Born Joseph Saddler on January 1, 1958, in Barbados, West Indies; raised in the Bronx, NY. Addresses: Office--853 Broadway, Ste. 1516, New York, NY 10003. Website--Grandmaster Flash Official Website: http://www.grandmasterflash.com.

Known as one of the founding fathers of hip-hop, Grandmaster Flash was one of rap's earliest technical pioneers; the innovative turntable techniques he experimented with in the 1970s have become synonymous with rap and hip-hop today. Flash and his group, the Furious Five, became one of the best-known rap acts of the early 1980s, with popular singles such as "The Message," "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel," and "White Lines (Don't Do It)." Flash split from the Furious Five and went on to record on his own, but faded from mainstream popularity in the 1980s. Flash came back into view in the 1990s as an elder statesman of the genre, revived and celebrated by contemporary hip-hop groups and media.

Turntable Antics Became Hip-Hop Legend

Grandmaster Flash was born Joseph Saddler on January 1, 1958, in Barbados, West Indies, but was raised in the Bronx, New York. Recognizing her boy's fascination with electronics, Saddler's mother sent him to Samuel Gompers Vocational High School. His musical tastes were shaped by what he snuck from his father's and sister's record collections--he plucked Glenn Miller, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, and Stan Kenton from his father; his sister's collection exposed him to Michael Jackson, Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, James Brown, Joe Corba, and Sly and the Family Stone, among others. He attended early DJ parties thrown by DJ Flowers, MaBoya, and Peter "DJ" Jones as a teen. Jones took an interest in the young Saddler, and the upstart DJ began to engineer his own turntable style.

Flash was not the first person to experiment with two turntables, but his discoveries are among the most known in contemporary hip-hop. Among the innovative turntable techniques Flash is credited with developing are "cutting" and "scratching" (pushing the record back and forth on the turntable), "phasing" (manipulating turntable speeds), and repeating the drum beat or climatic part of a record, called the "break." He developed a way to segue between records without missing a beat, using a mixer. He was also known for his technical tricks, mixing records behind his back or under tables and manipulating mixing faders with his feet. In the late 1980s, he was the first DJ to design and market his own DJ device, the Flashformer.

After nearly a year spent practicing in his 167th Street apartment, Saddler started spinning records at free block parties and parks in the Bronx, often illegally pilfering power for his sound system from intercepted power mains until being shut down by the police. He soon earned the nickname "Flash" for his rapid hand movements and general dexterity on the decks. Not completely satisfied that his wily turntable tricks were enough in themselves to completely entertain an audience, Flash invited friend and vocalist Keith Wiggins, later known as Cowboy, to share the stage with him. Wiggins would become one of rap's first "MCs," rapping lyrics over Flash's beats.

Was Paid to DJ

Until he was approached by promoter Raymond Chandler, Flash performed in the style of the times--for free. Chandler was among the first to see the commercial viability, and Flash agreed to let Chandler promote him and charge entrance fees, though Flash could not believe anyone would pay to see him spin records.

In the mid-1970s, friends Grandmaster Melle Mel (Melvin Glover) and Kid Creole (Nathaniel Glover) joined with Flash and Wiggins to form Grandmaster Flash and the Three MCs. Two more rappers, Kurtis Blow (Kurt Walker) and Duke Bootee (Ed Fletcher), joined and were later replaced by Rahiem (Guy Todd Williams) and Scorpio (Eddie Norris, a.k.a. Mr. Ness). The sextet became known as Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, which became one of rap's first groups. The crew was known for its choreography, studded leather stage wear, and solid rapping skills. According to GrandmasterFlash.com, Furious Five MC Cowboy 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 are echoed tirelessly in contemporary hip-hop. The early days of live rap fostered head-to-head rapping competitions between rival MCs (later known as battling), often competing for their competitor's equipment in lieu of prize money.

Flash and the group recorded a number of singles for the Enjoy label, the first of which, "Super Rappin'," was released in 1976. Though an underground hit, the song went mostly unnoticed, as did the subsequent singles "We Rap Mellow," and "Flash to the Beat." Joe Robinson Jr. bought out Flash's Enjoy contract for his Sugarhill record label, and one of the most legendary artist-label teams was born. Robinson's wife, Sylvia, began writing songs for the group, and they released "Freedom," which was pushed to gold-selling status by the first major tour in rap history. The single "Birthday Party" followed, but the revolutionary "Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel" was released soon after and became a smash hit. The first song to incorporate samples, "Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel" dramatically showcased Flash's singular talent and changed the way music was recorded.

Got "The Message"

Cowritten by Sylvia Robinson, 1982's "The Message" was decidedly darker and more focused on urban issues than the group's previous party anthems and, though Flash and the Five recorded it reluctantly, the record became a platinum-selling hit within a month of its release. During recording of the anti-cocaine single "White Lines (Don't Do It)," Flash and Mel had a falling out. Also, despite the group's success, Flash had not seen much in the way of profits, so he left Sugarhill Records and took Kid Creole and Rahiem with him to sign a deal with Elektra Records. The rest of the group stayed as Melle Mel and the Furious Five, and achieved nearly instant success with the single "White Lines." The popular anthem was ironic, as Flash himself had become a freebasing cocaine addict. Flash and Mel later appeared together on a 1995 cover of the song by Duran Duran.

