- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Hip-hop and dance music are at the top of the charts, but if it weren't for a man named Joseph Saddler, today's musical environment might be quite different indeed.

Better known as Grandmaster Flash, he's the disc jockey-producer who put record spinners at the center of the party and paved the way for rappers to go mainstream.

"I thought it would probably spread down to Philadelphia, a few other neighborhoods," he says over the phone from a New York City studio. "Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would have to fly 10 hours to play a show in another country."

The names of his innovations cutting, phasing and spinning may not be household words yet, but they are the basic tools of modern disc jockeys and show up in everything from rap-metal to car commercials.

Here's a primer: Cutting is moving between songs exactly on the beat; spinning is repeating certain sections of a song over and over; and phasing is changing the speed of the record.

The ability to do these three things with vinyl records has kept the venerable format alive even as compact discs have taken over the music industry. It also has been a boon to electronic dance music and hip-hop and even has penetrated the rock world.

Grandmaster Flash started honing his technique while still a teen-ager growing up in the Bronx in the 1970s. He preferred playing old funk records instead of disco and started gaining a following around the same time that hip-hop was beginning to take off.

"The only rule of thumb I keep is that it has to be on time. You have to keep things on some kind of relative time frame if you're going to DJ," he says.

After working with early rapper Kurtis Blow, he started collaborating with the Furious Five, and the group released its first record in 1979, not long after the Sugarhill Gang had a smash hit with "Rapper's Delight." Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five continued to record into the 1980s, making the charts with "The Message" and "White Lines," an anti-cocaine song.

By the late 1980s, rappers had overshadowed disc jockeys, and bands such as Run DMC and Public Enemy started to take the genre into the mainstream. Raves, featuring DJs as the stars, were just getting started around the world, and both rap and techno would come into their own during the next decade.

During this time, Grandmaster Flash was overshadowed by larger acts, but he continued to stay busy. In addition to several reunion shows with the Furious Five, he worked on Chris Rock's HBO series "The Chris Rock Show," had his own radio show and has been developing new artists. One of his pet projects is a new DJ mixing machine that he's been working on for the past three years. He hopes to have it in stores by late summer.

The musical pioneer also has two discs out this year, the retrospective "The Official Adventures of Grandmaster Flash" and a new album called "Essential Mix: Classic Edition."

That album, which hit stores in May, features classic songs such as Blondie's "Rapture," Indeep's "Last Night a DJ Saved My Life" and James Brown's "Give It Up or Turn It Loose."

"This mix really feels very good for me," he says. "I came up with a bunch of different mixes and listened to them all, and this mix felt good. I wanted it to be comfortable, but funky."

He also listens to current artists ("I'm really feeling Nas right now," he says) but prefers many of the older funk and hip-hop tracks that routinely make his set lists.

Grandmaster Flash, 44, is touring the country this summer to do what he does best spin records. He will play at the weekly Buzz night at Nation on Friday. In addition, fans can log onto www.buzzlife.com this week to win a chance to go record shopping in Georgetown with the venerable DJ.

"I'm gonna jam, man," he says. "I carry 700 records with me, and I'm gonna jam and see what happens."


WHAT: Grandmaster Flash

WHERE: Nation, 1015 Half St. SE

WHEN: 10 p.m. Friday

TICKETS: $15 to $20

PHONE: 202/554-1500


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