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Grandmaster Flash , Hip Hop People, Places & Things - The Visual Experience, Birmingham Town Hall – REVIEW

By James Driver-Fisher | Birmingham entertainment | Published: | Last Updated:

Pioneer – it’s one of those words that gets bandied around far too much. But there’s no other way of describing hip hop legend Grandmaster Flash.

The superstar DJ has hit the road, bringing the secrets behind his untouchable DJing skills to the masses.

He popped into Birmingham Town Hall on Saturday night to preach his message about music, love and how the genre that has taken over the world all started.

The history of hip hop and rap is truly fascinating. I thought I knew a fair bit about it but when the master takes you back and includes tributes to so many artists – alive and sadly no longer with us – it’s a huge eye opener. I quickly realised how little I really knew.

The format for the show was something I hadn’t come across before but it really worked. There was a huge screen either displaying pictures from the past, portraits of the greatest artists or – and this was the best part for me – zooming in on Flash doing his thing.

Aged 60, he is just someone who loves his craft and has never stopped being an innovator, constantly moving with the times but also bringing us all back to day dot and when it all started.

Grandmaster Flash

First up, however, was support act Delta Autumn who, to be fair, were a complete contrast to the main act.

Funky, neo-jazz, was how my better-informed friend describe their music. The venue hadn’t really started to fill up when their set started but they produced a very nice, chilled vibe.

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"Really honoured to be here and we appreciate all the support," announced the lead singer before dedicating songs to late rapper Mac Miller and actor Burt Reynolds.

The guitarist really could play and the drummer stood out too. They remained very tight – even in the face of some ridiculous heckling.

But soon it was time for the main act – the master, the greatest, the pioneer, the one who was there when it all started.

The exact origins of hip hop are impossible to trace and who started the global phenomenon will always be up for debate.

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However, you can’t speak the formation without mentioning the likes of Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Kool Herc, Melle Mel (and Kid Creole, Scorpio, Cowboy, Rakim – the rest of the Furious Five) and, of course, Grandmaster Flash.

“Back in 1971 there was no social media – all we had were turntables and instruments but we had complete control,” Flash announced to the crowd.

He then introduced us to ‘the power of crayons’, which helped him master the art of the break and his quick mix theory. How he scratched, stopped, rewound and slowed tracks down to make the perfect mix.

Grandmaster Flash live at Birmingham Town Hall

The Bronx, in 1973, was when the first block parties were created and Flash would wire his sound system up by stealing electricity from the lamp posts on the streets.

They incorporated all the rock, jazz and blues into the their songs and mixes, which soon led to birth of hip hop and rap music.

"Hello Birmingham,” he screamed before jumping in to a tribute to Aretha Franklin.

Then the camera zoomed in on his mixing, which was beamed on to the huge projection screen behind so everyone could how did what does. Truly amazing.

He just stops the record at the right place every time, mixing in AC/DC’s Back in Black form nowhere, while talking to the audience and explaining the history of his craft.

“Music has no colour because funky, funky music is just funky, funky music,” he explained before diving in to Queen’s Under Pressure while his smash-hit records through the years – from the 70s right up until the present day – where shown on the screen.

"The breaks were all we needed,” he said, as he once again slowed the record down to create another perfect mix.

There then followed tributes to so many late artists including Big Pun, Heavy D, Fresh Kid Ice, Lisa Left Eye, J Dilla, Big Bank Hank and Scott La Rock.

Grandmaster Flash live at Birmingham Town Hall

Then there was Phife Dawg, probably most famous for the ‘Can I Kick It’ track and being member of A Tribe Called Quest.

Biggie, Prodigy – who would go on to become Mobb Depp – Old Dirty Bastard, Easy E, MCA, Jam Master Jay, Nate Dogg and, of course, Tupac also got a mention.

As the musical history lesson continued, he then took us on a tour of the New York states – Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Harlem, Staten Island and Long Island – explaining where all our much-loved and favourite famous artists came from.

He then reminded us how, when he started out, there was no technology, no real studios and no social media but they still managed to create such great music just using two turntables and a load of records.

That gave way to The Message – arguably the most famous track to come from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.

He then went through a rendition of mixing classic tracks, which included UB40’s Red Red Wine, the Jackson Five, a Furious Five track and then ‘the number one love song on planet earth’, My Girl by The Temptations.

DMX’s 'Party Up (Up in Here)', David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’, Franklin’s Respect, Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean, Flash’s own White Lines, Run DMC’s ‘It’s Tricky’, Salt-N-Pepa’s 'Push It', MC Hammer’s ‘Can’t Touch This’, Kris Kross' ‘Jump’ and House of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’ ended the night as a proper disco took over.

A truly stellar night and one musical history listen I will not forget for awhile.

James Driver-Fisher

By James Driver-Fisher

Motorsport journalist and entertainment and food reviewer for the Express & Star and Shropshire Star.

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