Icon Grandmaster Flash leads the Bronx in 70s-style hip-hop jam

As a teenager Grandmaster Flash began pioneering the turntable-as-instrument, playing the now iconic Bronx block parties that gave birth to hip-hop and revolutionized music.

On Friday, he was back home, commemorating 50 years of the genre with a performance that had New Yorkers born in the mid-20th century reliving their youth — and hip-hop’s.

“This is not a concert — this is a jam!” Flash, now in his 60s, shouted from the stage, as hundreds of fans roared in applause in the South Bronx’s Crotona Park.

The audience swayed with their hands in the air as Flash threw it back to the jams of the early 1970s, which ushered in the genre that’s profoundly impacted music as well as fashion, dance and the culture at large.

The community parties offered teens and families a lifeline in an era of financial crisis that left much of the borough in crippling poverty.

“It was the music that really resonated at the time in New York,” said Quentin Morgan, 54, who rolled into the park on his bike to catch the event that’s part of a series of festivities commemorating hip-hop’s birth.

“It was gritty in New York — barely any laws,” he said with a chuckle. “It was a different era.”

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five in 1982 released “The Message,” delivering a raw portrait of urban life and bringing a socially conscious element to the genre on a grand scale.

On Friday night, the air was electric as Flash brought MCs Melle Mel and Scorpio onstage where they delivered a rendition of the iconic hit.

That preceded a fierce appearance from MC Sha-Rock, widely considered the first woman to MC during hip-hop’s nascent years.

And KRS-One, who also hails from the South Bronx, freestyled to a chorus of cheers as Flash scratched and transformed, manipulating the vinyl, using now standard techniques he pioneered half a century ago.

Earlier in the evening as opening acts warmed up the crowd, Coke La Rock — who on August 11, 1973 joined DJ Kool Herc at the party many musicologists consider hip-hop’s official conception — told AFP that for him, hip-hop and the Bronx are one and the same.

“I can’t see no division of it,” the 68-year-old said, calling offshoots of the genre across the United States and even the world “my kids.”

“They all my kids, if I’m the patent, they the product.”

– ‘Biggest music on earth’ –

Speaking to AFP backstage, Flash said Friday’s event was meant to emulate the jams of his youth.

“It was recreation — moms said go outside and play,” he said. “Never… did I think it would become part of the biggest music on earth.”

Organizers also relayed a message from the mayor of New York, as the city officially declared August 4 “Grandmaster Flash Day.”

Keisha Harmon joined the event with her partner of 27 years — “my Teenage Love,” she said, quoting the rap classic by Slick Rick.

She’ll be 50 in October: she was born in the Bronx just months after the genre she grew up on.

“I have chills, look, goosebumps,” she told AFP.

“All the songs that are playing — I’m a mother of seven and I’m a grandmother of eight — and they take me back to No Kids.”

She described how the hip-hop jams of her childhood spread by word of mouth: “Hey, DJ-such-and-such is in the park, and we would have parties and sing, and it was just fun.”

“And this reminds me of that,” Harmon added, motioning to the park crowded with partygoers on a humid August evening.

The celebration “shows our talent” as citizens of the Bronx, she added.

“It shows what we contributed to the arts,” Harmon said. “Hip-hop has a substance.”

“The artists were storytellers.”

“South South Bronx, South Bronx!” the audience shouted throughout the evening, singing the song by Boogie Down Productions produced by KRS-One and DJ Scott La Rock.

According to city organizers, Friday night was Grandmaster Flash’s first time playing the Bronx in two decades.

Along with fellow hip-hop pioneers, he was joined by a troupe of breakdancers who wowed the audience with a throwdown.

“Where’s my old-schoolers at?” Flash asked the joyous crowd. “I wanna keep it in the 70s.”

“Somebody say Bronx!”

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