The last time Grandmaster Flash released an album of new studio material, I didn’t even exist. So imagining a career so long and influential is hard for my mind to grasp, but I have always appreciated Flash’s 80s material for its musicality and, well, apparent influence. Just about everyone regards Flash as the grandfather of hip-hop and quite possibly the greatest DJ of all time. Coming from Bridgetown in the Barbados and eventually moving to Harlem, Flash was practically born to revolutionize hip-hop. He followed its progression from the Caribbean to Harlem, learned from DJ Kool Herc, often regarded as the first true DJ, and later formed the Furious Five and dropped landmark records such as “The Message”. In 2007, they were the first hip-hop group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The point of the matter is this: Grandmaster Flash has no real reason to make this record. He has contributed enough to the hip-hop world. Most of the big old-school hip-hop stars are just sitting back and enjoying the rest of their lives, but not Flash. He has always shown love and passion for the genre he helped popularize, and The Bridge: The Concept of a Culture seems like his grand statement on the genre. With songs as far-reaching as “What If?”, which questions the role of hip-hop in society and its positive effects, and “We Speak Hip-Hop”, which compiles emcees from all around the world rapping in different languages to prove the global transcendence of the genre, it seems that Flash might still have something to say.
The Bridge really sounds like it has been 20 years since Flash’s last studio album. The beats, the brass samples, and the guest emcees all come from the late ‘80s/early ‘90s. Immediately, people will jump on the album for sounding outdated and like the “same old, same old.” But given today’s hip-hop landscape, the musicality of old-school hip-hop is a breath of fresh air. Perhaps today’s hip-hop needs to return to its roots. Every year, it seems that it becomes more and more about the beat and less and less about the words and the music. Without saying one bad word about anyone, Flash makes this statement.
He makes the statement through his “Tribute to the Breakdancer”, one of two brilliant songs where Flash shows off his DJing skills. He makes the statement through “Here Comes My DJ” and “Shine All Day”, which hark back to olden days and just put a smile on a listener’s face. Lead single “Swagger” just screams for Will Smith to become the Fresh Prince again. When’s the last time hip-hop sounded truly positive? And who better to bring it back than emcees like Q-Tip? Still, on The Bridge, the emcees work for Flash. KRS-One appears on two tracks, “We Speak Hip-Hop” and “What If?”, and he makes his style fit in the two largely different songs – one celebratory and jubilant while the other cynical and questioning. Even Busta Rhymes, who has one of the larger egos in hip-hop, opens his feature on “Bounce Back” noting that he is making a record with the “two greatest DJs in the world” (DJ Scratch also produces the track).
As a whole, The Bridge is not going to spring Flash back into the center of mainstream hip-hop culture. Nothing here tops songs like “The Message”, and nothing will cause much of a wave in the hip-hop world. The album is decidedly old-school, which once again implies that Flash does not necessarily appreciate where hip-hop has gone. Still, songs like “Those Chix” and “Unpredictable” make me wonder why Britney and Beyonce still have not hired Flash as a producer. The Bridge is undoubtedly well-produced and nearly every guest emcee puts forth respectable effort, but the whole album is missing that one song that could take it to the next level. This is not a comeback album that will reinvigorate Flash to enter a brilliant second stage of his career. But appreciate it for the statement it makes. Old-school hip-hop still has relevance, and its relevance can be felt all over the world.