Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five was an influential American
hip-hop group formed in the South Bronx of New York City in 1978.
Composed of one DJ (Grandmaster Flash) and five rappers (Melle Mel,
Kidd Creole, Cowboy, Mr. Ness/Scorpio, and Rahiem), the group's use
of turntablism, break-beat deejaying, was a significant force in
the early development of hip-hop music.
The group rose to fame in the early 1980s with their first successful
single "Freedom" and later on with their magnum opus "The
Message", which is often cited as among the most influential
hip hop songs. However, in 1983, relations between Grandmaster Flash
and Melle Mel began straining and the group disbanded. A reunion
was organized in 1987, and they released a new album, which received
lukewarm reviews. Afterward, the sextet disbanded
Overall, the group was active for five years and released two studio
albums. In 2007, they became the first rap group ever to be inducted
into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Prior to the formation of the Furious Five, Grandmaster Flash worked
with the "L Brothers" which consisted of "Mean Gene" Livingston,
Claudio Livingston and Grand Wizard Theodore. They practiced with
Livingston's brother Grand Wizard Theodore at house and block parties
in his neighborhood of the South Bronx for three years.[citation
needed] However, it wasn't until 1977 that he began collaborating
with rappers such as Kurtis Blow. Flash then recruited his friend
Cowboy, Kidd Creole and Melle Mel. The trio called themselves the
Three MC's and worked with Flash, who went on to bring in Mr. Ness/Scorpio
(Eddie Morris) and Raheim (Guy Williams). Among the first singles
they released were "We Rap More Mellow" and a live version
of "Flash to the Beat", for which they performed under
the names the Younger Generation and Flash and the Five, respectively.
They were locally popular, gaining recognition for their skillful
raps and deejaying, but it wasn't until the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's
Delight" proved that hip hop music could reach mainstream that
they began recording. In 1979 they released their first single on
Enjoy! Records, "Supperrappin'". Afterwards, they switched
to Sylvia Robinson's Sugar Hill Records after an agreement that they
could perform over a current DJ favorite.
 Mainstream success and The Message (1980–1982)
In 1980, the group had their Sugarhill Records debut with "Freedom",
reaching #19 on the R&B chart and selling over 50,000 copies.
The follow-up "Birthday Party" went on to become a hit
as well. In 1981 Grandmaster Flash released "The Adventures
of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel", which was composed
entirely from samples such as Queen's "Another One Bites the
Dust" and Chic's "Good Times". It also marked the
first time that record scratching had been actually recorded on a
In 1982 the group released "The Message," which was produced
by Clifton "Jiggs" Chase and Ed "Duke Bootee" Fletcher,
the latter of whom co-wrote the song alongside Melle Mel. It provided
a political and social commentary and went on to become a driving
force behind conscious hip-hop. The song peaked at #4 in the R&B
chart and #62 in the pop chart, sold half a million copies in a month,
and established hip-hop's credibility in mainstream music. Other
than Melle Mel, however, no members of the group actually appear
on the record. Ice Cube made a song called "Check Yo Self," and
later made a remix with Das EFX, and the remix had the same music
as "The Message."
Their debut album was also named The Message, and it went on to
become a prominent achievement in the history of hip-hop.
 Breakup (1983–1986)
In 1983, Grandmaster Flash sued Sugar Hill Records for $5 million
in unpaid royalties. This resulted in the single "White Lines
(Don't Don't Do It)" being credited by "Grandmaster & Melle
Mel". Nevertheless, the song was successful, reaching #47 in
the Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. Another lawsuit
was filed over certain elements of the song being stolen from "Cavern" by
Liquid Liquid, from which Sugar Hill Records would never recover.
The royalties dispute split the group, and Melle Mel left, soon
followed by Mr. Ness/Scorpio and Cowboy after "White Lines (Don't
Don't Do It)" was a hit, where they formed Grandmaster Melle
Mel and the Furious Five and released the album Grandmaster Melle
Mel and the Furious Five in 1984. Meanwhile, Grandmaster Flash, Kidd
Creole, and Raheim left for Elektra Records and worked under the
name "Grandmaster Flash" on They Said It Couldn't Be Done,
The Source, and Ba-Dop-Boom-Bang. The additional members Lavon, Larry
Love and Mr. Broadway formed the "Furious Five" but they
could not use the name as Sugar Hill Records owned the rights.
Grandmaster Flash and his new "Furious Five" had hits
with their three albums, which made it to the top fifty of Billboard's
R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, whereas Melle Mel and his group fared
better, most notably with the recording of "Beat Street Breakdown",
which peaked at #8 in the R&B chart. During this period, Melle
Mel gained higher success, appearing in Chaka Khan's "I Feel
for You", which won the Grammy Award for Best Female R&B
Vocal Performance in 1985.
 Reunion and waning popularity (1987–1988)
1987 brought back the original lineup of Grandmaster Flash and the
Furious Five when they performed for a charity concert at Madison
Square Garden. They soon reunited for their first studio album in
nearly five years, recording On the Strength, which was released
on April 1988. The album failed to reach the success of The Message
and received lukewarm reception. The group never really enjoyed the
same success as they did in the early 1980s and permanently broke
 Permanent disbandment and post-On the Strength (1989–present)
Each member went down his own path, though some have briefly worked
together. Melle Mel, Scorpio and Cowboy released another album as
Grandmaster Melle Mel and the Furious Five, Piano, in 1989. Keith "Cowboy" Wiggins
died due to his addiction to crack cocaine on September 8, 1989.
In 1990, Grandmaster Flash produced Just-Ice's album Masterpiece.
He went on to work as musical director for The Chris Rock Show, and
later released The Official Adventures of Grandmaster Flash, Essential
Mix: Classic Edition, and The Bridge - Concept Of A Culture. He has
also received many accolades, including the DJ Vanguard Award from
Bill Gates in 2004, RIAA's Lifetime Achievement Award at the Rock
and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in 2005, and BET's I Am Hip-Hop
Icon Award in 2006. His autobiography, The Adventures of Grandmaster
Flash: My Life, My Beats, was released in 2007.
In 1985, Melle Mel met Quincy Jones at the Grammys, and they began
to collaborate for Back on the Block. This led to Mel being featured
in the song "Back on the Block", which won him the Grammy
Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group in 1991. He would
pick up an additional Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album in
2002 for his contributions in Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones.
1997 saw him sign onto Straight Game Records and releasing Right
Now with Mr. Ness/Scorpio. The album also featured Rondo, for which
he would form a group with him called Die Hard. They released an
album entitled On Lock in 2002. On January 23, 2007, he changed
his name to Grandmaster Mele Mel and released his first solo studio
album, Muscles, which failed to top charts. The first single and
music video was "M3 - The New Message". He has also released
the children's book The Portal in the Park, which features a CD where
children can read and rap along with him. This project featured a
then unknown Lady Gaga. She performs with Mel on the songs "World
Family Tree" and "The Foutain Of Truth".
When asked of a possible reunion in 2002, Mele Mel responded:
It['s] not a question of whether we could get together or not [...]
I just don['t] think that we could get a deal. The record company
people just don['t] see a market for us. ”
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five are a well respected group
in the history of hip hop music. They have been honored at the VH1
Hip Hop Honors in 2005 and inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall
of Fame in 2007. The Smithsonian National Museum of American History
in Washington, D.C. displays in their historical archives the vinyl
records and the turntable used by DJ Grandmaster Flash.
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Main article: Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five discography
* The Message (1982)
* On the Strength (1988)