Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
Also known as – Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5 MC’s
The Younger Generation
Flash and the Five
Origin – New York City, New York, U.S.
Genres – Hip hop, funk, electro
Years active – 1978–1982, 1987–1988
Labels – Enjoy! Records
Sugar Hill Records
Associated acts – Grandmaster Melle Mel & The Furious Five
Past members – Joseph “Grandmaster Flash” Saddler
Melvin “Melle Mel” Glover
Nathaniel “Kidd Creole” Glover
Eddie “Mr. Ness/Scorpio” Morris
Robert Keith “Cowboy” Wiggins (deceased)
Guy “Rahiem” Williams
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five was an influential American hip hop group formed in the South Bronx of New York City in 1978. Composed of one DJ (Grandmaster Flash) and five rappers (Melle Mel, Kidd Creole, Cowboy, Mr. Ness/Scorpio, and Rahiem), the group’s use of turntablism, break-beat deejaying, choreographed stage routines and lyricism was a significant force in the early development of hip-hop music.
The group rose to fame in the early 1980s with their first successful single “Freedom” and later on with their magnum opus “The Message”, which is often cited as among the most influential hip hop songs. However, in 1983, relations between Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel became strained and the group disbanded. A reunion was organized in 1987, and it released a new album, which received lukewarm reviews. Afterward, the sextet disbanded permanently.
Overall, the group was active for five years and released two studio albums. In 2007, it became the first hip hop group ever to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Formation and early years (1978–1979)
Prior to the formation of the Furious Five, Grandmaster Flash worked with the “L Brothers” which consisted of “Mean Gene” Livingston, Claudio Livingston and Grand Wizzard Theodore. They practiced with Livingston’s brother Grand Wizzard Theodore at house and block parties in his neighborhood of the South Bronx for three years. However, it wasn’t until 1977 that he began collaborating with rappers such as Kurtis Blow. Flash then recruited his friend Cowboy, Kidd Creole and Melle Mel. The trio called themselves the Three MC’s and worked with Flash, who went on to bring in Mr. Ness/Scorpio (Eddie Morris) and Raheim (Guy Williams). Among the first singles they released were “We Rap More Mellow” and a live version of “Flash to the Beat”, for which they performed under the names the Younger Generation and Flash and the Five, respectively.
They were locally popular, gaining recognition for their skillful raps and deejaying, but it wasn’t until the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” proved that hip hop music could reach mainstream that they began recording. In 1979 they released their first single on Enjoy Records, “Superappin'”. Afterwards, they switched to Sylvia Robinson’s Sugar Hill Records after an agreement that they could perform over a current DJ favorite.
Mainstream success and The Message (1980–1982)
In 1980, the group had their Sugarhill Records debut with “Freedom”, reaching #19 on the R&B chart and selling over 50,000 copies. The follow-up “Birthday Party” went on to become a hit as well. In 1981 Grandmaster Flash released “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel”, This was a multi deck live recording of one of Grandmaster flash’s routines featuring, Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” and Chic’s “Good Times”. It also marked the first time that scratching & turntable trickery had been actually recorded on a record.
In 1982 the group released “The Message,” which was produced by Clifton “Jiggs” Chase and Ed “Duke Bootee” Fletcher, the latter of whom co-wrote the song alongside Melle Mel. It provided a political and social commentary and went on to become a driving force behind conscious hip-hop. The song peaked at #4 in the R&B chart and #62 in the pop chart, and established hip-hop’s credibility in mainstream music. Other than Melle Mel, however, no members of the group actually appear on the record.
Their debut album was also named The Message, and it went on to become a prominent achievement in the history of hip-hop.
In 1983, Grandmaster Flash sued Sugar Hill Records for $5 million in unpaid royalties. This resulted in the single “White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)” being credited to “Grandmaster & Melle Mel”. The song reached #47 in Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. Another lawsuit was filed over certain elements of the song being stolen from “Cavern” by Liquid Liquid, from which Sugar Hill Records would never recover.
