© 2024 Western New York Public Broadcasting Association

140 Lower Terrace
Buffalo, NY 14202

Mailing Address:
Horizons Plaza P.O. Box 1263
Buffalo, NY 14240-1263

Buffalo Toronto Public Media | Phone 716-845-7000
WBFO Newsroom | Phone: 716-845-7040
Your NPR Station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Grandmaster Flash 'in the house' at UB this fall

Grandmaster Flash sits in a University at Buffalo auditorium wearing a black, white and red track suit and holding a UB microphone.
Thomas O'Neil-White
Grandmaster Flash is working directly with University at Buffalo and Buffalo State College students this fall semester.

“Yes yes y’all, and you don’t stop,” is a popular refrain in Hip Hop’s lexicon. It also encapsulates Grandmaster Flash’s duty as one the culture’s eldest statesman.

For this fall semester Flash is working directly with University at Buffalo and Buffalo State College students as part of UB's Artists Collaboratory Working Artists Lab to present Hip Hop-inspired programming.

But in order to provide his expertise, Flash said students will also need to take a bit of history lesson from him.

“Some of the things that I want to do is talk to the kids about a time in a place,” he said. “Not that I've read about or seen on television or seen in a movie. I want to kind of talk about a time and a place that I co invented. And that's hip hop in the early 70s.”

Flash, along with two other Bronx, New York-based DJ’s Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa, are credited with the invention of the musical form of Hip Hop and the culture which sprung from it, with Flash being specifically recognized for his technical expertise on the turntables.

What began, he said, as just a form of recreation has turned into globe-spanning career and his influence can be found across several other musical genres from House to Jazz Fusion to Drum and Bass.

While today’s Hip Hop music is primarily focused on the emcee, Flash remains committed to teaching younger generations about the importance of the other three pillars of Hip Hop music; the DJ, the break dancer and the graffiti artist:

“Where I go and where I travel, all four are still alive,” Flash said. “And as long as I'm vertical, I'm going to speak about it, you know, and this is why I find it paramount to want to talk to the children because why once upon a time is going to be about that. This is what it was. This is how we did it. We did it with nothing and, you know, through our peaks and valleys and trials and tribulations. This is what we did.”

University at Buffalo Theater Major Tioga Simpson is thrilled to be receiving direct tutelage from Flash, who along with the Furious Five, were the first Hip Hop group to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:

“I think we've learned so much about hip hop so quickly lately,” she said. “And I think the most important thing to remember is the learning of our histories, understanding where it all comes from, and he is our history. He is the one who sat in his parent’s house with the two turntables and figured out how to do it. So it's amazing.”

Thomas O'Neil-White

And true to Flash’s word, Simpson said the lessons go beyond the music.

“For me, one of the best parts was touring the graffiti in Buffalo,” she said. “So we went all over Buffalo over the course of two weekends, and just looked at all the different pieces that are listed on the UB’s Collaboratory website. And just like took in the city and learned about the history of who made all the work and it's just very wonderful.”

A chance encounter has further cemented Flash’s commitment to Western New York and it’s college students:

“I was in the Buffalo State College and walking through the crowd,” Flash Said. “And it was this person, she's crying. And I'm looking at her from the corner of my eyes. And I'm saying she's too young to know who I was. And then she ran up to me and she just started crying and she says, ‘can I take a picture of you?’ As these tears went down her face and she says, ‘can I hug you?’ that sparked something in me today? That tells me I have to continue this.”

Hip Hop’s universal appeal continues to grow, Flash has traveled the world several times over—and from his point of view the music and the accompanying culture of Hip Hop has been to break down barriers.

“I came up with a system where color, race, creed didn't matter,” he said. “I took the drum beat from a black drummer into a white trauma into a foreign drama into an American drummer. And I made it all work in harmony. This is what hip hop is about for me, no segregation, no thinking you're better than this other thing. This is the way it should be. And this is the things I want to teach to the children.”

Flash also participated in several events over the weekend, including a live performance and presentation of his film Hip Hop People, Places and Things. He will return to the area at the end of the semester to debrief with the students.

This will not be a one-off deal for Flash as he plans on teaching students on the history of Hip Hop on an annual basis.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas moved to Western New York at the age of 14. A graduate of Buffalo State College, he majored in Communications Studies and was part of the sports staff for WBNY. When not following his beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Red Sox, Thomas enjoys coaching youth basketball, reading Tolkien novels and seeing live music.