DJ Grandmaster Flash, the hip-hop legend who changed the game with his scratches and break mixes

Stephen Nartey March 02, 2023
Grandmaster Flash/Photo credit: grandmasterflash

DJ Grandmaster Flash is considered one of the revolutionary figures in hip-pop, pioneering a technique that has survived all genres of party music. Born Joseph Saddler on January 1, 1958, in Barbados, he started his marriage with music at a very tender age and began with spinning records and staging live performances at area dances on the streets of the Bronx.

By 19, he had taken his craft to the local disco circuit. Some believe that his technical school courses in electronics may have had an influence on his technique; he inspired the use of moving between tracks exactly on the beat, which is known as cutting, back-spinning, and manipulating turntable speeds called phasing in the DJing space. Over time, these skills have become the basic techniques of modern-day DJing of all music.

His mastery of this technique made him a sought-after figure in the rap game during the 1970s. When hip-pop became a popular culture in the early 1980s, he became one of the faces of the game with his record-mixing innovation. The Grandmaster produced one of hip-hop’s greatest hits with his “scratching,” “break mixing,” “punch phasing,” and “beatbox” techniques. He was able to combine beats and melodies to easily sweep hip-hop fans off their feet.

He introduced what is known as showmanship to the rap scene, which is the art where a group will give a shout-out to thrill the audience while the DJ mixes his records. Over time, this art, which the Grandmaster popularized with his group, Furious Five, has become an integral part of hip-hop and evolved into rhythmic tunes. It was an ever-present feature in the group’s first single, “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel, ” released in 1981. They later followed up with another hit in 1982 titled “The Message,” which the Grandmaster used to highlight teething issues such as urban poverty and violence facing the black community.

Though the group did not survive beyond 1982, their work inspired rap and hip-hop music. Despite the demise of the Furious Five, the Grandmaster’s knowledge and technique carried on in the hip-hop scene for a long time. He later became a music director on the Chris Rock Show, and his contributions to the music industry were recognized in 2003 when the Billboard-AURN R&B/Hip-Hop Awards Show gave him the Founder’s Award.

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