The Relationship of Grandmaster Flash to the Social, Cultural and Intellectual Context to The Record "The Message"

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 Hip-hop music has grown over the years with various artists contributing to its growth. One of those figures who helped in building the culture of hip-hop music is Grandmaster Flash.  Some of the contributions of Grandmaster to the hip-hop music are the invention of various DJing techniques as well as the production of multiple songs.  The three methods, which he came up with, are still used, and they include backspin technique, scratching as well as punch phrasing. In this work, we will explore some of his works, their relationship to the social, cultural as well as intellectual context and examine them using various theories such as postmodernism.

Grandmasters Flash Background and Contributions to Hip-Hop Music

Grandmasters birth name is Joseph saddler and he lived in South Bronx.  He went to Samule Gompers vocational school where he got to learn the skills of repairing electronic equipment. He developed the interest in music at a very young age his father playing a pivotal role in this.  Grandmasters father was a fan of Caribbean as well as black American music records, which he used to purchase and keep. Grandmaster would open his father’s collection and watch all these records, which made him develop the high interest in music. (Flash, 1982.). He started practicing the art of Djing at a teenage age, which led to the nickname (Flash) which he got because of his significant expertise in the art. Grandmaster Flash performances at his adolescent life in the early 70s made him get a lot of local success.

Through watching various records, he got to learn techniques from multiple DJs, which he tried experimenting during his teenage life. Through this, he developed as well as mastered three techniques, which still have the upper hand until today. Through these innovations, the hip-hop DJing took a new path. One of his inventions was the quick mix theory, which would enable the deejay transit to another song without distracting the dancers. The technique is also known as backspin technique. In this technique, he would play the break on a song while he searches for a similar fragment and once it ended, he would use his mixer to switch to another disc spinner where a beat was set to play. Another invention was the clock theory also known as punch phrasing.  Besides developing this inventions Grandmaster is well known for perfecting the scratching technique. Scratching is ascribed to Grand Wizard Theodore. However, Grandmaster improved it by merging it with punch phrasing.

Afterward, Grandmaster got into hip-hop singing after the first success of rappers delights in 1979. He teamed with the furious five, and they released their first track ‘’Supperapin’’in 1979. They then got a contract with sugar hill records the following year and released two records “Freedom in 1980 as well as the “Birthday party” in 1981. In 1982, Grandmaster together with his team released another groundbreaking album, The Message. The influential record had featured an unattractive story about the inner city. It had highlighted issues such as drugs, poverty as well as violence. Its features made it be acknowledged in 2002, and it was added to the national recording registry. (Flash, 1982.). The song also made the team to be the first group to be inaugurated in the Rock and Roll hall of fame in 2007.  The song is up to date regarded as the driving force of the conscious hip-hop songs because of its provision of the social as well as the political explanation. A business disagreement led to the crumbling of the group in 1984. The artists however reunited for a short while 1n 1987 during a charity concert that Paul Simon had put on in Madison Square Gardens.

Other records, which Grandmaster has released, are such as the My Life, my Beats song that he published in 2008. In this song, he brings forth his early interest in the creation of records. He talks about how he sneaked in his father’s record to see the record player spin among other early life inspirations. Grandmaster besides producing enjoyable music and developing Djing techniques he has become a legend because of his ability to make crowds move during his performances.

Grandmaster Relationship to the Cultural, Social and Intellectual Context to the Record “The Message “

“The message’’ is one of the most influential hip-hop songs with the album being ranked as number 53  in U.S.A and  77  in U.K. It has also been acknowledged in several instances with Rolling stone acknowledging it as the greatest hip-hop song in regards to its cultural effect. The song has also been acknowledged because it has used the original musical genres perfectly bringing out a great music effect. In the early 1970s, South Bronx where the hip-hop culture began was featured by many artists.  The young people reacted to the social as well as economic crises in South Bronx with creating hip-hop songs, which brought out the picture of the inner city life such as the record “The message.”  The hip-hop started from humble roots in the setting of the underrepresented young adults in South Bronx who were going through a lot of hardship to a prosperous commercialized business. Studies show that in the year 2000 the hip-hop music had brought in more than 1.87$ in its sales. Grandmaster Flash together with other hip-hop musician has been seen as a lens through which the social realities of the people are presented.  They have used their hip-hop music to bring out various social as well as cultural facts that the people go through in everyday life.

            The earlier hip-hop songs were mostly party chants but the record “The message “brings out the social context of inner cities. It brings the picture that the inner cities are featured with economic crises.  Most of the people in these settings are poor.  In this record, the artists talk about the rats being found in the front room, which brings a clear picture of the poverty in the inner cities. They also say in this record that they are unable to get away from this city because another man repossessed their car. Therefore, it brings out the social context that may be in these inner cities the poor are oppressed by the rich. It  brings  out  the  picture  that  the  residents  even  lack the basic  needs  for instance  food  and  shelter.” A lady whose residence is in a bag eats food from the pits.” By listening to this record, one gets to understand the life that these people in the ghetto life were experiencing.

