GRANDMASTER FLASH AND THE BIRTH OF HIP-HOP
After the season 1 premiere of the now cancelled Netflix original series, The Get Down, interest in the origins of hip-hop spiked. The legend himself, Grandmaster Flash, stopped by the popular New York-based radio station, Hot 97, to demonstrate how he helped conceive one of the most influential and profitable genres in modern history.
Imagine that you are living during one of the most tumultuous times in modern history: 1970s New York City. All you had to escape the daily drudgery of life was music. Grandmaster Flash spoke of the house parties that he would observe as a teenager, and he noticed something that would basically change his life forever. To Ebro and the rest of the Hot 97 crew, Grandmaster Flash explains that he noticed people moved and danced more vigorously to the drum solo or the “break down” part of the song rather than to what he called the “wack” part, or the standard tempo of the song. He wanted to find a way to extend this part and found himself at record stores all day pouring over music from various genres including R&B, rock, pop, funk, jazz, disco, and alternative, in search of the “break down” or the “get down” part of the song. With the help of turntables and a mixer, Flash was able to demonstrate how he used his knowledge of music, math, and physics to essentially create his own theory as to what could make his venture of extending the “break down” successful.
Grandmaster Flash also emphazsizes the importance of 70s music and how it is basically the foundation of many of the iconic songs we enjoy to this day. I believe this to be true because when I started getting into funk music on my own, I noticed the great influence it had on many of the rappers in the 80s and 90s we now consider classic. I remember watching Old Dirty Bastard’s video for "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" , and thinking that the 70s dance party/Soul Train theme was not by accident. Even though the samples in his song were more from the 60s than the 70s, it caused me to realize that many rap artists growing up during the 70s were influenced enough by the music of that era to use it in their craft as adults. Also, 70s music’s influence was not just limited to hip-hop/rap. Donna Summer’s collaboration with Giorgio Moroder on “I Feel Love” from her 1977 release, I Remember Yesterday, changed the landscape of electronic dance music up until this very moment.
I really hope that Grandmaster Flash’s story continues to be recorded, propagated, and immortalized. His knowledge of music and sound engineering is invaluable, and it shows how far creativity and determination can take you when an opportunity is available. A young man from a family that migrated from the Caribbean to the United States who grew up in one of the poorest, if not the poorest neighborhood in New York and was able to create one of the most popular, profitable, and imitated genres in the world. Much respect is due.
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