GRANDMASTER CUTS FASTER: THE STORY OF
GRANDMASTER FLASH AND THE FURIOUS FIVE
By Chuck Miller
Originally published in Goldmine, 1997.
"Flash comes out first complete with rousing introduction, takes off a black cape
and -- plays records.
He goes to the double turntables at the back of the stage and
cuts and blends bits of "Good Times" and "Another One Bites The Dust" -- not
just the usual segues but real tight-to-the-beat mixes and tricks like holding the
edge of the record so the beat clicks back on itself: the vinyl "talks" rap-style .
The Furious Five -- the MC's, the rappers -- come out one by one in glitzy black
and white outfits, talking fast, faster, fastest.
They had this choreography that
reminded me of the old Temptations -- classic but knife-sharp -- and they were in
constant motion even when they broke out of the routines.
They would hold their
mikestands out over the crowd to get the response: 'Say hooo!' 'Hooo!' 'Somebody
scream!'" (Vince Aletti, "Golden Voices and Hearts of Steel,"
The Village Voice
May 6, 1981).
They entertained crowds for free, five rappers and a sixth man who used phonograph
turntables as musical instruments.
The Clash wanted them to be their opening act.
performed a #1 song about their parties. Duran Duran covered their songs.
For 20 years,
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five brought hip-hop from the parks of 137th Street and
Gunhill Road to radio stations across the world.
Grandmaster Flash, the disc jockey who created the group, could trace his involvement
with music to the early 1960's, when a young Joseph Saddler constantly raided his father's prized
"My father was big on jazz, he had a lot of jazz 78's and the big LP's," said
Flash in an interview.
"When he came home from work, he would say, 'Son, do not go in that
closet over there, because that's where my records are.
If you do, I'm gonna give you a beating.'
I think him telling me that made me wonder what's in that closet, and why does he keep telling
me not to go in there?"
So when his father went to work, young Saddler went to the record closet.
Using a chair
from the kitchen so that he could reach the closet doorknob, the boy pulled out his father's prized
discs and played them on the family phonograph.
And then, with the sounds of jazz and bebop
blaring throughout the house, Saddler danced in the middle of the living room, oblivious to the
eventual spanking he would receive that night.
"My mother would say to me, 'You know your
father's going to kill you if he catches you.'
I thought I could still go in his closet and bother his
records, and I tried to put them back before he got home.
But he always knew categorically
where his stuff was.
At the time, I even accidentally dropped a few of his 78's.
If you drop them
one time, they're in pieces.
Boy did I get it then.
Even though I got a beating, if my booty were
healed, I'd go back into the closet again."
But it wasn't just the lush sounds of his father's prized jazz records that captured Saddler's