b/w The Message (Instrumental)
Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five feat. Melle Mel & Duke Bootee
Written by Ed "Duke Bootee" Fletcher, Grandmaster Melle Mel & Bobby Robinson
Produced by Ed Fletcher, Clifton "Jiggs" Chase & Sylvia Robinson
Sugar Hill Records
Released May 1982
The United States is in the midst of one of its worst recessions since the 1930s. The unemployment rate is high, and in black communities it is unconscionable. Cities are broke. Roads and transit systems are in sore need of repair.
Modern day woes? Yes. But these were also acute problems in the early 1980s. And like most branches on the rock and roll tree, a new style was borne as a result from this gritty street life.
It would be known as "hip-hop." Its "Sun Records" moment, if you will, for the birthing of this music would be New York's Sugar Hill Records. Named by founders Joe and Sylvia Robinson for the neighborhood which is part of Hamilton Heights, a sub-neighborhood in Harlem, Sugar Hill was named to signify the "sweet life" in that area of NYC, which was home at one time to noted African-Americans W.E.B. DuBois, Thurgood Marshall, Adam Clayton Powell and Duke Ellington.
Visiting New York for an extended time in 1979, The Night Owl experienced the genesis of hip-hop on the city's sprawling and scorched summertime streets. Boom boxes were everywhere, playing tapes of new mixtures of beats and raps, telling stories of urban experience, using a mixture of brutal truth and hyped rhyme. And 12" singles were being plucked out of record stores, to be spun at discoteques.
Sugar Hill's initial breakthrough - and first rap Top 40 single - was "Rapper's Delight" by The Sugar Hill Gang, an infectious tune to this day. The Funky Four Plus One and Kool Moe Dee churned out notable product as well.
But the record that would have the most influence in the music world was "The Message" by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five. The unyielding pressures of urban life (Don't push me/'Cause I'm close to the edge/I'm tryin' not to/Lose my head) sprays a verbal blast of frustration, dismay and calamity through the speakers (It's like a jungle sometimes/It makes me wonder how I keep from goin' under), the rappers' verses sidling up to the edge of insanity.
"The Message" has been labelled by some as the greatest record in hip-hop history. But that label implies limits. In truth, it is one of the greatest records in rock and roll history.