.M.C. A year later, Flash and Melle Mel also appeared on Duran Duran's cover of "White Lines." Except for a few compilations during the late '90s, Flash was relatively quiet until 2002, when a pair of mix albums appeared: The Official Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on Strut and Essential Mix: Classic Edition.

Grandmaster Flash is Known as one of the three Oringinators of Break-Beat DJing (The Other 2 being Afrika Bambaataa and DJ Kool Herc), And is responsble for developing and perfecting time precision on the following DJ techniquues: Cutting (repeating a beat or Musical phrase by moving the record back and forth); Back Spinning (repeating a beat or phrase on a record, by alternately spinning both records backwards to the desired beat or phrase; thus, repeating it); and punch-phrasing (playing certainparts of a record on one turntable in quick volume surges, while the record plays on the other turntable).

Flash was the first to debut track DJing skills like mixing records behind his back or beneath table, kicking mixing faders with his feet, and the like. In the late 1980s, he was also the first DJ to develop and market his own mixer, called the Flashformer. His Group the Furious Five was a premier group toward the mid-1970s, known for thier choreography, studded leather stage wear, and fierce Rapping Skills. Group member Cowboy was the first MC for Flash, Who Pioneered Phrases like "Throw your Hands in the Air, And wave'em like ya just don't care!," "Clap your hands to the beat!," and "Everybody Say, Ho!," Which have become staples in Rap and Hip Hop Culture. He was also the first Mc to hype the Skills of his DJ during Parties, With Lines like "The Pulsating, Inflating, Disco Shaking, Heartbreaking man on the turntables...."

Flash's 1981 Single "the Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on The Wheels of Steel" was the first record to exemplify Hip-Hop DJing Skills, and the Group's 1982 hit "The Message" was One of the First Serious Rap Records. Group Member Melle Mel was among the most skillful rap lyricists and technicians of his name. He is also responsible for introducing a more phonetically percussive style to MCing.

As one of Hip Hop's pioneer DJs, Flash is responsible for introducing some of the following break records: "Pussyfooter" by Jackie Robinson, "Heaven and Hell" by 20th Century Steel Band, "Johnny the Fox" by Thin Lizzy, and "Walk This Way" Aerosmith.

Flash grew up in the South Bronx with a wide appreciation of music. He would sneak and raid his father's record Collection, and listen to records by Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Thin Lizzy, Led Zeppelin and other varieties of Music. He was also fascinated with Electronics, and his mother eventually sent him to Samuel Gompers Vocational High School to Pursue this Interest.

Flash started to take up DJing in 1974 after seeing Kool DJ Herc play Break Music. Flash and his then-partner, Mean Gene (DJ Grand Wizard Theodore's older Brother), Later played for small house parties and discos, Where he came upon Pete DJ Jones, A popular disco DJ for the older crowd. He noticed that Jones knew more about mixing than Kool Herc did, because Jones precued all his records, as opposed to Herc, Whose method of mixing was strictly based on how he dropped the needle.

After asking Jones for an opportunity to play on his system several times, Flash found out why Jones's Mixing was perfect. By Listening through Jones's headphones, He discovered that that a troggle switch allowed him to hear the other turntable before playing it to the crowd. Thereafter, Flash found and divised his own switching system for his sound equipment, and soon began perfecting his timing in Break-Beat DJing.

Around 1975 Flash began to apply what he called "The Clock Theory" to DJing, Where he began to read records by finding a particular spot on the record label (like the label's logo) to enable him to quickly find certain sections on a record. Mean Gene's Baby Brother, Theodore, Began hanging out with Flash around this time and later became Flash's record Boy.

Because Flash's DJing Skills at his parties captivated his crowd so much that it hindered them from dancing , He began to assemble a group of MCs to keep the Crowd going. Cowboy was his first choice for MC. Melle Mel was the second MC he chose, with Mel's brother, Kid Creole, Being the third. They then were billed as Grandmaster Flash and the 3 MCs. Later Flash would use a Vox drum machine with the group, Billing themselves as Grandmaster Flash and the 3 MCs with the Beat Box.

Toward 1976 Flash was approached by ex-policeman and promoter Ray Chandler in St.Ann's Park in the Bronx, Who suggested to Flash that he esablish a regular spotfor his parties. Chandler found a place on Boston Road and 169th Street; The Small Club had a painted Black Door, and the two decided to Christen the spot in promotions as the Black Door. Later, Due to scattered problems by Stick-up kids who attended Flash's parties, Chandler decided to hire security for the spot. He hired some former members of the Black Spades street gang, known as the Casanova Crew, led by crew member Tiny.

Within a few months the popularity of Flash's parties forced him to seek larger venues. By September 1976 Flash was playing the Audubon Ballroom to a crowd of nearly 3000, Where he performed many of his familiar tracks, plus added new ones, like dropping the needle on records directly on the beat, on time, without cuing.