The royalties dispute split the group, and Melle Mel left, soon followed by Mr. Ness/Scorpio and Cowboy after “White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)” was a hit, where they formed Grandmaster Melle Mel and the Furious Five and released the album Grandmaster Melle Mel and the Furious Five in 1984. Meanwhile, Grandmaster Flash, Kidd Creole, and Raheim left for Elektra Records and included to the group three new members “The Lord LaVon” (Kevin L. Dukes – Phenomenal writer, Rapper and Bassist),Russell Wheeler (Rapper – “Mr. Broadway”) and “Larry-Love” (Larry Parker – Dancer). They worked under the name “Grandmaster Flash” on They Said It Couldn’t Be Done, The Source, and Ba-Dop-Boom-Bang. The additional members The Lord La Von, Larry Love and Mr. Broadway formed the “Furious Five” but they could not use the name as Sugar Hill Records owned the rights.
Grandmaster Flash and his new “Furious Five” had hits with their three albums, which made it to the top fifty of Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, whereas Melle Mel and his group fared better, most notably with the recording of “Beat Street Breakdown”, which peaked at #8 in the R&B chart. During this period, Melle Mel gained higher success, appearing in Chaka Khan’s “I Feel for You”, which won the Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance in 1985.
Reunion and waning popularity (1987–1988)
1987 brought back the original lineup of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five when they performed for a charity concert at Madison Square Garden. They soon reunited for their first studio album in nearly five years, recording On the Strength, which was released on April 1988. The album failed to reach the success of The Message and received lukewarm reception. The group never really enjoyed the same success as they did in the early 1980s and permanently broke up afterwards.
Permanent disbandment and post-On the Strength (1989–present)
Each member went down his own path, though some have briefly worked together. Melle Mel, Scorpio and Cowboy released another album as Grandmaster Melle Mel and the Furious Five, Piano, in 1989. Keith “Cowboy” Wiggins died due to his addiction to crack cocaine on September 8, 1989.
In 1990, Grandmaster Flash produced Just-Ice’s album Masterpiece. He went on to work as musical director for The Chris Rock Show, and later released The Official Adventures of Grandmaster Flash, Essential Mix: Classic Edition, and The Bridge – Concept Of A Culture. He has also received many accolades, including the DJ Vanguard Award from Bill Gates in 2004, RIAA’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in 2005, and BET’s I Am Hip-Hop Icon Award in 2006. His autobiography, The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash: My Life, My Beats, was released in 2007.
In 1985, Melle Mel met Quincy Jones at the Grammys, and they began to collaborate for Back on the Block. This led to Mel being featured in the song “Back on the Block”, which won him the Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group in 1991. He would pick up an additional Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album in 2002 for his contributions in Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones. 1997 saw him sign onto Straight Game Records and releasing Right Now with Mr. Ness/Scorpio. The album also featured Rondo, for which he would form a group with him called Die Hard. They released an album entitled On Lock in 2002. On January 23, 2007, he changed his name to Grandmaster Melle Mel and released his first solo studio album, Muscles, The first single and music video was “M3 – The New Message”. He has also released the children’s book The Portal in the Park, which features a CD where children can read and rap along with him. This project featured a then unknown Lady Gaga. She performs with Mel on the songs “World Family Tree” and “The Foutain Of Truth”.
When asked of a possible reunion in 2002, Melle Mel responded:
“It[‘s] not a question of whether we could get together or not […] I just don[‘t] think that we could get a deal. The record company people just don[‘t] see a market for us.”
Legacy and Influence
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five are a well-respected group in the history of hip hop music. They have been honored at the VH1 Hip Hop Honors in 2005 and were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. The Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. displays in their historical archives the vinyl records and the turntable used by DJ Grandmaster Flash.
They have influenced many musical acts such as Run-D.M.C., Whodini, Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, KRS-One, EPMD, Stetsasonic, Doug E. Fresh, Salt-n-Pepa, Ultramagnetic MC’s, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, Eminem, Pharoahe Monch, Busta Rhymes, DJ Quik, Beastie Boys, Hieroglyphics, Too Short, Wu-tang Clan, Digital Underground, NWA, Tupac Shakur, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Ludacris,Heavy D, among many others. Ice Cube recorded a song titled “Check Yo Self” with Das EFX, the remix of which sampled the music of “The Message.”
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