Q&A: Grandmaster Flash on his return with 'The Bridge'
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five formed in New York in the late '70s and radically altered the musical and cultural landscape -- pioneering the turntable as a way to make music, not just play it. After being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, Flash, 51, is preparing to release his first studio album in more than 20 years. "The Bridge" is out Tuesday.
How was your weekend?
I was with my kiddies, 'cuz I'm leaving for Australia for a few weeks, so I did the dad thing. I worked the club called Eden, which I love to do when I'm in [New York], on 47th Street and 8th Avenue. And when I get off the phone, I have to make a mad dash for my suitcase.
When did it first happen that your kids were listening to some music and you were like, what is this noise?
Actually I'm the creator of the noise, so it was never noise to me! They were like, "Dad, what is that you doing?" As opposed to the other way around. The things I've developed that've become the worldwide way DJs play, my kids, they get it.
Do they ever turn you on to stuff?
18-year-old, I never forget, this goes back, like, five years. There was this
artist who used to make these mixtapes, he used to try to get me to listen to
this guy. He said he was the greatest MC of all time. Of course I had to fight
with him -- there's a lot of great MCs! His name happened to be Lil
Wayne. I was like, "OK, this guy's pretty good." Today he looks at me and
he's like, "Dad, I told you."
What's on your heavy repeat?
Because I want to get into remixes, production, video game
music and doing scores, soundtracks, this guy by the name of Stravinsky, the
song is called "The Rite of Spring." This guy! In one song he'll go from a happy
situation to a real dark situation, how he changes the chord structure in one
song -- it's just kind of amazing. So Stravinsky, that's what I'm into right
Oh, you're going way back.
And I'm going to be listening to Brahms, Tchaikovsky -- maybe something might materialize out of this! Don't quote me, but anything's possible.
Have you done your first film score yet?
Actually, I figure by this year I'll have a couple things. I have a video-game music deal, but I can't say what it is yet. But it'll be the biggest video game of the year next year. But I love the idea of going into a recording studio and experimenting with sounds. Where I come from, which is '70s, '80s, you would have anywhere from five, 10, 12 keyboards in one room. Now they have these things called plug-ins, which you can get the digital version of that same keyboard. You just install it into a Mac hard drive. I've got almost every great keyboard in my recording studio. The mixing, matching, trying different things -- like I was doing with this record on the production side.
Yes, your sort of intellectual world tour that is this record.
I think what I wanted to do when I made this album, "The Bridge," I wanted to make this in the mind of a DJ set. When I say that, I'm an international DJ. On my musical plate, I might be in Japan, so I'll play first Billy Squier and maybe Chic second. And the third, the Incredible Bongo Band, and the fourth, I'll play "I Just Wanna Love U" by Jay-Z -- and sixth, Mary J. Blige. I call that doing hip-hop.
I had to think: How do I do hip-hop with this record? Once a track was written, I'd burn a CD, jump in the car and listen over and over again. Then I'd think, I should get Snoop on this track, and Q-Tip could play on this track and Busta Rhymes would do great on this track. Then I said to myself, "This record would be incomplete if I don't go find unsigned talent. . . ." Then I got a new urge. I said, "This record would be incomplete without international. How do I not do that?" So I had to listen to MCs from Japan and Africa and France and Sweden, Spain. Anywhere possible! That's how I was able to do these things hip-hop. This album allowed me also to do hip-hop by taking a well-known MC and pairing them up with an unknown MC.
What was the most awe-inspiring music of the last year?
Boy, there's so much! When I get offstage, I get kids that
sneak backstage. Modern technology has allowed these kids to go into a computer
and make a song! Never in my wildest dreams did I think the world would come to
this. I hear so much.
You said it took a long time to get over the bitter taste left in your mouth from your early business dealings. How are you doing business now?
Oh, it's wonderful. First things first, to be quite honest, I was able to create a company that was mine. And I had to go back and get with my children. I put my whole life into those early years. So first things first, I had to get to know my children. Then it was a matter of being able to find staff that was willing to devote themselves to helping me to build Grandmaster Flash Enterprises. And I found five people who understand and love what I do and that back me. And also the actual distributing company, which is in Germany, I have access to their staff as well. I get all the resources I need. This record could have been a little harder to make!
So you've got it worked out.
I'm happy with the end result of the record. We'll see what happens March 3! See if it all makes sense!
GRANDMASTER FLASH: “I think what I wanted to do when I made this album, ‘The Bridge,’ I wanted to make this in the mind of a DJ set.” Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times
The above story will appear in the Times' Sunday Calendar.