The Message by Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five.
“The Message” is one of the most important and influential songs in the history of hip-hop. Released in 1982 by Sugar Hill Records, the song was a commentary on the harsh realities of life in inner-city America. The song’s bleak lyrics and powerful delivery helped to change the course of rap music, moving it away from party anthems and toward a more socially conscious subject matter. “The Message” is a classic example of how art can be used to confront social injustice and shine a light.
Broken glass everywhere
People pissing on the stage, you know they just don’t care
I can’t take the smell, can’t take the noise
Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice
Rats in the front room broke dudes in the back
Junkies in the alley with the baseball bat
I tried to get away but I couldn’t get far
’Cause the man with the judge repossessed my car
Created by Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five, “The Message” is a vivid picture of urban America during the early 80s. Originally, it was made in response to the 1980 New York City Transit Strike.
All subway and bus lines in the 5 boroughs of New York City, were brought to a complete standstill for a total of 12 days.
Hip-hop was, at the time, still in its early stages of development. It was birthed at block parties that were hosted all over the South Bronx of New York City.
At the time, there had never been conscious rap records before. Party songs were the most relevant. The content was also still mostly braggadocious.
“The Message” was the first rap record of its time to provide social commentary.
If you’re a young kid born in the 2000s, like me, then it might be hard to understand it at first. The sound, first of all, is foreign.
Yes, it’s a traditional rap song, but my generation is more accustomed to Hi-Hats, 808s, and short melodic verses. I obviously wouldn’t enjoy it as much as a person born in the 80s, who most likely has a memory attached to it.
So I decided to Google the lyrics. Being a hip-hop head and a fan of poetry, it wouldn’t take long until the message of the song itself would resonate with me.
Another way I approached this, was to ask almost all of the old heads who also love or once loved rap music. Again, it wasn’t long until they preached to me about its significance and the meaning behind it. Combined with a quick search of its references throughout pop culture, I began to reach an understanding of it.
Yes, some people may disagree and argue otherwise. They may list all classics that might have created more impact on hip-hop culture, but none compares to how monumental “The Message” was and still is. It birthed a new breed of rappers.
This song became a staple for 80s hip-hop. A socially relevant song in the marginalized communities of urban America.
Since the breakout of the 1980 New York City Transit Strike, unemployment had risen to about 15–20%. Also, coupled with the rise of the crack epidemic and gang violence, the South Bronx was a War Zone.
A child is born with no state of mind
Blind to the ways of mankind
God is smiling on you, but he’s frowning too
Because only God knows what you’ll go through
You’ll grow in the ghetto living second-rate
And your eyes will sing a song of deep hate
The places you play and where you stay
Looks like one great big alley way…
Melle Mel depicts the life of a young black adult growing up in a society driven by pain, poverty, anger, and oppression. The young black adult struggles to make it out of this bleak and insane environment, which is compared to a jungle. They are holding on to the little bit of sanity they have left. Hoping that they don’t fall victim to the same vices that plague their brothers and sisters.
In a society full of broken homes, fewer role models, and few opportunities it becomes almost inevitable for the youth to turn to the streets. It becomes almost inevitable for them to turn to the drug community or even join a gang in order to belong and make means for themselves. Just like in a jungle, only the strong will survive.
“It’s like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from going under”
Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five shifted the paradigm of the types of songs that would be made and the different themes that could be talked about:
- Social Injustice
- Police Brutality
This allowed people to see rap as a potential art form, changing the landscape and broadening the horizon of what hip-hop could really become.
10 years after making noise, hip-hop had finally established the power of its voice. Before “The Message” was released, hip-hop was still learning and adapting as a culture. This song serves as its evolution. The following decade would bring Reaganomics, war on drugs, and gang violence. It was time for hip-hop to speak up. It was time to voice out for the voiceless.