Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel & The Furious Five
Sugarhill Adventures – The Collection
Rap’s old school doesn’t always seem like such a nice place to be. Take the fact that Kidd Creole, one of Grandmaster Flash’s Furious Five, just got 16 years of jail time in New York for having killed a man with a steak knife. Yet for every unkindness directed to the man (and his vocal team) who all but invented turntablism, scratching, punch-phrasing, and the backspin technique, there is light—like being the first hip-hop group inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and having totems such as Flash’s first Technics SL-1200 turntable ensconced in the National Museum of American History.
Before we completely put Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel & The Furious Five behind glass, there is the newly released nine-disc anthology that studies and showcases each and every track that the pioneering hip-hop icons invented, then mastered. Which is a lot when considering its 100-plus tracks since their mid-’70s start.
Consider the DJ/bandleader’s seven-minute masterpiece “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel,” combining ripples of Chic’s “Good Times,” Blondie’s "Rapture," the Incredible Bongo Band’s "Apache," Queen’s "Another One Bites the Dust,” and the Furious Five’s “Freedom.” Historically, this is the theology of the mixtape—the soul of hip-hop—in one track. Heard on disc one and broken down into chunks on disc four, Flash’s “Adventures,” whether long or shortened, still entrances. On the extended mixes that fill the box set (and there’s a lot), one could argue that the stutter and stretch of Grandmaster Flash at his finest is like listening to Miles Davis transition out of post-bop and into the roar of fusion funk and Bitches Brew.
You can’t, however, stray too far from Flash’s invention without touching on the deep flinty flow and signature vocal catches of Melle Mel. Machismo at its finest, and braggadocio before anyone else in rap had attempted its gutsiness, Melle and his rap collective’s voice defined hip-hop for years to come. The hammering stammer of “White Lines” (and its many mixes within the box), the Jamaican flit of “It’s Nasty (Genius of Love),” the drug politics of “The Message,” and the rugged R&B-based jam of “Hustler’s Convention” are as much a victor of Melle’s percussive-yet-fluid raps as they are Flash’s nice-and-rough jazzy jams. Borrowing as it does, wholesale, from the Isley Bros’ ”It’s a Shame” is a sweet and soulful treat for all its macho bristling. “World War III,” from 1982, is pretty much a bruising blueprint for Public Enemy’s Bomb Squad vibe. And what better city-wide anthem could the Big Apple ever hope for beyond “New York New York?”
There may be a few too many dated mixes of single songs to handle on Flash, Melle, and the Furious Five’s Sugarhill Adventures, but you’ll be pleased to wade through rap’s deep water to get to the diamonds in the rough.