2009 and Grandmaster Flash has got a new album out.

Turntable innovator, genuine hip-hop superstar and Rock N Roll Hall of Fame inductee, if you don’t know one end of the Furious Five from another when it comes to Joseph Saddler, it’s worth popping down to your local library and borrowing his recent autobiography.

After My Life My Beats – A Memoir comes a long-player, The Bridge – Concept of a Culture, that prompts instant intrigue for the man revered for his adventures on the wheels of steel. The interest being that us unseemly scribes enjoy nothing more than the prospect of past heroes setting themselves up for a rep-squashing fall as much as honouring a scene hero.

Though the guestlist to The Bridge is a steaming mish-mash, what’s certain is that Flash’s pulling power remains platinum. Busta Rhymes, Q-Tip, KRS-One (in vintage ‘hip-hop as saviour’ form on “What If”), and Snoop all hold court. Flash brings back some of the old skool with him (Big Daddy Kane getting his loverman ooze back on the boil), and there’s a host of up and comers brought in from both near and afar. And Princess Superstar.

Let’s face, it’s mere insolence on our part to assume Flash will stumble some 30 years after making his mark. The sounds of The Bridge certainly hold water in ’09 – argue amongst yourselves the balance between in-touch and derivative, but  it comfortably takes its place alongside today’s megabucks mic extorters. Other than a little bit of G-Unit-shaded dirt, it’s mostly all club bounces and shiny R&B crossovers (‘Swagger’, with Red Cafe and D-O-Double-G carrying on the thug hearts a-flutter movement). Flash is still “the biggest and the oldest kid in hip-hop”, and we caught up with him in his Soho hotel to make sure the Bridge wasn’t anywhere near over:

Is it nice to be talking about a new project like this rather than going over your old skool experiences over and over again?

“With the old skool, I’ve found that journalists don’t talk about it like I know it. So when I hear something that’s inaccurate, it’s sad. I haven’t come across a journalist that’s written about those vintage years like I know them. So, when I read articles about certain things, so many things are missing. I guess that’s human nature. But if you tweak it a little bit, then it’s false, it’s inaccurate. Old skool like I know it, you guys, the first thing you talk about to us is the 80s; you guys are talking about the flower at the top. Nobody asks questions about the roots, the 60s and 70s. So a lot of the stuff I read, I don’t feel I should care about, because it’s not the truth.”

Do elements that come with a new album such as press and promotion still stimulate you? Or are they more something that you have to put up with?

“I’m cool with that. I was never one to wanna do press. I’ll admit I’m not great; I’m a laidback, reserved, shy kind of person, and this here is part of the process. I don’t do interviews well, but this is part of the business and I do it. It’s cool, but I’m not big on it though.”

Despite technology and techniques changing over the years, do you still stick to a set of core principles with productions?

“Sure, I do certain things the same way, but with different elements. With this album, I probably took it a step further, because the sounds that I’ve used on this album are all vintage – bass, pads, glockenspiels, chords, drums, those sounds are all vintage. The way I EQd and produced it with the vocalists I put on it, is what gives it the new feel. So it’s managed between vintage and now. It’s what I was looking for; when I made this record I wanted to do this as how a DJ would make a record, how an international DJ deejays. That’s why some of the record is pop-hop, R&B hip-hop, grungy underground hip-hop…

“Some of the tracks have senseless messages, some have serious messages, some of them are just fun, some are where the rapper doesn’t speak the American language…All of the different types of labels I could possibly use is what I did with this record. That might be considered in dangerous a lot of ways, but that’s only what I was gonna do with this record, where no one track sounds like the other.”

Did constructing the album go exactly how you wanted it to? Was your resolve tested at any time?

“The main obstacles were chasing the guests’ schedules down. As I was writing the tracks, when I’d finished I knew, for example, “this feels like Q-Tip”; then I get on the phone to my staff – “find him”. Call record companies, call somebody so I can bring a track down and he can hear it. For the most part the wishlist on the album was all the people that I wanted. The biggest obstacles were management and attorneys, but that’s part of the business.

“Other than that, the process was relatively smooth. What was hard was finding proper unknowns; I wanted to pair an unknown with an iconic MC, an iconic MC with an MC that doesn’t speak his language, an unknown MC with another unknown MC, with an icon in the middle…I just mixed and matched as many ways as possible because that’s what hip-hop is really about, mixing and matching. That’s where I come from and that’s what I did with this record.”

Despite your experience in the game, was there any apprehension about reintroducing yourself at this time?

“Apprehension? I didn’t have that at all. I didn’t have thoughts that this was gonna be the biggest record in the world, but at the same time I didn’t think that I was gonna fall flat on my face. I just said I’m gonna make this record because it’s a joy, the process of making the record was joyful. Recording all of the artists, I was having fun.”

Can you still be found hanging in clubs to gauge what works on dancefloors nowadays?

“I still spend as much time as possible in clubs. I spend as much time as possible trying to figure out what’s the latest new song, what’s the latest this and that. Vintage sounds compliment new sounds; that’s the deal with this record. So I gotta find out what the latest record is, because I’m a servant. When I say that, I mean the hot record in the UK may not be the same as the hot record in Europe. I’ve gotta find out what’s hot and what’s not, along with the vintage stuff that I already have, and incorporate the two.

“That’s what makes me an international DJ, being able to serve people in different parts of the globe. That’s very important. I can’t just do one type of music. That would only limit me to one type of thing. I have to be able to do some pop, some rock, some jazz, some blues, some funk, some R&B…I’ve gotta be able to do all of it. That’s very, very important.”

Does hip-hop today as a whole get you down at all?

“Heck no. I feel pretty happy because it’s become so big that it allows me to travel the world and do what I do. I cannot be responsible for what anybody else does, I’m only responsible for what I do. So, if I can go in and do a good job, I’ve done my duty, go to the next place. Personally I am not one to judge others. They’re gonna do what they do, I’m gonna do what I do, and that’s it.”

So now that this album’s in the bag, when’s the next one out?

“People are talking to me now. We’ll see what this record does first, we’ll see what happens. Some parts of the press are saying they love the album, so let’s what see the public says.”

Matt Oliver



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