Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel & the Furious Five

  • Message From Beat Street: The Best of Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel & the Furious Five [Rhino, 1994] A
  • The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel & the Furious Five: More of the Best [Rhino, 1996] A-

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Message From Beat Street: The Best of Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel & the Furious Five [Rhino, 1994]
They start out as street kids trying to get over, their idea of a sales gimmick "The Birthday Party"--because everybody's got one, and because in 1981 that's still considered reason for celebration. Up till "It's Nasty" they specialize in hard dance music no more serious than, oh, Tony Toni Toné's. But unlike Kurtis Blow, their only rival on record until Run-D.M.C. change everything, they think like consumers, striking poses that look good on the corner, not the stage. And then a Columbia student they know writes "The Message" and it dawns on big-voiced frontman Melle Mel (and hard-nosed label owner Sylvia Robinson) that with his street cred he can put its message over. Although their protest phase may sound naive to the ignorant, it looks at the inner-city same-old with a freshness and moral certainty few have matched since, and played, scratched, or synthesized, their beats seize history. "Wheels of Steel" would have made a more poetic intro than the redundant 1994 megamix. But this is how rap began. A

The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel & the Furious Five: More of the Best [Rhino, 1996]
Beyond the extended "Flash to the Beat" and the essential "Wheels of Steel," these 12 tracks were recorded '84-'87, when they sounded a little lost. Heard as musical form rather than cultural positioning, however, they flesh out Flash's beatmastery, grandly intricate yet stone solid, and establish that Melle Mel beat Chuck D to the game--the fire-and-mutant-dogs "World War III" hits like "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos," and lays down political science in the bargain. A-