Sunday, March 20, 2011

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five -- "The Message" (1982)

Don't push me 
Cause I'm close to the edge 
I'm trying 
Not to lose my head 
It's like a jungle sometimes 
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin' under 

"Rapper's Delight" was a bit of a fluke, but there was nothing fluky about the success of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.  Their first album, The Message, was the first great hip hop album.  It went platinum in less than a month, and its title track was the first great "message" song -- which was titled "The Message."

Craig Hansen Werner, the author of A Change Is Gonna Come: Music, Race & the Soul of America, wrote that "The Message" is the rap song that "changed the game."

"In the unforgettable first verse," Hansen says, "Melle Mel [the only one of the Furious Five to appear on the record] immerses his listeners in an urban nightmare of broken glass, rank smells, and unescapable noise."

Broken glass everywhere
People pissin' on the stairs
You know they just don't care 
I can't take the smell, can't take the noise 
Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice 
Rats in the front room, roaches in the back 
Junkies in the alley with a baseball bat 
I tried to get away but I couldn't get far 
'Cause a man with a tow truck repossessed my car 

DJ Melle Mel
The song pulls no punches in the last verse, which tells a cautionary tale of how one ghetto teenager ends up.

Turned stick-up kid
But look what you done did 
Got sent up for a eight-year bid 
Now your manhood is took and you're a Maytag 
Spend the next two years as a undercover fag 
Bein' used and abused to serve like hell 
'Til one day, you was found hung dead in the cell 

When I couldn't figure out the "Maytag" reference, I went to Mahbod Moghadam, a/k/a "The Rap Genius," who quickly pointed me to the Urban Dictionary website.  Urban Dictionary says that "Maytag" is used to describe a submissive prison homosexual because of the reputation of Maytag's washing machines for reliability -- like that brand of washing machine, a prison "Maytag" keeps working and working and working without malfunctioning. 

The synthesizer riff used in "The Message" has been sampled by Ice Cube and Puff Daddy, and its lyrics have been quoted or paraphrased by a "Who's Who" of rappers: Tupac Shakur, Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, and many others.

Here's "The Message":

Here's a link you can use to buy 'The Message" from iTunes:

The Message - The Message

Here's a link you use if you prefer to buy it from Amazon:

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