As leader of the Furious Five, Grandmaster Flash is one of the most influential figures in the development of hip-hop. His 1982 classic “The Message” injected a socio-political message into what was mostly party music, creating a culture of consciousness. More than 30 years later comes The Bridge, Flash’s second release on Strut (following The Official Adventures of Grandmaster Flash, which tells Flash’s story through a mixtape format, weaving interviews with old and new material). A few days before leaving for a week-long tour in Australia, Grandmaster Flash sat down to discuss the album, history and the state of hip-hop.
Your new album is called The Bridge. Can you talk about some of the bridges you’ve crossed in hip-hop?
I created the album like a DJ set — its got a ’70s template with a 2009 feel. The bridges refer to going from one genre to another: In a DJ set, you might move from “Apache” to Jay Z. But the album is also a mirror of international talent that I have been lucky enough to experience while traveling the world. On the track “We Speak Hip-Hop,” there is a mix of international MCs rapping in English, Swedish, Spanish and Spanglish. I wanted to create an album with a diversity of tracks to reflect the diversity of hip-hop, pairing famous MCs with unknown MCs and American MCs with international rappers.
Do you think hip-hop is now a global music?
Hip-hop is the most popular music in the world. It used to be country, but now it’s hip-hop. Journalists say that hip-hop is global. But I think for hip-hop to truly be global you have to be able to turn on the radio and hear a track with American and overseas influences. And that hasn’t happened yet. But music is a universal language, so it will happen.
Do you think hip-hop has stayed true to your message?
The last thing I am thinking about is politics. I am a DJ; I jam. I play funky breaks for dope audiences. I love KRS-One and Public Enemy and that facet of hip-hop, but if I only thought about one facet of hip-hop, we wouldn’t have the diversity that we do.
In the beginning, the DJ was at the center, but today MCing is the primary focus. Some people mistake you as an MC even though you’re a DJ and producer. What are your feelings about this?
There was a time when people thought I was an MC, but thank God that doesn’t happen anymore. That confusion was mostly because someone in my crew decided to steal my name. So people were like, are you the hairy or the bald Grandmaster Flash. But that’s over now.
The Bridge features guest appearances by Q-Tip, Big Daddy Kane, Snoop Dog, KRS-One and many more. What is it like to make an album with such a large cast of artists?
It’s interesting. When I made these tracks I would burn a CD, put it into my car stereo and drive around for hours listening to them. With “Swagger” I was like, "That is a Snoop track," and so I found him. With “Bounce Back” I thought, "Man, I miss the old-school Busta Rhymes," so I contacted Busta and told him that I missed his old flow style. After we did the track he thanked me for getting him to go back to his roots.
On The Bridge you feature mainstream and underground MCs and DJs. What differences and similarities do you notice between these two cultures?
I am just pro hip-hop. I don’t see a difference. I just see one being more accessible than the other. A lot of the underground shit is dope, and a lot of the mainstream stuff is dope. But I did think the album would be incomplete without unknown talent.
Why do you think mainstream hip-hop is more accessible than the underground?
It’s you journalists, TV announcers and the media from the Internet. Journalists are the new boomboxes, the new hand fliers. And I think it is a shame more underground artists aren’t covered. There are so many people in hip-hop from the ’70s that never get interviewed and are being forgotten. Everyone always asks me about the ’80s, which is when the music became commercial. But that is just the way it is. As for the Internet, I don’t want people to find out about Grandmaster Flash on the Internet. You know I could be in your town and we could jam in your car. I don’t want to be a folklore just yet. In order to leave an impact you have to connect with people.
I think women’s impact on hip-hop is very underappreciated. On “Those Chix” you feature all-female MCs, with Byata, Princess Superstar, Hedonis de Amazon and Syndee. What are your opinions about women’s impact on hip-hop?
I agree, they have been misrepresented. I had to do that song. I wanted to put women MCs who come from a different walk of life to an up-tempo beat.
Where do you want to see hip-hop in another 30 years?
Growing. That’s all I can say. I want it to keep growing.