Welcome to Musical Appreciation. Let’s go back to the early days of hip-hop, back to the early 80s and even the 70s. Hip-hop was a New York-exclusive that you can only hear in block parties. Often times, you would have a DJ scratching up old soul and funk vinyl records and usually playing the breakdown part of these songs. You would also have an emcee on the mic spitting rhymes and moving the crowd. That was hip-hop in its infancy. Then, Sugar Hill Gang came along, recorded Rapper’s Delight, which became a Top 40 hit in 1979 and introduced hip-hop to the rest of the country. And there’s also today’s Musical Appreciation, which elevated the genre to a new level. This is Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s The Message.
Even though this song is credited to Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Melle Mell does all of the rapping and he has one hell of a presence, walking the line between aggressive and vulnerable. The final verse is the most potent and tragic. I won’t spoil it, just listen to it for yourself. And then there’s the beat, produced by the Mother Of Hip-Hop Sylvia Robinson. It manages to create a dark, funky sound that matches the subject matter of the song. Speaking of subject matter, the words of the song itself.
Like I mentioned earlier, hip-hop during its infancy was just party music that put more emphasis on the DJ than the emcee. With The Message, it can still be played at a party, but that’s not what the song is focused on. Instead, it opts to talk about life in New York’s inner cities. People are piss poor, there’s not enough opportunities out there, so the only way someone could get by is through crime. The chorus best shows the claustrophobic feeling of living in the hood, like you’re one second away from snapping. Without The Message, you wouldn’t have N.W.A., Public Enemy, and most hip-hop with a socially conscious message. For a great analysis, check out Rap Critic’s review of the song.
So that was Musical Appreciation. I’m taking a break from this series, so don’t expect a new installment next month. Keep an eye out on the UPDATES page for the next one. And next week, it’s the Worst Songs of 1974.
SONG OF THE WEEK
Rock The Mic-Beanie Siegel & Freeway