#RespectYourElders: Joseph Saddler, known by his stage name Grandmaster Flash, is an American DJ and record producer. He’s considered to be one of the founding fathers of hip hop and rap.
Flash was born in Barbados in 1957. His family emigrated to New York when he was a child and he was raised in the Bronx. During high school, he learned how to repair electronic equipment at the same time he was developing an interest in his father’s records. Flash began experimenting with DJ gear in his bedroom and got involved in New York’s music scene.
Over time, Flash became known for three innovative DJ techniques: 1) “cutting” — moving between tracks on the beat 2) “back-spinning” — manually turning records to repeat brief snippets of sounds and 3) “phasing” — manipulating turntable speeds. He’s often credited for transforming the turntable into a true instrument. Flash’s outside-the-box approach and his connections to other up- and -coming rappers put New York on notice.
In 1976, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five were formed. Including Flash, the group consisted of Melle Mel (Melvin Glover), Cowboy (Keith Wiggins), Kid Creole (Nathaniel Glover), Mr. Ness aka Scorpio (Eddie Morris), and Rahiem (Guy Williams). Flash did not appear on many of the Furious Five songs, although he was the central element when they performed live, thanks to his turntable skills.
Their 1982 song “The Message” was both a commercial hit and social commentary describing what it was like growing up Black during the Civil Rights movement. The lyrics tackle poverty, a broken education system, mental illness, and more. These sorts of topics weren’t widely embraced by commercial music, but Flash & the Furious Five opened the doors for many future rap and hip hop artists.
By the mid-1980s, the group had disbanded. However, they became the first hip-hop group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Flash continued to put out music through the years and the group even reunited several times in the 80s and 90s to put out new music.
Flash released his memoir, “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash: My Life, My Beats,” in 2008. He wrote about growing up being interested in the way machines worked, which led him to his fascination with turntables.
This spring, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five were honored at the Grammys for their impact on hip hop and the way that their lyrics spoke to important social causes.