“We take dead masters and bring them to life”. So explains Grandmaster Flash to an intimate gathering of press about the role of a DJ. Tossed-aside, buried, and obscure vinyl records (or what music industry attorneys might call “masters”) are the currency of DJ’s. They re-invent the grooves of twelve-inch vinyl. Grandmaster Flash, so aptly named, is the master of this. On the classic Sugar Hill single “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” (1981), he deftly melded “Rapture” (Blondie), “Good Times” (Chic), and “Another One Bites the Dust” (Queen).
“Lawyers inflate this shit ridiculously”, he says about the current economics of sampling, a concept that didn’t even exist before, what he calls, “the corporatization of hip hop”. Unlike 30 years ago, it is now severely cost-prohibitive to apply the science of scratch to major-label owned masters, however obscure they might be. Grandmaster Flash is anything but undeterred, though. “How you see Grandmaster Flash get busy? You have to see me live”, he explains to a knowing audience.
(Strut; US: 2 Mar 2009; UK: 2 Mar 2009)
The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash
That’s not at all to undermine his latest studio effort. Two years in the making, The Bridge is the Bronx-based DJ’s first major studio album in more than two decades. Released on his own Adrenaline City Entertainment imprint through the indie label Strut, the album illustrates all the “bridges” Grandmaster Flash has traversed throughout his career, both musically and culturally. Joining him is “a kaleidoscope of MC’s”. Snoop Dogg, Q-Tip, and Big Daddy Kane are just a handful of his collaborators from the international cadre of MC’s that populate the album—“We Speak Hip Hop” features KRS-One with MC’s from Spain (Kase-O), Japan (Maccho), Senegal (Abass), and Sweden (Afasi). Though many languages are shared among Grandmaster Flash’s guests, hip-hop is the unifying culture between them.
If anyone knows that culture, it is Grandmaster Flash, hip-hop’s greatest innovator. “I seriously love what I do. If you love what you do, and believe, it will take care of you the rest of your life”, he says emphatically. Despite all the honors bestowed by the RIAA, BET, VH-1, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Grandmaster Flash is grounded by the passion that infuses his art. “It’s not fame, it’s not money. It’s service”, he says about his role behind two turntables. “How can I serve you?” Sitting down with the hip-hop legend, PopMatters learns the secrets behind the service in this latest edition of 20 Questions.
1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
I was watching the DVD of The Secret. When I watch it, and what it tells me about me and what it tells me about my endless possibilities of everything that I could do, it makes me kind of teary-eyed. I know what is possible and I’ve done some things that might have been considered impossible but I look back and I say, Oh shoot I did that!
2. The fictional character most like you?
The lead guy of the Transformers, Optimist Prime. He leads many courageous people on his team but he converts himself into so many other things. He’s a car one minute and he’s a robot the next. He has such a tough responsibility and he handles it.
3. The greatest album, ever?
There are too many. In all the places that I’ve been, there’s always a different favorite. There is no one favorite. I can never answer that question. I’m asked that question so many times. I haven’t had an answer for that in 25 years. It’s different everywhere. What’s hot in Australia might be cold in Japan. What’s cold in Japan might be steaming hot in Mexico.
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Trek. Star Trek is simplified. I’m a Trekkie. Star Wars was too long and drawn-out for me. It’s a great movie but it’s too much for me. Star Trek gets to the point in 30 minutes. Star Wars gets to the point, I don’t know, in years!
5. Your ideal brain food?
Meditation. When we’re born, when the conception first happens, the heart and the brain are the two things that have to work all the time, from the day that you’re born to the day that you die. Meditation allows you to just put your brain in neutral just for a little while. It’s designed to go on and on and on but if you give it rest, it’s even better. Meditation is my brain food. On the stage is meditation for me because that’s what I’m most comfortable with. Thousands of screaming people, that’s very comforting for me.
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
To take a piece of vinyl and look for an area…in that area where the drummer plays for a couple of seconds, and get two copies of that, and take that drummer’s performance and make it endless. In essence, I didn’t realize I was controlling time. Being able to control time is probably my biggest accomplishment, which is taking a drummer who might make two bars of music and make it five minutes, 20 minutes. I actually, without realizing it, had the gas and the break at my leisure but, in essence, I was controlling time. Every DJ in the world does my science, which is controlling time.
7. You want to be remembered for…??
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
My father. He used to beat me for touching his equipment and he used to beat me pretty badly. I guess maybe in some weird way he taught me to respect stereo equipment and vinyl. I have a book out called The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash and it talks about my father and how he used to beat me, beat me, beat me. In some sort of way he taught me that (equipment) must be pretty special stuff. I’d go back at it, he would beat me.
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
I don’t think there’s anything that I wish for. Everything that has my signature I agree with. I don’t have anything like that.
10. Your hidden talents…?
They’re hidden, so I don’t know. The ones I know: I produce, I’m heavy into electronics, I do lectures. All my talents are on display.
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
Follow the voice in my head. Allow no one to abort because what you might have can serve the whole world.
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
Probably a turntable by a company that was not well-known. The model was SL-20 and it was by Technics. It’s the grandfather of turntables.
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or…?
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
Probably this woman by the name of Paulette, she’s very close to me. This guy by the name of Chris Lighty who handles this management company called Violator. He actually handles 50 Cent.
15. Time travel: where, when and why?
I’m good with where things are right now. I’m really good with right now because tomorrow is a figment of our imagination and yesterday’s already written so right now is all we have.
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
Spa vacation in Jamaica.
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or…?
Peace. It’s essential to life. Be at peace with yourself and everything else will work out.
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
I do both, I enjoy both. Both!
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
Be impeccable with your word. Say what you mean and mean what you say. What I respect most about him, and I didn’t really have a whole lot of love for politics, is he grabbed my attention when he admitted that things needed to be changed. When he mentioned that, and he was honest enough to say that things may get worse before they get better, I respect that. He says we’ve got to all come together and we’ve got to rekindle the friendship with our allies. He’s making no promises or nothing but he says he’s going to do his best to try to get us out of this. My opinion is he needs two terms to pull it off. I respect what he says. I respect that he’s going to do the best he can do.
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on now?
I’m in the early stages of doing a deal with…I can’t say who it is but it probably will be the biggest video game in the world next year.