The  people  in  the  ghetto  life  in  the  record live  in very  depressing  environments.” The environment is dirty they sing that there is a lot of smell and noise which is difficult to persevere.  The song hence gives the listeners the picture of the injustices and unhealthy environment the people in the inner cities such as Bronx live in. (White, 2006).

 The message has also brought out the past culture of South Bronx. In the 1970s, South Bronx was an urban Cataclysm. The city had the various crises such as unemployment, crime, poverty among the residents among others.   The culture in these years was of the rich continuing to get rich while the poor became more miserable than before. The record shows that the crime rates in this setting are high when they talk about the “brother stealing the mother's television.” The culture that this song brings about of eating from garbage’s, stealing among other crimes has been compared to various inner cities whose residents are going through the same culture.  The residents of this inner city are portrayed to be living in very devastating conditions. However, when Grandmaster is questioned about the stay in the Bronx, he claims it was a great place to stay. (White, 2006).

“The message “has been acknowledged as a record which has brought a revolution to the popular culture and giving the young people a new allegorical gleam. The song has also changed the earlier culture from prominence on merrymaking anthems to social observations. In the early years, the hip-hop music was seen as a representative of the black voice.  With the record, 'The Message' bringing out a clear indication of this as the primary residents of South Bronx who were going through various hardships such as poverty were black Americans. It shows the picture of the black Americans who had been displaced and were relocated here. South Bronx at that time had few resources as well as limited political authority. The level of education in these inner cities as presented by Grandmaster flash in the record is also seen to be very low. In the song, they talk about a son telling the father that he no longer want to go to school he wants to get a job, for instance, the task of street sweeping. (White, 2006).

‘The message” sang by the furious five and Grandmaster brought out the primary theme of the hip-hop music in the early years. It was in the past used as a cultural manifestation of the fraught.  The message in this record reveals what was happening in the inner cities in the 1970s providing an excellent platform where the future generations can get to know what the inner cities were experiencing. Its approximately 30 years from the song was released, and, its message continues to apply and reflect on various marginalized societies in the world today. (Martinez, 1997). The song has also widely expressed the culture. It combined the social protests perfectly with cultural identification. As such, it was able to take a position of a music genre, which has a cultural identity and liked by many black American as well as nonblack youths.

            The chorus of the song brings out the social context of resilience. They talk about the setting to be like a jungle that makes them astonished of how they hang onto and do not go under. It brings about the picture of the resilience of the people in this setting and their determination they have in dealing with the challenges they are going through.  The resilience theme prevalent in this record replicates the competence that the people in the inner cities have to face adversities in life. They have failed in one part of the life of richness, but they have thrived well in another life area of coping with challenges. The survival mode portrayed in the record brings out the significant respect that should be accorded to the successful individuals who have been able to thrive in this street life and come out of it with success.

The song also brings out the picture of social discrimination that was prevalent in the inner cities. It talks about one growing in the ghetto which is a second rate place to live. Another social aspect discussed in this song is drug abuse. Drug abuse is one of the things that take place in the inner cities besides other criminal activities such as pickpocketing. The artists of this record talk about one grow in these inner cities watching the smugglers get a lot of money from their tasks, drive big cars, and dream to be like them.  They bring out the issue of unemployment which is one of the problems prevalent in these settings been one of the causes of the young adults admiring to engage in these activities.

All these things that the artist discuss in these record are still present in the marginalized states in the world hence it’s a good example which one can use to visualize the social contexts of the marginalized people in the world today. It is a song that won the heart of thousands of underclass black Americans who were struggling each day to survive, was their everyday anthem that gave the people hope in desperation. The song to present day message is well liked and offers hope to many going through social injustices and distress. (Martinez, 1997).

Theoretical Approaches In The Song “The Message.”

One of the theoretical approaches evident in the record the Message is broken glass theory, which has been overlooked by many people as they try to figure out a more in-depth approach. Grandmaster together with his team had experienced the insecurity, and high crime rates in South Bronx hence came up with the broken glass theory.  He had already profoundly examined the situation and termed it as the broken glass everywhere. Thus in his song, he talks about the broken glass been found anywhere which has the hidden meaning of the levels of insecurity in these areas.

 The sociologist George and Catherine in their book (Fixing broken windows, restoring and crime in our communities) have also discussed the broken theory, which is present in this song. In their book, they have talked about the need of having orderly conditions in the urban neighbourhoods as well as communities so that the residents can have responsible behaviours reducing crime rates. The author's ideas in this book have the backing from the record ‘The Message’ that also talks about insecurity referring to the high crime rates. (Hidalgo-Olivares, 2011).

