Unlike many early hip-hop hits, like Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight
" or Kurtis Blow's "The Breaks
," which turned on thumping, up-tempo disco tracks, composers Ed "Duke Bootee" Fletcher and MC Melle Mel based "The Message" on a slow groove and a reverberated synthesizer hook. Fletcher, a Sugarhill Records session player and aspiring producer, created most of the background music and all but one of the verses himself. (Note that Grandmaster Flash actually had very little involvement on the track.) As Fletcher admitted later, he'd been moved to write something in the spirit of Zapp's "More Bounce To The Ounce
" or Tom Tom Club's "Genius Of Love
," both of which utilized synthesizer hooks over an amped-up funk bass. The effect of the more relaxed tempo on "The Message," was to highlight Melle Mel's gritty rap about ghetto poverty and violence. (The single was definitely no call to the dance floor or invitation to wave one's arms in the air.) Effectively, then, this aesthetic decision had other lasting effects beyond the changes in rap lyrical content it inspired. That is, in moving away from rap's early emphasis as a DJ-centered dance music borne from Bronx block parties and Manhattan discos, "The Message" argued for the growing importance of the MC as community voice and political poet. Whereas MCs had originally been envisioned as mere complements to the turntable pyrotechnics of innovative DJs like DJ Hollywood or Grandmaster Flash, from this point onward, they emerged as hip-hop's vital interlocutors for the underprivileged, and as the music's prime movers and celebrities.