Many hip-hop fans don’t know how the genre was born, how its sound was mined from the drum-breakdown portions of dance records in the early 1970s. This fulfilled crowds’ desires to hear nothing but breaks, but until Grandmaster Flash came along a few years later, it was done gracelessly, without continuity from one record to the next. Flash made hip-hop into an art form by smoothing out the sound and manipulating records by putting his fingers on them.
He went on to pioneer scratching, and, alongside his Furious Five, released one of rap’s first big hits, “The Message.” But other than a stint on The Chris Rock Show, Flash has been noticeably quiet in recent decades. His new album, The Bridge, seeks to change that, through a combination of modern-sounding beats and guest appearances from A-list emcees including Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes and Q-Tip.
Unfortunately, those rappers’ verses feel phoned-in, which smacks of disrespect. One would think the Doggfather could come up with something better, for example, than, “I flash the cash/Some razzmatazz” in honor of rap’s godfather. More disturbingly, most of the beats on the album feel like mere sketches. When Flash isn’t aping Timbaland or The Neptunes (see “Bounce Back” and “Those Chix”), he’s churning out anemic tracks like “What If” and “When I Get There.”
It’s not clear whether Flash is overly concerned with winning over the younger generation or if he has simply lost his touch. Either way, The Bridge will, sadly, quickly be forgotten.