Joseph Saddler (born January 1, 1958), better known as Grandmaster Flash, is an American hip hop recording artist and DJ. He is considered to be one of the pioneers of hip-hop DJing, cutting, scratching and mixing. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, becoming the first hip-hop act to be honored.
The group’s most significant hit was the electro-rap song “The Message” (1982), which was produced by in-house Sugar Hill producer Clifton “Jiggs” Chase and featured session musician Duke Bootee. Unlike earlier rap tunes, “The Message” featured a grim narrative about inner city violence, drugs, and poverty. In 2002, its first year of archival, it was one of 50 recordings chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry, the first hip hop recording ever to receive this honor. Critics praised the song’s social awareness, calling the chorus “a slow chant seething with desperation and fury.” Other than Melle Mel, however, no members of the group actually appear in the song. Rahiem lip-synced Duke Bootee’s vocal in the music video. The same year, Grandmaster Flash appeared in the movie “Wild Style” and sued Sugar Hill over the non-payment of royalties. Tensions mounted as “The Message” gained in popularity, eventually leading to a rupture between Melle Mel and Grandmaster Flash. Soon the group disintegrated entirely. Grandmaster Flash, The Kidd Creole, and Rahiem left Sugar Hill, signed with Elektra Records, and continued on as simply “Grandmaster Flash”, while Melle Mel and the others continued on as “Grandmaster Melle Mel & the Furious Five”.
Grandmaster Flash was also interviewed in the 1986 cult documentary Big Fun In The Big Town.
Although frequently credited on the records, Grandmaster Flash doesn’t actually appear on “The Message,” “Freedom,” or many of the other Furious Five songs. Although Grandmaster Flash provided the central element of the group’s sound when performing live (in addition to giving the group its name), there was little room for his turntablism in early singles-driven by the grooves of live session musicians. Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five reformed in 1987 for a charity concert, and in 1988 they released a new album. The group reunited again in 1994, although Cowboy died in 1989.