Grandmaster Flash revolutionized the music industry and is part of the reason for where hip-hop is today, but the famous DJ didn’t live the luxurious lifestyle through his biggest years with the Furious Five. He was living an average lifestyle at best while his songs were selling millions of copies. In his new book The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash, the DJ who did it first talks in detail about his battle with cocaine, losing tons of money from Sugar Hill Records, and not being there for his children.
Listen to the Grandmaster Flash CYInterview:
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Chris Yandek: How difficult was it writing this book? I read through the whole thing and nobody can say that you held anything back. That’s for sure.
Grandmaster Flash: “I’ve been asked to do a lot of things in my career and in my personal life. I have to say to you this had to be the most painful thing that I could’ve done. I say this within my close friends and family. I talked about my past and I was always asked Flash, you should write a book about it. It’s like nah. I don’t want to write a book and tell people about my imperfections and some of the things that took place in my life. I was thinking it over and then with my family and friends. They said something to me that struck a light bulb in my head, which was if you write this book and just tell it like it was, you could probably save a life, that there was the beginning of me finally letting go. Believe me. For many years I was asked these questions by journalists for many decades. I always kind of found a way to dance around it because it was too painful for me to let go.
I was asked by Random House, ‘Flash. We’ve read lots of biographies and the treatment sent to us, we like it. Here’s the deal. We want to give you the deal right now, but we’re gonna ask one thing of you. If you write this book we suggest you let it go. Like let it all go.’ I walked away from the deal for a minute because I had to have a really strong talk with myself. I had to find a way to let go, transcend, let God. David Ritz, who was probably the most caring and most great people because I had to dictate the story to him. When I took the deal at Random House, they gave David and I an allotted amount of time to finish the book. Sometimes I would fly to David or David would fly to me. There was some subjects he would ask me about and I was able to breeze through them. There was some things that caused me to cry over and over and over again. There was sometimes when we would hit stop, go back, wait a week, wait three weeks and go back. Dave, he worked with me and carefully extracted the story.
What it comes down to is this book is for people who don’t have perfect families, who don’t have perfect jobs, who don’t have perfect careers, who might be having a serious bout with a drug addiction. It talks about how I survived it. It talks about five of the most incredible MC’s I ever had and then have one of the MC’s betray us. It talks about a record company that had one of the greatest groups of all time and instead of nurturing us cause we were the flagship, how they co-divided the group and sort of destroyed the face of Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five as I built it. In the end, forgiving my father who used to beat me, forgiving my mom who was mentally insane most of my life, and forgiving Sylvia Robinson for what she did, she’s the owner of Sugar Hill Records, the drug addiction, how my sister and girlfriend helped me to survive through it. I forgive Mel for doing what he did and I forgive Sylvia. I had to transcend, let go, let God. Now I am in a better place. The story is not mine anymore. It’s yours.”
CY: You’re very candid about the time in your life when you were addicted. How were you able to finally get off the drugs? Did you go to rehab? I know your sister was there for you and other people were there for you, but how did you finally get off the drugs?
GF: “There was a point where I was sniffing it and then there was a point where I was smoking it. I think it was a time that I was smoking it that I would pass out. I passed out twice. The second time I passed out, I can’t say where I was. There was St Bonaventure’s Hospital in the Bronx. All I know was that I was at a place and I felt like I was talking to God and this is no joke here and I begged…begged…begged to make it back. When I came back, I went back to the apartment where I was living with a girl who was also smoking cocaine with me and I said to her, ‘I am not doing this anymore.’ She would laugh. You probably just need a couple days to just not do it. A couple days went by and I still didn’t want to do it. And I’ll never forget her getting so angry at me that she threw all of my clothes, all of my things out in the street, and said, ‘Get out of here. You can’t live in my apartment anymore.’
At that time my sister Penny took me in and I lived on her couch for a couple years. As I was slowly coming back to the real world, I cannot tell you how scary it was. As I was coming out of that addictive state, I had children that I had to see and take care of. I had bills that I had to take care of. I had responsibilities that I had to take care of. All of this was sort of new to me. So scary. My sister had the turned tables set up where I could see them. I slowly walked back to them, set them up, and just started to just reacquaint, refamiliarize myself with my science that I invented, and the records she had them brought all to her house. I just kind of did the slow walk back and I started doing this thing called a mix tape. I would go to people who had money. Some of them were dealers and some of them had money, and I just started making customized tapes for people. I would charge them a dollar a minute. That’s where it therapeutically helped me get familiar with the turntables and the music again.
From there I just went to a few clubs trying to find a job and most of them turned me down. Most of them didn’t want me to do this on the one and two. Word on the street was that this new way of DJing that I created ruins records, this, and that. Then there was a gentleman by the name of Reggie Wells at Club 371 where DJ Hollywood played. He allowed me to get on the turntables and that was the first place I debuted the science in a club. Then I went to this club that was primarily a disco club that was called Disco Fever. I met with the club owner Sal and asked him if I could possibly get a night to play here. I preferably wanted a weekend and he offered me a disgusting Tuesday. That terrible Tuesday that I was so pissed off at the day turned out to be bigger than that Saturday. This is all a slow walk back.”
CY: So you never went to rehab?
GF: “No. I never went to rehab. No. I never did. I don’t know.”
CY: So you were able to get control of your mental capacity?
GF: “I was able to take over my mental capacity and the drilling of my sister who was so damn controlling to this day thank God. My girlfriend who eventually had enough of me, but she stayed with me long enough to say, “Listen. I have had enough of this. I can’t go through it anymore.’ She eventually left me and got married. That was another wakeup for me. The girl of my dreams waited for me to become ok that she said I can’t stay here anymore. She moved overseas. That was pretty crushing for me, but it was a wake up call for me. I had to reacquaint myself with my children that halfway grew up. It was sort of disarray.”
CY: Finally, you had the highs and you had the lows, looking at someone today like Amy Winehouse, what do you say about some of these music stars that have public drug problems?
GF: “I say please try to find a way to let go because life is about service. When you are a servant and you have people who love and accept your service, all I can say is please try to find a way to let the drugs go because it can alter your gift. We all have gifts. We’re all born with gifts. We’re all born with something special. You might not be fortunate enough to perform your gift in the proper manner if you stay in it. How many people are doing something that they love and making a life off of it? Statistically it has to be a pretty small number when you look at the whole world. Amy Winehouse is such a powerhouse of a talent. I would love to sit down and talk with her. I would love to just hold her hand and let her walk with me through minds and maybe I could help her with hers because she’s so incredibly talented.”
You can learn more about Grandmaster Flash’s upcoming appearances, his book, and more at his official website http://www.grandmasterflash.com