started 6/23 finished 6/28
June is Black Music Month so I decided to start another reading tradition and use this time to read about Black musicians. This was perfect timing because a couple weeks ago we hosted Grandmaster Flash at our store for a booksigning. Even though I work there I almost never go to events at my store because they usually happen in the evenings between 7:00 and 7:30. I get off work at 4:00 and I am out of there! Now I wish that I stayed to see Flash because he brought turntables with him and everything, damn!! But my coworker got me an autographed galley (advanced reader’s copy of a book that hasn’t been proofread and is not for sale) and an autographed poster.
As a huge fan of hip-hop (by now y’all know that) this was an important book for me to read. Not many people involved in the first days of hip-hop, aside from Russell Simmons, have written their memoirs giving us insight into the creation and beginnings of this art form (you listening, Kool Herc?). Grandmaster Flash gives you a front seat to the evolution of DJing – from just spinning records that please the crowd to blending those songs seamlessly to manipulating LPs to create whole new sounds.
Flash, like a lot of hip-hop artists, grew up in a musical home with a father who had a prized jazz collection. From an early age he was entranced not only by the music but by the instruments that played the music. He received many a butt whipping from messing with his father’s music. But his curiosity led him on and he even built many of the components of the first sound system he used to DJ on.
His turbulent childhood (violent father, mentally ill mother, stints in foster care) is covered, along with his growing love for the new culture called hip-hop and the creation of the group we now know as Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. And what memoir of Black music would be complete without the requisite tale of the shady record company (Sugar Hill), jacked-up contracts, decline into drug addiction, and finally coming back to yourself.
Grandmaster Flash is one of the best DJs around. If only for the fact that he invented a lot of the techniques that are widely used and taken for granted today. If you are as much a fan as I am of hip-hop then this book should be an essential part of your library.
Then give it to your children to read and make them turn off Soulja Boy…