I don’t know nearly as much about rap and hip hop as I should, but I do know that this song is essential listening for anyone who wants to understand the music.
It’s certainly not the first song to provide social commentary, nor is it the first rap song. But there is something about “The Message” that makes it sound like the first of everything. By today’s standards it can be considered basic, but that’s what I like about it. It’s much more real than what I hear from most rap artists today. The sound is simple, but at the time was considered innovative. The lyrics are powerful, and there are no references to strip clubs and bitches. Weird, right?
Rolling Stone ranked “The Message” the greatest hip hop song of all time a few years ago. I wonder how many in the younger generation would agree. Can kids used to slick productions and foul language even understand a song like this? Could they even sit still long enough to figure it out? Most of them probably consider Biggie and Tupac old school, and I guess I would agree to an extent since I definitely hear more of Flash’s influence on them than I do on anyone in the industry today.
It must be the historian in me to want to know where things come from, and I don’t understand those without curiosity about the music that influenced what they listen to now. I listen to this song as part of the history of not only American music, but of American society in general. Just like rock and roll was the voice of young America in its first few decades, rap and hip hop took that voice to another decibel. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were the first hip hop act to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They definitely have a place in the history of popular music, even if some people object to it being in the Rock Hall. Hip hop’s roots are from the same tree as rock and roll, so it just makes sense.
Listen to this song with an open mind. It’s not the hip hop you think of today. It’s much more important than that.