Even if you’re into hiphop, Grand Master Flash should not need any introduction. You should know that he is, along with Kool Herc and Africa Bambaataa, considered a pioneer of hiphop. He pioneered the scratch, and introduced the turntables as an instrument. With his record The Message he brought hiphop and DJing from being a New York craze into a worldwide phenomenon. He’s sold millions of records, performed at the Superbowl and Commonwealth Games, and received countless awards and accolades. Anyone credited with all of this would probably be ready to give it up and retire after 35 years, but Flash still has a message he feels he strongly needs to deliver to a new generation of fans.
“I have to make it clear to all the young and up and coming young people that hiphop was created in the year 1971 and it was totally designed by a DJ. And if it wasn’t for a DJ there’d be no hiphop, there’d be no rap records, there’d be no breakdancing, there’s be no graffiti artists, there’d be no MCs, there’d be no nothing!” he begins passionately. “Now that hiphop has become so big, that knowledge is either nonexistent or it has become buried. Since I am one of the creators I have to make it clear to every audience I perform in front of, of where hiphop comes from. It’s very important.” And it’s also the reason why, after 30 years of doing it, he’s still doing it, still going on the road, performing to audiences both large and small.
“I love playing big events like the Superbowl and Commonwealth Games, because it gives the DJ a notoriety they should have. I think that people need to understand that hiphop was designed by a DJ,” he says. “In my shows I jam, which is what I love doing, and I also like talking to young people. Just to see what they know, and what I can tell them about what they should know. Hiphop in it’s beginning was just a DJ. No MC, no breakdancing, no graffiti; just a DJ, his turntables, a microphone, and his trusty records. That was it.”
I ask him if he gets nervous or could be worried by a wardrobe malfunction at such a big event, and he laughs heartily. “I’m a man I don’t think I’ll worry about a wardrobe malfunction too much. But I do get nervous, two minutes before. But when I get up on stage, it’s the only place on earth I feel totally safe, other than when I’m with my children,” he adds. “I feel totally, totally, totally safe once I come from that side stage and all those people waiting, and it’s just me and God.”
Like most fathers, he gushes when he talks about his children. “My kids keep me up to speed with new music. I might be touring for a couple of months, and might miss a few new records that come out, and they keep me up to speed with that. Let me know what’s in, what’s hot!” I was curious to know if he held high hops of his children following in his footsteps. “They’ve gotta be the best at it, because they’ve got a tough act to follow,” he laughs. “They’re going to have to be top notch at it, be deadly serious about it, because you can’t come in on pop, you’ve got to come in as you as an artist.”
As someone who created scratching and introduced the world to sampling, I wanted to know his take on the controversy that always seems to surround it. “The beauty of hiphop is that you take an older record that probably was never a hit, and make it a hit,” he explains. “Now it has become big business, these records sell millions, and the owners of the publishing rights are deadly serious about getting paid, and I think that’s fair. I think that if you take a piece of someone else’s song and implant that in your work to make your song become a hit, you should pay that person. I’m with that.”
The prospect of vinyl being replaced by CDs and other technologies doesn’t seem to phase Flash at all. “I think that in this point in time for the more animated DJ and the more serious minded person who goes and watched DJs, I think from what I understand, it’s not watching the arm on the vinyl. From what I am told, the average fan likes to watch the DJ. They like to watch them turn around dig into his boxes, take it and put it on the platter, set it, cut it, throw it in,” he says. “With a CD DJ, those steps disappear because the CD goes right to the point where you want it. I have much respect for the CD DJs who do their thing, but for the animated DJs, for those who move to the music, go the whole 9 yards, the look of the vinyl is just,” he searches for the words “more appealing, you know?”
Flash has recently created Adrenalin City Records, his record / production label, in order to produce new artists and get new material out there, and plans on doing a few more things once this current tour is finished. “When the tour ends there’s two things I want to do, things I promised myself I would do. One is to get a book deal and write about my life and hiphop, and open up some DJ schools. I want to give back, in my own way, to hiphop, because it’s been good to me. Over the last 30 years it’s been up and down, up and down, but if I were to go back I probably wouldn’t change nothing,” he says.
Flash is also looking forward to getting some time off on his tour of Australia, as he feels he hasn’t had a decent chance to explore our country, either in searching out Aussie hiphop, nor it’s natural beauty. “Every time I come into your beautiful country I fly in and fly out. They get me coming into a town, and they whisk me away to the next town. I think I have some days off on this tour, so hopefully I’ll get time to listen to some Aussie hiphop. Also, I want to see a kangaroo! I want to see your oceans. I’ve only seen it on the TV, and I want to experience it for myself, because it looks like a very beautiful country.”