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This song is about cocaine, urging listeners not to do it while making the case that drug laws in the US are racist and unjust, since poor black kids tend to get much harsher penalties for drug offenses than white businessmen. It was the first hit rap song about drugs.
Unfortunately, the group didn't heed their own advice and some members developed severe drug problems. Cowboy, who was a rapper in Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, died of complications from AIDS in 1990 after developing a crack addiction. Flash revealed in his autobiography that he heard the song while on his way to buy crack, stating that he felt like Melle Mel (the rapper on the song), was speaking to him personally.
This was one of the first socially conscious rap songs. Groups like Public Enemy and KRS One emerged later in the '80s with rap songs that usually had a political message of some kind. Chuck D of Public Enemy even called rap "The black CNN" for its ability to reach a young black audience. The socially conscious style gave way to rappers in the '90s who seemed more concerned about their cars, jewelry and women.
Grandmaster Flash had nothing to do with this song, but it was originally released under his name. Grandmaster Flash is a DJ, and in the early days of Hip Hop, they were considered more important than the MCs who rapped over their beats. The band was known as Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five, and it was Flash who assembled the group as a way to provide vocal entertainment for his DJ sets (note that his name comes first). While Flash was indisputable the star of their live shows, when the group started recording in 1979, the dynamic changed. Flash made his living revolutionizing the way existing songs could be manipulated, creating beats that flowed seamlessly together. He did this on the 1981 song "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel
," but when it came to creating original songs, that was the specialty of the Sugar Hill Records house band and the group's lead rapper, Melle Mel.
"White Lines" is credited to Melle (Melvin Glover) and Sugar Hill owner/producer Sylvia Robinson. By the time they put this song together, Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five was fractured, and they broke up before it was released.
By this time, Melle Mel appropriated the name "Grandmaster," calling himself "Grandmaster Melle Mel." Flash and Mel went to court over the name, and in the end, this song is officially credited to "Grandmaster and Melle Mel."
The track is based on an obscure dance song called "Cavern" by the group Liquid Liquid, who were on the same record label. Melle Mel wrote the lyrics.
"A street kid gets arrested, gonna do some time. He got out three years from now just to commit more crime. A businessman is caught with 24 kilos. He's out on bail and out of jail and that's the way it goes." This lyric refers to the car manufacturer John DeLorean, who in 1982 became involved in a scheme to save his company from bankruptcy using drug money. He was arrested by the FBI for trying to buy 24 kilos of cocaine, but successfully defended himself against the charges as he proved his alleged involvement was because of entrapment by federal agents.
This was released on Sugarhill Records, who became the first label with a rap hit they released "Rapper's Delight
" by The Sugarhill Gang in 1980. Sugarhill Records was formed by Joe and Sylvia Robinson, and Sylvia helped produce this track. This was the last hit for the label.
Big Audio Dynamite sampled the same bass line for their first single, "The Bottom Line," in 1985.
Duran Duran recorded this with Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel on their 1995 album of covers called Thank You. Duran Duran's cover peaked at #17 in the UK. The Thank You album was voted Worst Album Ever Made in 2006 by Q magazine. Duran Duran bassist John Taylor confessed in an interview with Q: "Thank You was my idea. I don't think I have ever been allowed to forget that. We are used to the press, especially the intelligentsia, being sceptical but we were savaged. Eaten alive!"
NYU film student Spike Lee directed an unofficial video for this song. It featured an unknown Laurence Fishburne.
When Judd Apatow needed under-appreciated rockers for his Knocked Up
sequel, he immediately thought of Parker, who just happened to be getting his band The Rumour back together.
La La Brooks of The Crystals
The lead singer on "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "Then He Kissed Me," La La explains how and why Phil Spector replaced The Crystals with Darlene Love on "He's A Rebel."
Jesus Christ Superstar: Ted Neeley Tells the Inside Story
Expect to see protests even in today's society, as Jesus Christ Superstar
, the film, marks its 40th anniversary with a worldwide theater tour. Here, we take a walk down film location lane with Ted Neeley, or "Christ," if you prefer.