80s Music

Artist Profile: Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five

Formed in the South Bronx of New York City in 1978, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five was a hip-hop group that was composed of Grandmaster Flash or Joseph Saddler, The Kidd Creole, Keith Cowboy, Melle Mel, Raheim, and Mr. Ness. They are popularly known for using break-beat DJing style, turntablism, and conscious lyricism. The group started their career by performing at live shows and parties during the late 1970s where they eventually achieved local success. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five is one of the most influential hip-hop acts and they are the first hip-hop group to be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In this article, we are going to find out how this legendary hip-hop group changed the history of hip-hop music.

Early Years

Before the formation of Furious Five, Joseph Saddler or Grandmaster Five worked with the group “L Brothers” which was formed by Mene Gene Livingston, Grand Wizard Theodore, and Claudio Livingston. After some time, Grandmaster Flash then decided to work with his rapper friends The Kidd Creole or Nathan Glover, Cowboy or Keith Wiggins, Mr. Ness, Raheim, and Melle Mel who called themselves as the Furious Five. The group started to become famous throughout New York City not only because of Grandmaster Flash’s unparalleled DJing skills but also for the Furious Five’s skillful rapping with their signature blending and trading of lyrics. Despite achieving local popularity, the group did not record their first album until after the release of the Sugarhill Gang’s smash hit called “Rapper’s Delight” because this move proved that they could reach a mainstream audience. After that, the group decided to release their first single called “We Rap More Mellow” under the name The Younger Generation. The used that name because their producer thought that it was a better name. in 1979, the group released their first ever single under Enjoy Records called “Sugarrappin’.” After that, they moved to another record label who was managed by the famous singer, Sylvia Robinson and this was the Sugar Hill Records. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five signed a deal with Robinson’s record label under the condition where they could perform over a current DJ favorite song Get Up and Dance which was performed by the group named Freedom.

In 1980, Grandmaster and the Flash released their first single under Sugar Hill Records called “Freedom.” The song was able to reach the 19th spot on the R&B charts and it sold over 50,000 copies. The group followed up this success by releasing another song called “Birthday Party” which became another hit song as well. The following year, Grandmaster Flash released his own record called “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” which is a multi-deck live recording of Flash’s routines featuring the songs such as “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen and “Good Times” by Chic. 

In 1982, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five released another single entitled “The Message.” The song was produced by Ed Fletcher and Clifton Chase under Sugar Hill Records and it featured a social and political commentary which became a driving force behind the subgenre called conscious hip-hop. The song managed to reach the fourth spot in the R&B charts and established hip-hop’s credibility to reach a mainstream audience. That same year, the group released their first ever album which was also called “The Message” and it became a prominent achievement in the history of hip-hop music. 

The Breakup

In 1983, Grandmaster Flash decided to sue Sugar Hill Records for 5 million dollars in unpaid royalties which resulted in the group’s single called “White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It) which was only credited to Grandmaster & Melle Mel. After the song’s release, another lawsuit was filed against Sugar Hill Records because of some certain elements from the song were stolen from Liquid Liquid’s song called “Cavern.” A lawsuit where Sugar Hill Records would never recover. 

After fighting over royalties, the group began to fall apart. Melle Mel first left the group followed by Mr. Ness and Cowboy. They later formed their own group called Grandmaster Melle Mel and the Furious Five and released a self-titled album in 1984. On the other hand, Grandmaster Flash, Rahiem, and The Kidd Creole left Sugar Hill Records for Elektra Records. They formed their own group and recruited three new members which were the phenomenal writer, bassist, and rapper, The Lord Lavon or Kevin L. Dukes, Russel Wheeler, and Larry-Love. The group worked under the name Grandmaster Flash on their three albums namely “The Source”, “They Said It Couldn’t Be Done”, and “Ba-Dop-Boom-Bang.” Grandmaster Flash and the new Furious Five scored several hits with their three albums. While Melle Mel and his group did a lot better by recording the song “Beat Street Breakdown” which managed to grab the eight spot in the R&B chart. 

Reunion and Permanent Disbandment

After several years of making their own music, the original lineup of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five reunited for a charity concert at Madison Square Garden. And after five years, they recorded their second album called “On the Strength” in 1988. However, the album did not receive as much attention compared to their first album. After realizing that they will never enjoy the same success they experienced in the early 1980s, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five decided to permanently break up after releasing their second album.

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