“Drink Champs” is back! Starting the new season with a high note in 2024, N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN were joined by Hip Hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash for a candid conversation that addressed his role in getting the genre off of the ground.
The self-proclaimed scientist and mathematician of music fell in love with music the first time he heard a needle drop on a vinyl. Using his developed skill of being handy, Grandmaster Flash started producing as a teenager and became the official DJ and beat-maker for Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five in the ’70s. After putting rap on the map with records like “The Message,” the group continued to make history by being the first people to take Hip Hop from The Bronx to the mainstream.
Grandmaster Flash remained innovative throughout the following years. Some of his inaugural feats include creating sampling, figuring out how to mix tracks in real-time without using technology, becoming the first DJ to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and making history as the first DJ to get a Grammy. On top of his historic string of accomplishments, he also had successful stints working on movies and TV shows.
The pioneer breaks his journey and contributions down during the nearly four-hour season eight premiere of the show. Class is in session. Check it out here.
1. On inventing sampling
Using an already-released composition in a new creation has always been an essential part of Hip Hop. Grandmaster Flash, who deems himself as “the first human sampler” is largely to thank for that. With breakdancing in mind during the early days of the genre, he admitted to asking himself on the show, “How can I take this 10 seconds from this pop, rock, jazz, blues, funk, disco, R&B, alternative, Caribbean, Latin, this one particular section, and elongate it just enough so that the breakers could have a steady beat to dance on?” He added, “Later, it became the music bed for the rapper to speak on,” which evidences how the invention has evolved.
2. On records that capture the essence of Hip Hop
The Bajan DJ was asked what he would play for aliens if they came down to Earth and wanted to hear something that defined Hip Hop. “There are two records that I think are the absolute top. If you were to say, ‘These records helped start a movement,’ [it] would be [DJ] Kool Herc’s discovery of ‘Apache’ (by The Incredible Bongo Band) and my discovery of ‘Take Me to the Mardi Gras’ by Bob James. 1A, 1B,” he said. Both aforementioned tracks were used by the legendary producers to create iconic breaks that brought Hip Hop to life in the ’70s and ’80s.
3. On the evolution of the beatbox
When most people hear the term “beatbox,” they assume that it’s a reference to someone making noises with their mouth. However, according to Grandmaster Flash, the beatbox actually refers to a drum machine. After being introduced to the device through a drummer in The Bronx’s Jackson Projects, the Hip Hop pioneer began using the tool for production, as heard in “Flash To The Beat.” “This became the secret weapon and this got us more fans,” he explained. “Years later, there were these super people, Biz Markie, rest in peace, [and] Dougie Fresh, that decided to replicate the sounds of a drum with their mouth and they made huge records off of this,” he added before referring to his original beatbox as the “first drum machine in Hip Hop, period.”
4. On the genesis of his Quick Mix Theory
Around the age of 15 or 16, Grandmaster Flash developed what he called the Quick Mix Theory to loop and blend music in real time. Why? He annotated, “The way DJs played music the right way, was heavy on the tonearm. But in order for me to connect the short runway, I needed a quicker way for me to do this.” So he came up with a formula: Four bars forward is equal to six counterclockwise reps, which equals a full loop extraction. He finished by expressing the long-lasting impact of his math: “The mechanics of this has not changed in 50 years. I said something on the internet many years ago, ‘I’ll put up 10 grand for anybody that can do this without using my mechanics. Not the machine, not a computer. I’m talking about human beings like you and me… I’m still waiting.”
5. On his involvement in “The Get Down”
Grandmaster Flash was recruited to work on the Netflix original “The Get Down” by the show’s creator Baz Luhrmann. Luhrmann consulted with the DJ to ensure the accuracy of Hip Hop’s birth in The Bronx before eventually hiring him as a producer. “The intention was to take elements and then glorify it with a story,” Grandmaster Flash said. “It wasn’t real, but it d**n sure put The Bronx on the map, for real. And I thank him for that.” Actor Mamoudou Athie, who portrays the pioneer in the show, looked so similar to the real Grandmaster Flash that the 67-year-old musician questioned if Athie was a long-lost son.
6. On fighting for his stage name
The Hip Hop innovator was signed to Sugar Hill Records, but even after their business deal came to a close, the label continued to use his name and likeness. In fact, Grandmaster Flash’s name is branded on a number of records like “Beat Street” by Melle Mel that he had no actual involvement with. When asked about it all, he began, “Grandmaster Flash was hot from the streets, made hot by the record label. And there was a time where I had to go into court and fight for my name because it was getting a little bit out of hand.” Talking about the day he won over the rights to his moniker, he remembered, “I ran out of that courtroom, and I fell down on my knees and I thanked God and I was crying like a baby because all I wanted was my name back.”
7. On the new age standard of performance
Grandmaster Flash had some things to say about keeping the bar high during a show. “I think it’s extremely important, if you know your craft, know your craft with no net. Meaning you should not be rhyming over the vocal version,” he said. “Because even if you make a mistake, that’s what makes the performance so incredible.” He continued, “I think it’s an injustice to people who paid $40 to come in, or $50 or $100 to come see you rhyme over your talking. It’s not fair.”
8. On DJ Kool Herc’s back-to-school jam
DJ Kool Herc’s sister’s back-to-school bash on Aug. 11, 1973 is credited for being the event that birthed Hip Hop. When N.O.R.E. asked about the validity of that statement, Grandmaster Flash revealed, “I didn’t see it, I didn’t know it was here and I’ve never talked to anybody that went to this party. And I’m not saying that it didn’t exist. But I haven’t seen anybody on the internet talk about, ‘I was there.’” When DJ EFN brought up the fact that Crazy Legs and DMC have also questioned the existence and details of the event, Grandmaster Flash continued, “I have still yet to hear, and I would love to hear who was at that first party. If it happened at the center, what happened at that center? What was going on? What was happening? We need to know that.” He then suggested that the originators of the genre should sit down and clear up the history with one another.
9. On how Hip Hop 50 celebration
The genre’s founding father wasn’t a huge fan of how Hip Hop’s 50th anniversary was promoted last year. He mainly criticized the lack of acknowledging all four elements of the genre, as well as the periods that were highlighted and the ages of the people who spoke on rap’s impact. While noting how the press moments were positive for the style, Grandmaster Flash also said, “The detail of where it came from, and what it took to get here has not been properly represented. And this is what I say to the PR people and to the press people, like if you want to know the beginning, the beginning, beginning, you gotta ask someone who’s around 60,” he declared. “You can’t ask somebody 30 or 25. You just cannot. And this is why I find it critically important to speak.”