Flash, Cowboy, Melle Mel, Kid Creole, and added member Scorpio (then known as Mr.Ness) appeared in several other venues like the Renaissance and the Savoy Manner as Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Four. By 1977 the Furious Four Split with Flash's Manager, Ray Chandler, due to various differences, While Flash continued working minus his MCs. Around this same period DJ and MC battles were frequently occurring in the Bronx. Flash was involed in several notable ones, including challenging DJ Tex and Afrika Bambaataa, Where Flash retaliated with an army of sound systems.
Flash Began DJing for Kurtis Blow, and the two would later perform together at various P.A.L.venues in the Bronx. During summer 1978 Cowboy, Melle Mel, Creole and Scorpio were working with DJ Charlie Chase. By the End of 1978 Flash and his former MCs (with Scorpio) had Reunited and Resumed doing shows together. Around this same period they took part in a notable battle with Busy Bee Starski, Grand Wizard Theodore, and Afrika Bambaataa. Some time later the group's famous and intense battles would be with DJ Breakout and the Funky Four.

By 1979 Flash was approached by legendary record producer/store owner Bobby Robinson of Enjoy Reords, who wanted to Rrecord Flash and the Group. During this same period Cowboy, Melle Mel, Kid Creole and former Funky Four member Raheim had recorded a record for Brass Records called "We Rap More Mellow" under an assumed name, The Younger Generation.

Soon After, Flash and the Furious Five (with Raheim now a member) began recording for Robinson, with their first 12-inch single for the label being "Superappin'." Disappointed with Robinson's inability to get them on radio, the group soon signed with Sylvia Robinson's Sugar Hill Records, on the strength of her promise to get them to perform on the backing track of a record that was a DJ favorite at the time, titled "Get Up and Dance," by the group Freedom. Flash and the Furious Five's first record for Sugar Hill was, in fact, titled "Freedom," and was a hit with the Hip-Hop crowd. During that same year the group recorded the song "Birthday Party"

By 1981 the landmark "Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel" was released. This single gave people the first recorded example of Falsh's wizardry on the turntables, and it was the first record of it's kind. During this same period Flash and the Furious Five went on a European Tour, where they opened some show for the punk rock group The Clash. They were received poorly by Clash audiences in some venues, while in others they received moderate responses(Kurtis Blow later Toured Triumphantly as The Clash's opener).

In 1982 the group had released another landmark recording called "The Message," a social Commentary that was unique for its "don't push me, 'cause i'm close to the edge" chorus hook, which expressed urban frustration. Sugar Hill Records' house band percussionist, Ed "Duke Bootee" Fletcher, was one of the main architects behind the work, with Melle Mel's performances making the piece one of Hip-Hop's true Classics. That same year Grandmaster Flash made an appearance in the Hip-Hop movie "Wild Style".

In 1983 Flash felt there was a conclict of intrest with Sugar Hill Records' co-owner Sylvia Robinson managing and producing Flash and the Furious Five, as well as owning half the labelthey were recording for. Flash sued Sugar Hill Records for $5 million. Thereafter, the courts ruled the Flash had the right to keep the use of his name, "Grandmaster Flash," but was not entitled to a finacial settlement. The lawsuit caused another riff within the group with the Furious Splitting down the middle, with Melle Mel, Scorpio and Cowboy forming one fraction, and Mel's brother Creole, Raheim and Flash forming the other.

Melle Mel, Cowboy and Scorpio continued to recoerd for Sugar Hill Records. The Single "White Lines (Don't Do It), " Which was released around 1984, was billed as Grandmaster & Melle Mel. Later Mel and the others did three albums for the label, billed as Grandmaster Melle Mel and the Furious Five, with King Lou, Grandmaster E-Z Mike, Dynamite, Tommy Gunn and Kami Kaze making up the remainder of the group. Melle Mel also did some cameo work during this same period, appearing on singer Chaka Khan's single "I Feel for you". During 1986, Melle Mel worked with promoter Van Silk on the WNBC-TV antidrug commerial in New York, which won an Emmy.

Flash signed with Elektra Records, working with Raheim and Kid Creole, along with additional crew members, including Mr.Broadway, Lavon, Shame and Larry Love. In 1985 this configuration scored big with the piece "Larry's Dance Theme".

After Several albums from both Furious Five fractions, the original Furious Five reformed again around 1988, recording the album "On The Strength". However, by September 1989 Flash's first MC, Cowboy, had died, and the group members had separated again to pursue individual projects. Melle Mel worked with Quincy Jones on his "Back on the Block" album, while Flash began to get into production, working with Roxanne Shante, Essence (who appeared on the soundtrack of the film "New Jaxk City"), Color Me Badd and others.

In 1994 Flash and the Four Furious members had united again for a few months, this time on radio, doing the "Mic Check Show" on New York's Hot-97 FM.

Grandmaster Flash continues to DJ clubs and has a Sirius Satellite Radio show on channel 34 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM EST called "The Flash Mash Show". He also has a line of clothing line "G.Phyre", and he has signed a deal with Doubleday to publish his memoirs.
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