Another theoretical approach evident in the record is the critical theory.  The song is created by youths who were residents of South Bronx. It was an inner city, which faced various challenges.  There is the evidence of the artists of this song critically looking at the conditions of the setting and coming up with the record that portrays the street life, which they lived. It was the first song that critically told the truth about what was happening in the modern cities.  The cities are in devastating conditions with smell and noise everywhere among others.

 It also brought out also the scene of moral decays such as prostitution, smuggling of drugs, prison, theft as well as early deaths. In the record, there is a warning at the end of the stanza, which airs out the plea of not being pushed as the person is close to the edge, which has hidden the meaning of the challenging life they were struggling with. Thus, the artists of these songs have significantly used the critical theory to air out the truth of the inner city life. The critical theory main aim is seeking to liberate the society from its challenges, which the artist of the song does.  They not only seek to explain the lives of the inner cities but also call for the liberation of the people living there.  There is a plea in the chorus where the artist asks not to be pushed because he is close to the edge hence showing the need for liberation. (Burns, 2017).

Critical theory helps in understanding the society, which the artist of the record ‘The Message’ help the listeners gets. The inner city is full of poverty and unhealthy conditions.  Some of the residents of the inner city lack even the basic needs with the artists talking about the picture of a girl who resides in a bag and eats from the garbage. The metaphoric language brings out the poverty of the people in these inner cities who lack even the basic needs such as food and shelter.

The critical theory examines the oppression, which is widely spread and set in in the societal structures. One of the proponents of this theory claims that oppression is not a closed world where one cannot move, but it is a limiting situation, which one can change. In the record, we get to see some of the people in these setting who go by this idea, persevere and become successful. The artists talk about the people in the context who drive big cars and one eye to be like them.  However, in the record, we get to see that some of the people in the inner cities are unable to persevere and end up dying prematurely. The artist talks about how some live so fast and die so young hence drawing the picture of the inability to cope with the challenges in the settings. (Burns, 2017).

Different from the critical theory that looks at the social injustices affecting a specific society. Postmodern theory politizes them by placing them into the historical as well as cultural contexts. Using this theory, we get the image of the artist of this record to be probably black American youths who had been displaced in the inner cities and, were angry and dissatisfied with the discriminatory society. It is evident as the song brings us not only to the social injustices in the inner cities but also to the historical contexts of the life of the youths of South Bronx in the 20th century.  The teenagers in this city were facing the problems of unemployment and drug abuse, which the artist aired out in their record. (Hayman, 2013).

Another aspect of postmodernism theory that is evident in the record is on the idea of God. According to the postmodernist proponents, God gives the meaning of life, and it is difficult to understand him. The record provides a picture of God who gives your life, who smiles at you and at the same time frowns. They also talk about God as the only one who knows what will befall you and the life you will live in the ghetto. (Hayman, 2013).


In conclusion, Grandmaster flash is one of the artists who will be remembered for years because of the revolution he brought in the hip-hop music. The revolution ranges from the DJing techniques that he came up with to the songs he created. One powerful song that he produced together with the Furious five is ‘The message which has revolutionized the hip-hop music from the tradition partying songs to hip-hop songs that bring out the social commentaries. The song brings out the cultural as well as the social contexts of the people in inner cities who go live in devastating conditions and are full of poverty. The artists of these songs have used various theoretical approaches to bring out the picture in the inner cities such as the critical theory.


Burns, L.D.. ( 2017) ' Hip Hop, Responsive Teaching, and Social Justice: Poetry Louder Than Thunder'. Black History Bulletin. 80(1). pp. 25-32.

Flash, G., Wimbish, D., McDonald, S., Griffin, R., Henry, G., Mitchell, D., Leblance, K., Fletcher, E. and Robinson, S., 1982. The message. SOS

Hayman, C. (2013) 'African American Review'. Melle Mel in the Megaplex: Postmodern Performance and the Hip-Hop" Real" in Krush Groove & Beat Street. . 46(1). pp. 117-132.

'Hayman, C., 2013. Melle Mel in the Megaplex: Postmodern Performance and the Hip-Hop" Real" in Krush Groove & Beat Street. '. African American Review. 46(1). pp. 117-132.

Hidalgo-Olivares, W.L. (2011) ' Beyond the Four Walls: The Rising Ministry and Spirituality of Hip-hop. '. AuthorHouse.

Martinez, T.A.. (1997) 'Popular culture as oppositional culture: Rap as resistance'. Sociological Perspectives. 40(2). pp. 265-286.

White, C.a.M.S.. (2006) ' The message in the music: Popular culture and teaching in social studies. '. The Social Studies. 97(3). pp. 122-127.

August 01, 2023

Music Sociology

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Rap Music

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