Grandmaster Flash is not only one of the first Hip Hop DJs of all time, but he is also the creator of various turntable techniques that have come to define the art of being a DJ. Born January 1, 1958 in Bridgetown, Barbados, Joseph Saddler moved to the South Bronx with his family in the 1960s.
Origin: Bridgetown, Barbados
Style/Claim To Fame:
- Originating the following DJ techniques:
- Break-beat deejaying
- Quick Mix Theory
- Punch phrasing (aka Clock Theory)
- Backspin Technique
Flash grew up admiring his father’s astounding record collection and would often play Frank Sinatra, James Brown, Led Zeppelin, and Aretha Franklin records even though he knew the consequence would be physical abuse. His fascination with electronics led him to Samuel Gompers Vocational High School where he was nicknamed Grandmaster Flash because he would often hang out with a friend named Gordon (as in Flash Gordon).
As a teenager, Flash experimented with vinyl and studied the techniques of DJ Pete Jones, Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flowers. He began DJing at several house parties in the early 1970s and took notice of DJ Pete Jones’ knowledge of mixing. He soon realized that he could perfect mixing by using headphones to listen to one turntable, cue up the record, and then play it for the crowd. This discovery helped him design his own DJ mixing equipment, and he became the first DJ to ever lay hands on a record to manipulate it.
Flash created various turntable cutting and mixing techniques including break-beat deejaying –“ the process of remixing and thereby creating a new piece of music by playing vinyl records and turntables as if they were musical instruments.” He also enjoyed extending and looping the beats of his favorite song breakdowns by using two turntables and a mixer to play the same beat repeatedly. This practice is now commonly known as Quick Mix Theory, Backspin Technique and Beat Juggling. Punch phrasing (aka Clock Theory) “involved isolating short segments of music, typically horn hits, and rhythmically punching them over the sustained beat using the mixer.” Flash eventually became skilled enough to recognize breaks on a record with his naked eye and marked them with crayon so that they were easily accessible. Though Grand Wizzard Theodore is credited with the invention of scratching itself, Grandmaster Flash was known for cutting (moving between tracks exactly on the beat) which later evolved into crab scratching, transforming, flaring and doubleback. He was also known for phasing (varying the speed of a record) and for being the first DJ to have rappers like Kurtis Blow and Lovebug Starski accompany his breaks at his legendary block parties.
At a time when disco ruled the world, Flash formed his own group to represent the Hip Hop movement that had become so prevalent with youth in the South Bronx. The group dropped their first single “Superrappin’” on Enjoy! Records in 1979 and was comprised of rappers Melle Mel, Cowboy, Rahiem, Scorpio and Kid Creole. The group went on to sign with Sugar Hill Records and the release of “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” marked the first recorded DJ composition and also debuted scratching on a track. They also made a social impact with hits like “The Message” and an anti-drug song called “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” though Flash has admitted to struggling with a cocaine base addiction in the 1980s. The group disbanded when Flash sued Sugar Hill Records over royalties, and they reunited for another album and tour in the late 1980s with only lukewarm reception. As a solo artist, he released various compilation albums and DJ mixes throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. His latest effort, The Bridge – Concept of a Culture, was released in 2009 and featured Snoop Dogg and Q-Tip.
Today, DJ Grandmaster Flash is now known as one of the founding fathers of Hip Hop who set the precedent for all DJs with his innovative cutting and mixing skills. He became the first Hip Hop DJ to ever be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007 and has received various prestigious awards including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the RIAA and the Bill Gates’ Vanguard Award. There is no doubt that Flash will always be remembered for pioneering an entire musical art form that will be practiced and studied for generations to come.