On the streets of New York City in the 1970’s the name Grandmaster Flash rung louder than a fire engine siren. He had the rep. He was definitely the man back then. I heard the name before I heard the man.
One day at the Jamaica Alden – an old movie theatre in Jamaica, Queens – this was a ghetto ass theatre on Jamaica Ave, if memory serves me right. My pops took me and my brother to see the ‘Fish That Saved Pittsburgh’. To show you just how rowdy this theatre was, you had dudes walking in there playin’ their box as if they were outside. Cats were smokin’ weed and passin’ 40’s as if they were at a party. I mean it was some real nig- type shit.
Anyway, the song ‘Good Times’ by Chic was the hottest record out at the time. Deejays loved to cut the shit out of that record. Everywhere you went you heard it. Right before the movie started up someone was playing a Flash tape on their box. I now know that it was Mele Mel on the mic at that party, back then I had no idea who was talking on the mic for Flash, but it was just before ‘Rapper’s Delight’ came out. This rap shit was at a fever pitch on the streets.
I’ll never forget the first time I heard ‘Superrappin’. To this day that is one of my favorite songs from that group. It was the first time that I heard a group of five MC’s literally sound like one. And their rap skills were head, shoulders, knees and toes above the Sugar Hill Gangs.
Now that the group has finally been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it feels kind of like the movement has been validated in some ways. Way back in the day, rap music was definitely not respected, in fact, for many years it was the ugly stepchild of the music industry. No one really respected the music. They didn’t value it because guys were ‘just talking over a beat’. Many people – right until today, don’t think that it takes talent. And if they do think it takes talent, they don’t put it on the same level as singing or playing an instrument. It’s really not a respected art form.
While I was watching the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony on TV, I was sitting on the edge of my seat, because the group that electrified the movement – the movement that I have been apart of for my whole life, the same movement that I grew up with, was finally taking its place alongside the greats of Rock history.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five are to me and my generation what Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Ike Turner and the Beatles are to previous generations. They were the group with the biggest influence, hell; they were the first rap group.
The thing that disappointed me the most watching the broadcast was Jay Z’s introduction of them. And here’s why…
Jay Z is definitely one of the greatest rappers ever. I’ve followed dudes career from ’85 to now. And that’s just it. Jay and I are the same age, we’re both damn near 40’s year old. How can he get up in front of any camera or any audience anywhere on a night as historical as that and not talk about what impact that group had on him personally? It defies any logical explanation I can think of.
Like I said Jay ain’t no 22 year old from Boise, Idaho or someplace like that, he knows how important that group is to hip-hop. None of us would be doing what we’re doing now, had it not been for them. And that’s real.
Over the years I have interviewed just about all of the major hip hop pioneers for various articles I’ve written in print and online. Many of them have mentioned a conspiracy of sorts that is meant to downplay their contributions to the culture. Many of have said that there is a stigma attached to being a hip-hop pioneer that is difficult to live with. Part of that conspiracy that the brothers have talked about is that anyone prior to RUN-DMC, it’s almost as if they didn’t exist or weren’t as important as Run and them.
At first I didn’t believe it. I thought it was the remnants of the coke some of them had been sniffin’ in the 80’s.
That was until one night when LL Cool J accepted a Soul Train Award – I think for lifetime achievement or something like that. LL credited Run DMC as being “the creators of rap as we know it today”.
That statement struck me in between the eyes and has stayed with me to this day. “How can Run and them be that?” I asked myself. That’s impossible. It’s physically, mathematically and historically impossible. I could see someone 21 years old and from Butte, Montana or somewhere like that, saying something like that, because they wouldn’t know.
But not James Todd Smith from Hollis, Queens a guy who like myself and Jay Z is also damn near 40. Ain’t no way.
Someone damn near 40 – and or over 40 and from New York has a different perspective of the music and the culture than someone who is damn near 40 and from Shreveport, Louisiana. They aren’t going to know about the block parties, the jam tapes, the weekend jams at parks, rec centers, gyms, parking lots, parking garages, roller rinks and anywhere else a crew of guys could set up a sound system and jam. A person from outside of New York is not going to understand certain things that were apart of the culture back then. They just wouldn’t.
So when I hear these guys who are my age and whom I know grew up on the music the same way I did, not personalize their experience and omit the contributions of guys like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, I reflect on those conspiracy theories and they gain more credibility day by day.
But why would anyone work to discredit them?
The theory is is that Russell Simmons is behind it. For some reason allegedly, Russell doesn’t want anyone or any group to overshadow RUN-DMC.
And to be honest there is some credibility there. Check this out.
In 1985 the movie ‘Krush Groove’ came out. This was a movie that featured just about all of the Rush Artist Management groups. From what I understand, originally, the movie wasn’t even going to be about Russell, it was going to be called ‘The King of Rap’ or something like that and was going to be about Kurtis Blow.
Somehow or another that got changed.
When the movie was released Right On magazine did a full feature on the movie and its stars. This was big back then. By the way Right On Magazine was the only publication covering hip-hop back then, Spin Magazine would come along in the late 80’s and do it, they were the first to seriously cover the music. Anyway, in this issue they described Kurtis Blow’s character as an “aging over the hill rapper who’s career was over.”
From what I understand Kurtis was born in 1959 in 1985 he would’ve been 23 years old when that movie came out. Now you tell me, how is a dude washed up at 23 years old?
It wouldn’t be until years later when I learned about the industry that I learned that an artist’s management are the ones that protect his image in the press. They work with fan magazines on articles and whatnot – those articles were advertisement, so I imagine RUSH Artist Management paid for that write up.
Hmmmmmm….why would an artists manager dare let one of his acts be seen as ‘washed up and over the hill?”
Unless they had another agenda.
From what I understand the first rap group with a platinum album is not RUN-DMC, it’s Whodini’s ‘Escape’. Not only that, but Run and them have been credited for having been the first rap group on Soul Train and American Bandstand. How is that possible when Kurtis Blow was the first rap artist on Soul Train and the Sugar Hill Gang were the first rap group on American Bandstand.
Unless someone has another agenda.