When we entered Old School Hip Hop fortnight (three weeks ago, I know!) I was looking forward to sampling some tunes from a time before the supercilious swagger and pointless posturing that is much of mainstream Hip Hop today. Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five’s The Message came up trumps.
The first few tracks are the slightly more innocent precursors to the name checks and brags mentioned above, but Grandmaster Flash is not one to be boring for long. Once the Furious Five have ensured we all know how much they appreciate a honey with a fly figure they throw in a 5-minute electronic track. I wasn’t expecting that…
After the bizarre electro-interval comes the charmingly naïve social commentary It’s A Shame; “to share shows you care!” This was very amusing. As was Dreamin’, a love song to Stevie Wonder; I wasn’t expecting that either… On this record you can really hear the transition from Soul to Hip Hop. It’s A Shame and Dreamin’ both have that laid-back jazzy sound, and over-sentimental ballad You Are sounds like it belongs on the endless Stevie Wonder record we reviewed a while back; wouldn’t the Furious Five be pleased to hear that!
The standout track on the album is without a shadow of a doubt The Message. The backing track has a stripped-back sound, and the vocals are a far cry from the harmonies displayed on some of the earlier songs, but the simple beat complements the bleak subject matter and allows the words to take centre stage. Plainly delivered lyrics capture the frustrations of poverty with poignancy and convey a raw sense of despair. I would have like to have heard more tracks like this.