The Original G.O.A.T. – Grand Master Melle Mel
Born Melvin Glover, Grandmaster Melle Mel is more than one of the pioneers of hip-hop – he is heralded, by those that know, as one of the finest lyricists hip-hop has ever seen. While we at AllHipHop deem him the original G.O.A.T., the notion is certainly arguable with greats before and after him. But. Melle Mel was certainly one of the first true emcees that graced the small screen, the big screen and hammered the upper and underground.
Under the legendary Grandmaster Flash banner, Melle Mel joined Keith (Cowboy) Wiggins, his older brother Nathaniel (Kidd Creole) Glover and eventually Guy (Rahiem) Williams and Eddie (Mr. Ness/Scorpio) Morris to construct the Furious Five. The group hit with an immeasurable impact when they recorded, “The Message,” which was released in 1982. The song peaked at #4 on the charts and it forever changed the face of rap. While the masses had grown accustomed to the classic pop of Sugar Hill, lead vocalist Melle Mel repped the harsh realities of life in “The Message,” precluding social analysts like BDP, Public Enemy and NWA for several years.
Melle rapidly became the lyrical lead in the group, admired for his mighty voice and ability to chew through MC’s. He continued to express and unseen reality in son with “White Lines,” a lyrical journal about cocaine use and abuse. When Flash filed a lawsuit against Sugar Hill Records, their label, the factions of The Furious Five parted. Melle Mel defected and got a number of feature roles in the likes of Beat Street, a campy hip-hop classic, and cameos on Chaka Khan’s Grammy-winner “I Feel For You.”
In the past years, Melle Mel has continued to record and rhyme, even though its not widely known. After this interview with AllHipHop.com, the man who would become Grandmaster, hopes you don’t think he is finished. He’s on a mission.
AllHipHop.com: So, I don’t know where to start other than the beginning. How did you get started rhyming?
Grand Master Melle Mel: Going to all the jams, we used to breakdance. [Kool] Herc and [Grand Master] Flash, they used to have the mic and they would say all the catch phrases and I like how the brother – Coke La Rock and Timmy Tim, my favorites – said the lil’ phrases. We used to mimic them. Just because were weren’t DJs, we just took what they did and extended it.
AllHipHop: How did things get big with the Furious Five?
MM: Once we started getting the rap thing together, Cowboy [FF member] was already rappin’ with Flash. Flash didn’t have a real good DJ voice anyway so he just brought out the system and anybody could get on the mic. But me and Creole [FF member] was putting together our [dance] routines before we even got on the mic with Flash. We were just showing Flash. Me and Scorpio, before his name was Scorpio, we used to hang out and we pulled him in. We used to have battles we put Raheem down with us, because he was one of the best rappers out there. And we did and that’s how we became the Furious Five.
AllHipHop: When did you realize you were going to be huge and that rap was too?
MM: When I first saw Herc and them doing they thing, I knew, but I didn’t think it was gonna be something that anybody would be able to do. I just thought it would be something we could do. Obviously, I was wrong. If Sugar Hill could make something simple as "Rapper’s Delight," then its something anybody can do.
AllHipHop: You had more of a breakout success visibility-wise than the rest of the group. Do you see any reason for that?
MM: The main reason is the record that we did a video off of, "The Message," I had the lead in that record. When they saw the video, the saw me. The other reason is, I would do my own thing. When the group broke up and everybody went with Flash, I stay making records. I was fortunate enough to do a song with Chaka Khan, appear on the Grammys and then work with Quincy [Jones]. That’s the way I got started anyway. I said the breakdancing was cool, but let me [rap].
AllHipHop: What made you go solo?
MM: Because Flash and them had a court case with Sugar Hill Records and I didn’t feel that I would need to lose that time [fighting in court]. A court case can take years and that’s what happened. I said, "Let’s go get these hits." I made "White Lines" [on Sugar Hill]. [Editor’s note: This song was a huge hit and was eventually remade by Mobb Deep and subsequently sampled by a number of rappers.]
AllHipHop: So, "White Line" was solo from you, not the whole crew?
MM: Yeah, the song came out as Grand Master Melle Mel because the group was associated Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five. Even up to this day, I can get on stage and say Melle Mel a thousand times, but soon as I get off, they say, "Yo, Flash what up?" The name was that big.
AllHipHop: So you weren’t jacking Flash’s name?
MM: No, it was business. My sound was associated with the name Grand Master Flash. Flash took it some other kind of way. Whatever. He gotta feed his family and I gotta feed mine.
AllHipHop: Do you guys speak these days?
MM: We cordial. We don’t do any work together though, but we speak.
AllHipHop: Clothing-wise you dudes had a whole different style. Some say it’s the pre-Run DMC era with some other influences like punk rock in there.
MM: It was simple. We came from the ghetto and just some ni**a-sh*t. When we were hot, we tried to be star and add an era of entertainment to what we do. We weren’t trying to go on stage and look like our audience. We was going to be something that was more dominant to our audience. Even when we stepped on stage, we wanted the audience to know that they can never be us. We are there to entertain them. That Run DMC era was guys from the street trying to dress like guys from the street. That was their connection to the crowd. These guys wanted to have the same car as the dope dealer got, go the dope dealer wear. Ours was totally different. I wanted to be on one side of the bar coked up and Billy Idol [rock star] was on the other side high on dope.
AllHipHop: You mentioned drug and getting high. Was "White Lines" glamorizing getting high?
MM: I just made a song about what my perception of cocaine was. It wasn’t something to make you get high. It wasn’t to make you stop getting high. We added [choruses of] "Don’t Do It" in the song because nobody had made a rap record about cocaine at that time. [Still], a lot of record stations didn’t playing it because it was about cocaine.
AllHipHop: Was coke something you guys indulged in?
MM: Yeah, everybody did. It was the think to do. That was before crack came out. Cocaine was like the high-profile drug. Good cocaine was like $100 a gram. All the pretty girls and the entertainers liked cocaine. It wasn’t like its seen now.
AllHipHop: Did you ever get addicted?
MM: Yeah, you know – I didn’t get hooked on coke all that much. But when, crack came out, I did crack. I was a crack head at one time. A couple of years – a lot of people got caught out there. It wasn’t me. I didn’t have to go to rehab. After a couple years and I’m not looking as good as I used to and I ainÕt writing. I left it alone.