Review Summary: “It's like a jungle sometimes, It makes me wonder how I keep from going under…"
I shouldn't have to explain just how important Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five are to hip-hop. Along with artists like the Sugarhill Gang, Brother D, and DJ Kool Herc, Flash and his enigmatic entourage revitalized and recontextualized disco and funk music at a time where white rock fans were attempting to squash black artforms. With the turntable techniques of DJing and tight, fresh grooves, what would become hip-hop had a lot to prove to both white America and fellow black communities. How could up and coming artists prove that this wasn't a fad or a mere attempt to coat pre-existing music in new paint❓
is the thesis of the genre. Sure, Sugarhill and Kurtis Blow had releases out before this record, but few releases before this one were as socially aware. Moreover, so much to come in hip-hop can be heard in this landmark album. The politically and socially conscious messages of Public Enemy and The Roots, the thought-out lyricism and stories of Kendrick Lamar and Nas, the catchy song structures of A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul, and even the interworking of soul featured in the works of The Fugees and Anderson .Paak all have their roots in the songs featured on this 44 minute progenitor. Just take the now iconic title track, a track that’s impeccable bassline, grooving beat, and subtle turntableisms offer a direct blueprint for everyone from DJ Shadow to the New Power Generation.
Part of what helped The Message
is just how varied it is, with elements of electro, funk, dance, rap, pop, and more all being depicted with both clever samples and live instrumentation. Everything comes together to make a record that is somewhat eclectic, but incredibly focused and sharp. From the skillful DJ showcase of “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash” to the incredibly potent “It’s a Shame (Mt. Airy Groove),” every piece feels meticulously planned and orchestrated, with the Grandmaster’s vision shining through.
Balanced themes of hope and discouragement represent the day to day life of the Furious Five and their peers, getting by in a crazy world while finding joy and inspiration wherever they can, be it a fresh lady, a nasty backbeat, religion, or the music of Stevie Wonder. Because of this, there’s a beautiful groundedness to The Message
, one that helps the words of Melle Mel and Duke Bootee shine on the title track. Life for minorities, African-Americans in particular, was and still is often unfairly tough and the themes of this song, and the record of as a whole, let the disenfranchised youths know they aren't alone in their struggles and desires. And that’s the spirit of hip-hop.