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Questlove's Top 50 Hip-Hop Songs of All Time

5

Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, "The Message" (1982)


grandmaster flash and the furious five
Anthony Barboza/Getty Images
5/50

Okay, there is positively nothing I can say about "The Message" that hasn't been said. The world (me included) absolutely froze in its tracks the week it debuted on radio in June of '82. Hip-hop was once known as party fodder, a fad. "The Message" pulled a 180 and proved it could be a tool of sociopolitical change. Being 11, I was as sheltered as sheltered could get. My cousin had to translate all the street terms and jail talk I had never heard before. (I saw nothing wrong with being a "pip" – they danced real good for Gladys! I just had trouble figuring out why a young girl would need one to make it in the streets.) Even my father had to confess he liked it better than that "hippidy hoppidy" song. And when the last minute of the song came on, my dad saw fit that we should have "the talk." Ah yes, "the talk." The one he's been giving me every year of my life. The rules of safety and survival – not with the streets, but with cops. You just gotta understand that the average black man walks around assuming that most people think he's guilty. So the need to make people feel at ease has been instilled in us at an early age. "If a cop addresses you on the street, you are to address him in clear English with 'Yes, sir.' Any movement made must be sllllloooooooowwww. This is to ensure you do not get shot 'by accident.' Do not run in the neighborhood, because that's suspicious..."

I'm sorry, y'all. As I'm typing this, I'm shaking my head – because on one hand, it's so degrading to see these words and it's so emasculating to abide by them. Then I think about the night a few years ago when I got frisked on the hood of the car and then placed in a cop car while they searched for whatever it was they were looking for, and I kept praying they wouldn't figure out how to open the trunk, because there was no way in hell they'd believe I was the owner of a deluxe Scrabble game and a bunch of psychology books from Borders. They told me there was high theft of mini-coops from the dealership I just happened to be parked at, unaware. I told them the irony was, I had pulled over to take a phone call since it was against the law to talk and drive. Of course, driving that type of car in Orange County left me wide open. It was Super Tuesday in 2008, and I was campaigning before the Grammys. I just kept thinking, "Wow, I broke Dad's promise not to ever be a part of this cliche of a scene just like the last minute of 'The Message.'"

I answered questions as best I could, which was working against me because my natural proper English could be seen as "uppity." Add four cops to the mix who are asking questions like "Assistant?" "Your office?" They must have thought we were all quick-thinking Axel Foleys who can double-talk their way out of being arrested. Eventually I was let go when the rental service verified me as the renter. I drove back to my Beverly Hills hotel livid and angry and helpless and about to lose my head. It is like a jungle, still.


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