Grandmaster Flash Breaks It Down for PAPERMAG

Colleen Nika

With a solo album out last week -- believe it or not, it is his first ever -- one cannot help but wonder exactly what Joseph Saddler, aka Grandmaster Flash plans to bring to the hip-hop landscape in 2009, 30 years after "Superrappin'" defined early hip-hop's dancefloor renaissance. The man whose group The Furious Five revolutionized early, socially conscious party rap back when M.I.A. herself was still an infant has released On The Bridge: Concept of a Culture, and his mission is -- you guessed it -- to "bridge the gap" between hip-hop generations both old and new, young and middle-aged. The result? Everyone from Snoop Dogg to Busta Rhymes to KRS One to Princess Superstar (remember her?) make an appearance on a crowded and busy party album where Flash himself often takes a backseat to his coterie of guest performers.

In a post-MTV era, where CDs (and the stores that sell them) are moribund and new fans are more likely hear "Swagger" as a ringtone than a radio hit, he remains upbeat and convinced he is in touch with today's youth. After all, at the end of the day, "hot tracks" will always prevail. Fresh off the video shoot for lead single "Swagger," Flash spoke of his new album and future creative endeavors with the ambitious, yet wisely guarded enthusiasm of a veteran on the rebound.

With your album The Bridge, you aim to "bridge the gap" between the old and new generations of hip-hop and their respective audiences. Do you think your new album will connect to today's youth? What are your expectations?
I don't really have any specific commercial expectations. I live by the motto, "do the best you can." Everything else will work itself out. When I was given the freedom to do this particular project, I did it in the manner I wanted and I had fun doing it. And it is a good record, in my opinion! We'll have to wait and see.

What sort of audience do you have in mind for this album?
It's for anyone and everyone. Age is irrelevant. We'll be promoting the videos to MTV, the usual youth vehicles, of course. You have to. But I will always reach out to the old school fans. Again, that's the type of crossover this particular record tries to accomplish: it's all about bridging gaps.

Did you approach this album through the mindset of a producer, of a DJ, or as an all-around "solo artist"?
I guess the DJ mindset prevails -- for me, it really is about producing hot tracks, for the most part. Let's say that I approached the album with the frame of mind of a DJ, but with the experience of a producer. I do know my way around a studio!

Hip hop audiences have obviously expanded and changed dramatically over the years: what was once an underground genre that appealed primarily to an urban demographic became accessible to mainstream, middle America. In your eyes, was this a progressive development or was something compromised in the process?
think that evolution was a great thing for the genre! When something becomes loved by so many people, it has to become commercialized to a certain a degree. But, of course, there are those who do commercialize correctly and those who do it wrong. But that's because it is a huge pool to swim in: some people respect the water, some people don't.

So hip hop doesn't need to "get back to its roots," like some purists say?
Why? What is its "roots"? What is a "purist" anyway? Hip-hop never would have gotten overseas, it would have never left the Bronx. I had always hoped that, through some vehicle, it would always be more popular than just a phenomenon in the Bronx. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect it to be this big, but there's no way I'd have wanted to limit its success. What else would I be doing?

Are there any key developments or collaborations in hip-hop that have stood out to you over the years?
I wouldn't say one particular giant commercial collaboration has blown me away. But I see little things that excite me. It could be an amazing opening act that comes on before me -- "shit, that's really cool." Or when I tour overseas and see MCs doing it in different languages. I may not know what the hell he is talking about, but I see European DJs do some amazing things on the turntable. And I go, "who would have thought of that?" Those little moments blow me away and prove to me how far hip-hop has come.

Princess Superstar guests on your track, "Some Chicks." What other female MCs are you currently into?
Byata and Hedonis Da Amazon -- those two amaze me. And the three of them together? It's a hell of a team. I was unsure for a little while if I'd be able to get these three talents on the same song -- "Some Chicks." It's so time consuming chasing one down, chasing the other down. But it worked out and we had a great time.

How do you pick the singles? How did you pick "Swagger" as the first?
That's always the problem. I try to keep away from that side of things. The music is "my child." I let the record company "babysit my child." We just shot the video for it with Ludacris's video director, Paris. I'm really happy with it.

What's next for you?
Two new albums on the table. First, I have to see what develops with this one. My production angle is always different. I've been blessed in that I know how to operate electronics. I'm always wanting to see if I can do something differently -- why 1234? Why not 1432? So, I may do that. But first I'm going to tour quite heavily.

What non-hip-hop acts would you love to guest produce?
I probably would work with Limp Bizkit. Or The Killers. But I actually think it would be really cool to produce something funky for U2. Do you think Bono would be up for it?

Bono's always up for something. Speaking of such, will you be seeking commercial placement for your new material, U2-style?
One of these songs is going to be in a soccer commercial in Europe. And that's so big overseas, so it's a big deal. It's a tribute to breakdancers.

What artists or producers do you consider innovators right now?
There's so many things I hear and there's so many new people. A lot right now is very innovative, very cutting edge, and things are beginning to blur. You can no longer pick out a true bass sound or a true string sound. It's a fusion, and we have technology to thank. So many people can push the envelope. -- Neptunes, Swiss Beatz, M.I.A. I don't really focus on the artist. I don't play favorites. I don't want to politicize music. I can't listen to a song for enjoyment anymore -- I listen to the "why" of the song. I analyze it. I can't just enjoy it. It's the production side of my mind.

So, what do you think of British subgenres like dubstep or grime?
I like them. Dubstep is hot, it's probably my favorite style. Grime -- it doesn't sound like it, does it? It sounds quite polished. Who gave it that name?

In 2007, you and The Furious Five were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Who is overdue for that recognition?
Afrika Bambaataa and Soul Sonic Force need to come next, but the list goes on and on. For me, it was an amazing honor to be recognized by the Hall of Fame. Let's hope the trend continues...

On that note, do you think the first generation of hip-hop artists are getting their proper due now?
I say that if you want to be remembered, you have to be present. You don't want to become a myth, you need to be on the scene. Out of sight, out of mind. Even Presidents have their promotional duties. It's not someone's fault they don't remember you if you don't make yourself seen.

Cassidy Maldonado

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