Aspiring DJs break out your pad and pencil to take notes from the man who pioneered Hip-Hop DJing and mixing, Grandmaster Flash. Flash is a living legend who studied the mechanics of turntables and made it an art form and science that allowed for rappers to develop their rhymes to.
Grandmaster Flash along with the Furious Five were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007 for “The Message” being the first Hip-Hop act to receive this honor. Because of his long list of contributions to music Flash was tapped to be the associate producer of the Netflix musical drama, The Get Down, which chronicles the birth of Hip-Hop and its origins.
Flash met up with the HOT 97 morning show to give a thorough history lesson on the inception of scratching, sampling and the many other elements that made up early Hip-Hop.
Check out the five gems we picked up from this Hip-Hop legend.
1. Flash spent three years perfecting isolating the drum solo or the “break”
As a sixteen-year-old kid, Grandmaster Flash explains that he spent countless hours sifting through records and isolating the drum breaks from songs in order to extend the catchy parts of songs. He says that he was “pissed” off that the drummer solos of the songs, which people enjoy to dance to the most, was usually the shortest part. After realizing this he made it his mission to extend and experiment with song compositions using his turntables.
2. Putting your fingers on vinyl records used to be considered inappropriate
In order to extend the 10-second drum breaks from his favorite records Flash had to break some rules that prevented him from getting DJing gigs in the early years. In order to prolong the drummer solos of these records Flash realized that there needed to be two of the same records playing and that the break or “get down” part of the song needed to be marked – so he used a crayon. Though it was frowned upon and Flash was often mocked thiis method soon became common practice as DJs sought to replicate the sounds Flash was making.
3. Grandmaster Flash invented the slipmat
The rubber platter that came with turntables prevented DJs from being able to drag the records and manipulate the songs so Flash had to think of a new medium for the vinyl to lay on. Flash was familiar with textile due to the fact that this mother was a seamstress and through trial and error discovered that felt sprayed with starched allowed for the vinyl to safely be manipulated with damaged being made. He called his invention “the wafer” which was later became what we know as the slipmat.
4. Flash also developed the technique for “queuing” records
The ability for DJs to hear the next song that they will play while having another playing for the crowd is one that should not be taken for granted. Flash developed what would become modern day queuing (now usually done digitally or via a mixing software) which he called the “peek-a-boo” system. He manipulated the wires of the turntables to allow for a song to play in his headphones without being amplified and this combined with his idea to run two of the same records on both turn tables became what we know as queuing. This method streamlined the DJ set and allowed for flawless transitions
5. Grandmaster Flash considers turntablism a science
“Before I am a DJ, I am a scientist,” Flash tells the HOT 97 morning show. Flash explains that it took years of experimentation to develop his method but because he was not completely satisfied with the current state of music he kept pushing. He nursed a fascination with “all things that plug into a wall” which led to him destroy hair dryers and old car stereo systems to customize his turntables for the best listening experience. He was systematic about his approach to counting bars and timing which led to the development of the “Quick Mix Theory” which allows for the beat break in a song to be played seamlessly and continuously.
Did you learn something new? We certainly did and we are inspired by Grandmaster Flash’s story of curiosity, perseverance and ingenuity that led to the Hip-Hop we know and love today.
Watch the full interview below.