Joseph Saddler (born January 1, 1958), better known as Grandmaster Flash, is a Bajan-born (from Barbados) American hip hop recording artist and DJ. He is considered to be one of the pioneers of hip-hop DJing, cutting, and mixing. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, becoming the first hip hop act to be so honored.
Joseph Saddler’s family migrated to the United States from Barbados, in the Caribbean, and he grew up in The Bronx, New York. He attended Samuel Gompers High School, a public vocational school, where he learned how to repair electronic equipment. Saddler’s parents played an important role in his interest in music. His parents came from Barbados and his father was a big fan of Caribbean and black American records.
Grandmaster Flash carefully studied the styles and techniques of earlier DJs, particularly Pete Jones, Kool Herc, and Grandmaster Flowers. As a teenager, he began experimenting with DJ gear in his bedroom, eventually developing and mastering three innovations that are still considered standard DJing techniques today.
Grandmaster Flash played parties and collaborated with rappers such as Kurtis Blow and Lovebug Starski. In the mid 1970s, he formed his own group. The original lineup consisted of Cowboy (Keith Wiggins), Melle Mel (Melvin Glover) and Kid Creole (AKA Kidd Creole/Nathaniel Glover), and the ensemble went by the name Grandmaster Flash & the 3 MCs. Cowboy created the term hip hop. He created the term while teasing a friend who had just joined the U.S. Army, by scat singing the words “hip/hop/hip/hop” in a way that mimicked the rhythmic cadence of soldiers marching.
Cowboy later worked the “hip hop” cadence into a part of his stage performance. Mel was the first rapper to call himself “MC” (Master of Ceremony). Two other rappers briefly joined, but they were replaced more permanently by Rahiem (Guy Todd Williams, previously in the Funky Four) and Scorpio (Eddie Morris, a.k.a. Mr. Ness) to make Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Quickly gaining recognition for their skillful raps, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five pioneered MCing and freestyle battles. Some of the staple phrases in MCing have their origins in the early shows and recordings of the group. In 1978, the new group began performing regularly at Disco Fever in the Bronx, one of the first times a hip-hop group was given a weekly gig at a well-known venue.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were signed to Bobby Robinson’s Enjoy Records and in 1979 released their first single, “Superrappin'”. The following year they signed to Sugar Hill Records and began touring and releasing numerous singles. The seminal “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel”, released in 1981, is a 7-minute solo showcase of Grandmaster Flash’s virtuosic turntable skills, combining elements of Blondie’s “Rapture,” Michael Viner’s Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache,” Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” Chic’s “Good Times,” and the group’s own “Freedom.” It is also the first documented appearance of record scratching on a record. That year, the group opened for The Clash and were poorly received by an audience unaccustomed to the new style.
The group’s most significant hit was the electro rap song The Message (1982), which was produced by in-house Sugar Hill producer Clifton “Jiggs” Chase and featured session musician Duke Bootee. Unlike earlier rap tunes, “The Message” featured a grim narrative about inner city violence, drugs, and poverty. In 2002, its first year of archival, it was one of 50 recordings chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry, the first hip hop recording ever to receive this honor. Critics praised the song’s social awareness, calling the chorus “a slow chant seething with desperation and fury.” Other than Melle Mel, however, no members of the group actually appear in the song. Rahiem lip-synced Duke Bootee’s vocal in the music video. The same year, Grandmaster Flash appeared in the movie “Wild Style” and sued Sugar Hill over the non-payment of royalties. Tensions mounted as “The Message” gained in popularity, eventually leading to a rupture between Melle Mel and Grandmaster Flash. Soon the group disintegrated entirely. Grandmaster Flash, Kid Creole, and Rahiem left Sugar Hill, signed with Elektra Records, and continued on as simply “Grandmaster Flash”, while Melle Mel and the others continued on as “Grandmaster Melle Mel & the Furious Five”.
Grandmaster Flash appears in the video game DJ Hero as a playable character along with original mixes created for the game. In December 2011, Grandmaster Flash was reported to be at work on his 12th album.
In 2016, The Netflix Series The Get Down features a version of Grandmaster Flash that is played by Mamoudou Athie. It is a series that takes place in 1977 New York City and follows the genesis of the New York City DJing, B-boying, and hip-hop with the culture that surrounds it.