Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "The Message"

Wednesday, January 25: 2:30 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's "The Message" is one of the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll

Grandmaster Flash (Joseph Saddler) didn't want to make "The Message." His emcees, the Furious Five, apart from Melle Mel (Melvin Glover), thought it was a bad idea. But when this grim slice of urban journalism hit in the summer of 1982, it was as inevitable as Woody Guthrie once had been: It was politics taken to the streets. Until "The Message," rap had been largely celebratory music, reflecting its block-party roots. When Sugar Hill Records eminence Sylvia Robinson pushed for "The Message" – ultimately a collaboration between Glover and studio percussionist Duke Bootee (Ed Fletcher) – the others balked: who wanted to take their problems to the dance floor? Still, the song took off, reaching an audience that had once dismissed rap as idle boasting, countering such notions with lead rapper Melle Mel's repeated, weary conclusion: It’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder how I keep from going under. For all its success, though, the song had its detractors. While many considered it the greatest rap statement of all time, others called it a sop for white people. However, like most groundbreaking records, "The Message" transcended the rhetoric. It cleared the way for a new kind of ghetto storytelling, and for a songbook of gritty stories America wouldn't otherwise have heard. This slice of unvarnished social realism sold half a million copies in a month, topped numerous critics’ and magazines’ lists of best singles for 1982, and cemented Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s place in hip-hop’s vanguard. “I ask myself to this day, ‘Why do people want to hear this?’” Grandmaster Flash wondered of “The Message” in 1988. “But it’s the only lyric-pictorial record that could be called ‘How Urban America Lived.’” Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. 

Listen to and learn the stories behind the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's unique app. This app features clips of more than 500 songs, each with cover art, and fascinating artist and recording notes. The searchable list of songs is also divided among decades and artists, so finding and hearing exactly what you want is easy. It's perfect for trivia buffs, music lovers and fans of rock and roll. Click here to learn more!



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