Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five: The Message

While working my way through The Wire, I found myself thinking about the iconic rap song “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. A song which traces much of the same social themes of urban decay as this kick ass TV series. A point of interest, at least for me, is that this song focuses on NYC, and more specifically the South Bronx, the birthplace of rap that became notorious for crime and urban squalor during the 80s and 90s thanks to films like Fort Apache, the Bronx (1981) —a loaded and racist argument about the state of inner city America.

All of which made makes me think about a moment in the fourth season of The Wire when the cops are ordered to make “quality of life” arrests, which ultimately means busting citizens for small, insignificant infractions in violent, crime torn neighborhoods. During the general upheaval amongst the beat cops about the new orders, one of them notes reasonably, “It worked in New York.” Enforcing quality of life, unchecked development, rampant gentrification, and unlivable space for America’s working poor —all of which makes NYC the poster child for the future of American cities. To quote Clayton Davis, “Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeiit.”

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7 Responses to Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five: The Message

  1. Nathan Rein says:

    I was on the verge of posting another Chris Farley Show-style comment about how cool the lyrics for this song were or whatever, plus a link to yet another classic, but when confronted by the high intellectual seriousness of the comments that followed my previous one, I decided to forego it.

    Oh what the hell.

  2. Reverend says:


    Beat Street is a gem, and I and that song on more than 100 occasions. Also, Melle Mel’s outfit in that video is priceless. Though, for my money, I was always a big fan of the upstart from Hollis, Queens in Krush Groove, none other than the Lady Lover Cool James:

  3. Nathan Rein says:

    If you wanna go there, how about the greatest, most surreal 80s rap track ever?

    or this one (which is also a great video)

  4. Sue F. says:

    And sequel commentaries from the 80s and early 90s…

    KRS-One and Boogie Down Productions with “Stop the Violence” (’88)

    The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy building upon the Dead Kennedys with their own version of “California Uber Alles” (’92)

  5. Reverend says:


    You are YouTube enfuego –how does it stack up as a recent history engine in your opinion? Thanks for all these great videos, we have to talk some more about hip-hop in the 80s, we obviously have some similar interests 😉 That re-mix of California Uber Alles is awesome, I was actually in LA in 1994 when governor commandante Pete Wilson pushed and passed the infamous Proposition 187, socially disenfranchising the huge illegal immigrant population of California. So, that song brings back some wild memories, but ironically I never heard it before now. And, if I am right, you were out in California around the same time as well, so we may have more stories to swap as well in this regard. I love the blog!

  6. Sue F. says:

    Hi Rev,

    I didn’t know you were in LA! I remember the Pete Wilson and Prop 187 days all too well (I was in Calif. as a grad student between ’91-’01). Saw the Disposable Heroes with P.E. at the Warfield in San Francisco, about a month before the Rodney King verdict. Talk about historical moments…

    YouTube is great stuff. As populist pulp, as a visual archive of the Moment for the historian, and as a media frame itself (hello Marshall McLuhan…), it’s quite a thing.

  7. Mikhail says:

    My old boss told a story about a Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five show he saw in the 1980s. Apparently the band was late getting on stage and the crowd was getting a bit restless. After they slowly started filtering on to the stage, a policeman came up and started calling for them to shut the whole show down. The cop and Grandmaster Flash started exchanging words and the cop soon shoved the MC. He did it again and again, and GMF yelled “Don’t push me! Don’t push me! . . . ” [The beat kicks in out of nowhere] “‘Cuz I’m close to the edge!” And went into the “Message.” The crowd went completely nuts.

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