Grandmaster Flash's "Open Letter To Kool Herc" Raises Hip-Hop Questions

The history of Hip-Hop has been told from a variety of lenses. Hip-Hop Godfather Grandmaster Flash Challenges Google on some facts.

By Ime Ekpo (The Wisdom Body)

(AllHipHop Opinion) August 11th marked 44 years ever since the inception of this culture we all love and cherish, Hip-Hop. In honor of commemorating Hip-Hop’s 44th birthday, industry notables Lyor Cohen, Cey Adams, and Prince Paul teamed up with Google Doodle to conceive the first ever Hip-Hop inspired doodle. For forty hours, Google’s logo was a mixer and two turntables. The doodle was featured on Google’s homepage August 11th, available to visitors forty hours post Hip-Hop’s 44th mark. Once visitors hit that play button, they are taken into an animated venture that will lead them straight into a Hip-Hop history lesson narrated by legendary Hip-Hp hot shot, Fab 5 Freddy. Once Fab 5 lays down the facts about the foundation, visitors get the chance to learn how to scratch, how to mix songs, and even how to match up break beats. The Google love Hip-Hop culture received that day made several pioneers, precursors, and veterans high in pride. But that is not the only thing that made Hip-Hop’s 44th birthday a memorable one.

On Hip-Hop’s 44th birthday, one of the Godfathers decided to get a few things off of his chest. Grandmaster Flash is on a mission to set things straight. The pioneer expressed how he caught up with Fab 5 Freddy and his protege, Grand Wizzard Theodore for reminisce talk and to settle matters, but there was one person Flash really wanted to keep it real with. That person is none other than his fellow brother in legend, DJ Kool Herc.

Two days post Hip-Hop’s 44th birthday, Grandmaster Flash invited Hip-Hop fans to his official Facebook page to share a letter he wrote to Kool Herc. It is fascinating to witness a Hip-Hop pioneer utilize modern day technology and social media to communicate with another pioneer. It’s something like seeing Billy Dee Williams and Diana Ross facetime each other on iPads, ha. Flash’s letter to Herc is an 18 minute and 31 second video of the DJ breaking down to Herc who was the first one to loop a beat between the two of them. The video letter starts off with Flash acknowledging some special people, many who are Hip-Hop pioneers and legends in the likes of Kool DJ AJ, Kool DJ Red Alert, DJ Spinderella, DJ Scratch, Kid Capri, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Funk Flex, and more

Flash made it clear that he and Herc no longer speak. This silence between the two Godfathers caused confusion as to who started what. Which, is a frequent debate in Hip-Hop. It’s best to set the record straight, in direct fashion as early as possible so the history does not get lost or turn into disinformation in the future. When it comes to Flash and Herc, many wonder, exactly what triggered the friction between the two? This thought is going all the way back to the early 70s. Could this have easily been a South Bronx vs West Bronx thing? With all honesty, it is a combination of many things. But one thing is for sure, Flash wants the Hip-Hop community to know who started looping the break and who was a master at repeating the break.

In this letter, Flash reintroduces himself to Herc and straight merges into the subject matter about the technical aspects of DJing. The focus here was Looping vs Repeat. According to Flash, looping is a structure, series, or process of which the end is connected to the beginning with no stops or starts. Looping is a creation of Flash, which was composed in honor of the breakdancers, two-steppers or those who did “the hustle”. Looping allowed dancers to move with strategy, because the effect of timing was created.

Repeat is to do something again, either once or a number of times. The repeat of the break beat was mastered by DJ Kool Herc which involved having two copies of the same record and two separate turntables. The turntables are set up right next to each other and Herc would play the break beat on one record, then head to the other turntable and play the same break beat. This is also known as Herc’s “Merry Go Round Technique”.

The two techniques may appear to be similar, but they are not the same because each come from the minds of two different people, according to Flash. As Flash demonstrates the technique of looping and repeat, he puts their differences in contrast to Kenny Burke’s “Keep Rising To The Top” and Rick James’ “Mary Jane”. The songs may sound similar, but at the end of the day, they are two different songs.

To think of it, on Grandmaster Flash’s end-the reason for this long silence with Herc is based on technique. It is the law behind their disconnect. As Hip-Hop evolved throughout now, decades, there is no doubt the density of their silence got deeper, possibly causing bitter-like behavior. This emotion and act of bitterness among Hip-Hop pioneers has been a taboo topic in the Hip-Hop community for 44 years. Many self acclaimed Hip-Hop pioneers have even ended up despising the evolution of Hip-Hop. There is no doubt there are many untold stories, many firsts, and many creators whose contributions go unknown. This is a fear of many in the Hip Hop community and it is actually hurting the livelihood of our history. One of the ways the Hip-Hop community can bury the bitterness is by finally having THAT conversation. Just like Grandmaster Flash is currently aiming to have with DJ Kool Herc.

In order for this culture to remain intact, the foundation must be sturdy. Generations to come will know Hip-Hop as an entity that honors peace, welcomes unity and achieves fun. That is a motto Hip-Hop has stood by now for 44 years and will continue too. It is toxic for two men who helped birth a global phenomenon to become strangers decades later. Hip-Hop swallowed a big one with the now controversial identity of Afrika Bambaataa, who was considered to be one of the three Godfathers of Hip-Hop Culture. The frequent exclusion of Bambaataa has forced the focus on Flash and Herc and Flash is all about peace this time around.

“We were three at one time, now we’re two. Eventually, God will call, and it’ll be one. And then, it’ll be, none. I don’t want it to end this way. Let’s break bread.” - Grandmaster Flash

- Ime Ekpo (The Wisdom Body)

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