The Origins of Grandmaster Flash

Grandmaster Flash is surely one of the most impactful and important figures when it comes to the early stages of hip-hop. Helping to revolutionize record-scratching and DJ-ing, the now-65-year-old’s influence and contributions cannot be understated.

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But, this outcome for his life and career feels like destiny when looking back on his beginnings. Growing up in the Bronx, New York, after his family immigrated from Barbados, Flash’s combination of enthusiasm for vinyl records and education about electronics made way for some very formative years. Flash would often sift through and mess with his father’s record collection, all while his mother had him take classes about repairing electrical equipment while in high school.

It seems almost inevitable that Flash would try his hand at DJ-ing, and go on to brainstorm new techniques behind the record player. Experimenting with new ways to manipulate vinyl records, Flash would eventually establish the Quik Mix Theory, which saw DJs begin to use their fingers to scratch, backspin, and loop records. This would completely alter the party scene in New York in the late 1970s.

Assembling the Furious Five

Flash’s innovation and popularity led to him DJ-ing parties and shows, where he eventually befriended a few emcees who could freestyle rap to his record scratching. Keef Cowboy, Melle Mel, and Kidd Creole became the first official three rappers for Flash, as they would go on to form Grandmaster Flash & the 3 MCs. Groups and music like this were so unorthodox for the music industry, that it had not been given a genre yet. That is until Cowboy, who jokingly scat-rapped the words at a friend’s party, coined the term hip-hop, according to fellow NY emcee Busy Bee Starski.

Practically the first hip-hop group in existence, Grandmaster Flash & the 3 MCs became a hot commodity in the underground scene of New York. After bringing two more emcees into the fold, Scorpio and Rahiem, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five started playing at prominent local venues and eventually inked a record deal in 1979.

Three years following their debut single “Superrappin” (1979), Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five would put out their debut album under Sugar Hill Records named The Message (1982). The LP’s hit lead single under the same name as the album went on to peak at No. 62 on the Billboard Hot 100, as well as hit No. 4 on the Billboard Hot Black Singles chart, which is now referred to as the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.


Practically 40 years since they first burst onto the scene, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s imprint on the hip-hop community can never be minimized or forgotten. In 2007, the group was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

In 2023, Coi Leray’s single “Players” peaked at No. 9 on the Hot 100, as it interpolated and sampled Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s biggest hit “The Message.” Leray’s inclusion of such a historical and meaningful hip-hop track goes to show how much Flash and his crew changed the world in their heyday.

(Photo by Johnny Nunez/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

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