Flash drifted out of mainstream culture for much of the 1980s. His solo record, 1985's They Said it Couldn't be Done, met with low critical response. Songs like "Alternate Groove" and "Larry's Dance Theme," critic Ralph Novak wrote in People, were "fun, enjoyable, and incorporated the lyrical phrasing and turntable and synthesizer manipulations that Flash was famous for." But those two strong songs were lost in the sea of "homogenized pop" that dominated the record, Novak continued. Novak declared Flash could not "be forgiven for forsaking the rhythmic rapping that made him a hip-hop star." 1986's The Source noted that the album was a bitter and boastful declaration that alleged all other rappers had only copied Flash and his style. The record's strong point, noted People critic David Hiltbrand, was Flash's "feverish turntable scratching technique" on what he considered the "best tracks," "Fastest Man Alive," and "Style," but those skills were hidden throughout most of the record.

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five reunited onstage for a charity concert hosted by Paul Simon in 1987, but a proper reunion did not occur until 1994, for a rap-oldies show that also featured Kurtis Blow, Whodini, and Run-DMC. Flash returned to mainstream consciousness in the 1990s, celebrated by hip-hop culture and media as an elder statesman of hip-hop. He coproduced Public Enemy DJ Terminator X's solo record, Super Bad, and hosted a call-in radio show that showcased hopeful MCs. A slough of greatest hits records were released in the late 1990s, and Flash worked as musical director and DJ of HBO's Chris Rock Show.

Received Founder's Award

At the end of 2001 Flash was busy at work on a new solo project built around the sounds he experimented with at the South Bronx block parties of the late 1970s. The Official Adventures of Grandmaster Flash was released in January of 2002, and included cuts from original block party tapes, and exclusive interview footage with Flash himself. Flash also prepared a 28-page booklet to be included with the release, featuring rare photographs from the period and a detailed history of the era. Flash received the Founder's Award for hip-hop, at the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Awards.

In May of 2002, Flash followed up his The Official Adventures... collection with Essential Mix Classic Edition. Released by Rhino Records, the album featured what All Music Guide called a "contemporary look at the classic sound of the wildly diverse old-school rap scene." The release zeroed in on synth-centric 1980s works by Nu Shooz, Fatback, Maze, Blondie, and Liquid Liquid (whose bass line on "Cavern" supplied the main melody to Flash's "White Lines").

Following the release of Essential Mix Classic Edition, Grandmaster Flash focused on new projects, like endorsing the Empath mixer for the Rane Corporation in 2002. He also continued with his commitment to hip-hop radio, DJing at such radio stations as WBLS, Hot 97 Radio, and Sirius Satellite Radio's Hot Jamz channel. In 2004, Flash announced that he'd be starting a new record label, called Adrenaline City Entertainment. He was also nominated as a part of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five to be a part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in December of 2004.

by Brenna Sanchez and Ryan Allen

Grandmaster Flash's Career

Began spinning records at block parties in South Bronx, NY, early 1970s; formed Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five with MCs Cowboy, Kid Creole, Melle Mel, Rahiem, and Scorpio; group made recording debut with single "Super Rappin'," Enjoy Records, 1979; Sugarhill Records bought out contract, 1980; released platinum-selling "The Message," 1982; Flash left the group and signed with Elektra Records, 1983; released solo debut album, They Said It Couldn't Be Done, 1985; released two more solo albums on Elektra, 1986-87; group reunited for a charity concert, 1987, and again in 1994; coproduced Terminator X's solo record, Super Bad; was musical director and DJ for HBO's Chris Rock Show, late 1990s; recorded The Official Story, 2001.

Grandmaster Flash's Awards

Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Awards, Founder's Award, 2002; (with the Furious Five) inducted into Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, 2005.

Famous Works

Further Reading

Sources

BooksPeriodicalsOnline

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

about 9 years ago

Hi just wanted to say Flash recieved an award that was well deserved. I met Flash when he came to Memphis,Tn. When he was on tour here in memphis. Since then we have remained friends. I value our friendship a lot. I still talk to him every once and a while to see how he and his children are doing. I have daughters who adore him. Keep up the good work Flash and God Bless. LOve Ya Pat from memphis, tn

about 9 years ago

Hi i really enjoyed reading about Flash. We have a special bond like no other. I met Flash when he was on tour here in Memphis, tn. From then on i try to stay in touch with Flash, just to see how he and his children are doing. Flash is a dear friend of mine and my children adore him. Oh by the way happy-b-day Flash. The girls said hi. Congradulations on your Fame it is well deserved. Love Ya Pat Memphis,Tn