I’m a little late to The Get Down on Netflix–their answer to Vinyl for the history of rap and hip hop–but what I’ve seen so far is very good. At the end of the first episode, we get our first proper look at Grandmaster Flash and the scene he was creating in the Bronx at the end of the 70s. The Sunday New York Times ran this story on the man.
Grandmaster Flash might easily have missed the hip-hop revolution. Born in Barbados and transplanted to the South Bronx as a child, he began his adolescence far from the city, in a group home for foster children in rural upstate New York. By the time he returned to the borough’s Fort Apachesection in 1971, things were changing fast. Music was getting more percussive; teenagers with spray cans were scrawling hieroglyphic names and full-fledged murals on subway cars.
He was Joseph Saddler then, a nerdy high school student who liked to take appliances apart to see how they worked. In a few short years, though, in the hardest-hit part of a hard-hit city, he helped to invent what many would agree was the most sweeping cultural movement of the last 40 years, and then he barely hung on to see it bloom.
The four-decade roller-coaster ride of Grandmaster Flash, now 58, is a tale as improbable and as distinctly New York as that of hip-hop itself, filled with raw creativity, fame, drugs, broken friendships, lawsuits and, finally, something like smooth sailing. In parallel with the city that produced it, hip-hop emerged in the mid-1970s as a symbol of urban decay and evolved into a gilded spectacle of consumption. Mr. Saddler, the music’s first virtuoso, rode its initial wave, got crushed by the second and rebounded as one of the few from his generation whose careers are still going strong.