Grandmaster Flash (aka Joseph Saddler) is a man of few words. Surprisingly, he isn’t as vocal as he once was about the roots of hip hop or dropping science on the evolution of the game. Flash is on a mission to keep up with the avalanche of new artists emerging in the hip hop world by dropping his first studio album in 20 years, The Bridge : Concept Of A Culture. We caught up with the ‘cut creator’ to get the skinny on his new album and squeeze out some nostalgic anecdotes from the past.
Hey Flash, how did you come to be known as a Grandmaster? Were you the first to be honoured with the title?
My best friend Gordon named me Flash, this was in the ‘70s, and I got the title ‘Grandmaster’ from one of my fans that used to come to the clubs, because of the way I played the turntables. The science of the ‘Grandmaster’ means one that is excellent at their particular field, that’s kinda how I became to be known as ‘Grandmaster Flash’. I think there may have been a ‘Grandmaster Flowers’ before me. (laughs)
Sounds pretty tough, I bet you could take him. Your parents had a huge influence on not only your musical tastes and stylings but on your quest to become an innovator on the wheels of steel. How did they guide you?
It was just an interest of mine because I was not interested in the way DJs were playing at the time. I felt something was missing, so that’s when I decided to mess with my father’s collection, which I did since I was a baby. That later just ended up becoming a lesson on how I handled the vinyl and how I created cueing systems and the way I did things on the turntables. It became a real science. Every great song has a great part and I honed in on the break, which in my opinion was the best part, and I became known for that.
Do you remember the exact point when you realized that the turntable could be used as an instrument, not just as an outlet for music?
I probably started talking about it in the last ten years, but I’ve always used the turntable as an instrument. I was always telling people ‘this is my instrument, this is what I play.’ I’ve always known it in my heart, but only started making it public in the last 10-12 years.
You’re just about to drop your first studio album in 20 years entitled ‘The Bridge: Concept Of A Culture’ on the 23rd Feb working with a host of artists. What was your decision to go back into the lab and cook up a record?
Watching some of the great producers out there like Pharrell, Dr Dre, Swizz Beats, Just Blaze. I’ve had the pleasure of listening to great songs for a long time so I felt the time was right, and I was like ‘let me just go in and make this record’. I made it in the mind of a DJ, and I was able to pick and chose artists from different genres of the world, and bring in brand new MCs, unknowns and pair them up with superstars and MCs that can’t speak the language. I was able to make this record in the vision that I’m used to making it, and that’s why I did it. I’ve been working solidly on it for the past two years. I slowed down the touring because I needed to make the record but I’ll probably start touring again in the next month or so.
Who were some of the highlight artists you worked with? You have such a cross section from Big Daddy Kane, to Snoop Dogg to Princess Superstar…
Of course, the superstars like Busta Rhymes, Q-Tip, KRS-1, Mr Cheeks, but also the unknowns like Kel Spencer, Lordikim Allah, J-Flo and Jumz. It’s an eclectic DJ mixture of songs on this particular record and that’s how I wanted to build this. I’m just doing hip hop. Some of it has a hip hop feel, a R&B feel, a jazz feel, a pop feel, or an underground feel. Just being able to match superstar MC’s with those that can’t speak the language, I just had fun doing the record.
You haven’t shied away from your distaste for record companies. Are you going through your own record company this time?
It’s coming out through my own company but distributed through K7, but yes I’m using my own label this time.
How do you expect the record to fair in the over-competitive hip hop market?
We can sit here all day and talk about how we think the record might go but until it drops, we don’t have a clue! Whatever the world says, is what it is. If you love it, I’m going in, if you don’t then I’ve got a problem!
You’ve been lucky to see hip hop evolve from its roots to the massive beast it has become. Most artists these days have deals with a clothing label or sneaker brand, but we are yet to see a Flash collabo…
Yeah, you’re right, I’m yet to do one, but I love Nike!
Really? We should put in a good word with Phil for you! What did you think of Run DMC hooking up with adidas back in the day? It must have been a mind-blowing experience to see how far reaching hip hop was rapidly becoming.
Incredible. It was extremely incredible to let people know we could do so many things with hip hop! There were no boundaries to what we could do. You could talk about sneakers in a rap and that was a great song, you know what I mean?!
Do you have current artists come to you for advice and guidance?
I actually learn something from all of them. I speak with Jay (Z). Actually, I speak with most of them, and I see them in my travels. I see Snoop, when we cross paths we always talk.
Speaking of newer artists, you worked with Australian artists Midnight Juggernauts in 2008. Do you know much about the Australian music scene?
It was great. To even be asked to do the remix was wonderful. It was cool. I haven’t been back to Australia for a long time, so I’m looking forward to seeing what the new scene is doing while I’m out there.
Your last set in Australia blew the roof off the joint, what can the crowds expect to see from The Flash at the Future Music Festival this time around?
An all out jam, just jamming!
Flash performs at the Future Music Festival Feb 28th – March 9th