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 indisputably 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.
The composer credits on "White Lines" belong 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.
Katya Jones from NycActually Liquid Liquid and their indie label 99 Records successfully sued Sugar Hill for sampling "Cavern". But they couldn't collect court approved damages because Sugar Hill declared bankruptcy not long after the judgement.
Jinny from Brighton , United KingdomS Club 7 ripped this song off with their UK hit single 'S Club Party' which got to number 2 in 1999.
Esskayess from Dallas, TxI always thought this song sounded every bit as much "pro-coke" as "anti-coke." It makes using it sound exciting.
Willie from Scottsdale, AzThe common protocol when dancing to this song is to do the "robot" during the accordion bridges, stopping and freezing your position when Flash shouts "Freeze!" And then resuming when he shouts "Rock!" :-)
Scott from Arizona, AzForgive the allcaps but YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT GMF AND CO. WERE DOING COKE AND FREEBASE WHILE THEY WROTE,RECORDED AND PERFORMED THIS SONG. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=889654 So much for the power of socially-conscious music. When you think of hypocrites please remember those among your favorites.
Mike from Santa Barbara, CaThis is one timeless song, as relevent today as it was when it was released.
Ian from Manchester, United KingdomONE OF THE BEST TUNES OF THE 80s LETS BRING IT BACK ONE MORE TIME. IAN. MANCHESTER, UK.
Seth from Freehold,The song's message is as relentlessly true as its hook and intensity. It's gospel truth no matter who you are. "Cus if you get hooked baby, it's nobody else's fault. So don't do it."
Neil from Toronto, OnWhy do I remember this song from the "Beat Street" movie soundtrack?
Pete from London, United KingdomDuring recording of the anti-cocaine single "White Lines (Don't Do It)," Flash and Mel had a falling out. Also, despite the group's success, Flash had not seen much in the way of profits, so he left Sugarhill Records and took Kid Creole and Rahiem with him to sign a deal with Elektra Records. The rest of the group stayed as Melle Mel and the Furious Five, and achieved nearly instant success with the single "White Lines." The popular anthem was ironic, as Flash himself had become a freebasing cocaine addict.
Dave from Cardiff, WalesGood song, I also liked Grandmaster Flash's other big UK hit "The Message"
Mike from Santa Barbara, CaThis song said something that needed to be said.
Joey from Corpus Christi, TxFirst-I love this song Second-I love when they are singing it on Shaun of the Dead (one of my favorite movies)
B-bucketz from Lanham, MdI first heard this song last weekend at my family reunion. At first, I didn't pay attention, and no one else did, but when I heard the sniffing sound and "FREEBASE!" I knew then! Hilarious! I caught the tune and realized that dude hit "White Girls" off the same joint....I give GMF an A+ for this song, considering the era in which it was made. Might have to use this tomorrow at the party!
Tom from Rochester, NyWhile a good song, it can't possibly compare to "White Girls" by Mighty Casey.
Daffy from London, EnglandThis is a tune that any self respecting music lover must own!
Alex from Albany, NyI believe this song is actually credited to "Grandmaster and Melle Mel," rather than "Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel".