Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five are a hip hop group composed of New Yorkers who live in the Bronx. They originally started in 1976 and released their single New York New York in 1989. The group broke down the stereotypes of New York and showed it as what it truly was in their song. It was not the bright and spectacular city where dreams came true but instead, it is filled with despair and poverty.
The song begins with tambourines which builds up tension and follows with the other electrified instruments. The mix of electric hip hop and their rap follows the story of their own lives. They discuss the hardships that they have faced as well as the daily routine that many follow. For example, the group describes how one man is going to commit suicide and people do not show any concern because it happens often. The reason for suicide is because he has become unemployed, could not pay off his mortgage and now has nothing. During 1898, there were many crimes going on in the city as well as a struggle to survive. Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five depict the difficulties and the disparity in wealth between the classes:
A castle in the sky, one mile high
Built to shelter the rich and greedy
Rows of eyes, disguised as windows
Looking down on the poor and the needy
Miles of people, marching up the avenue
Doin’ what they gotta do, just to get by
The lyrics show the social injustice that a majority of New Yorkers face. Although the poor can see the rich in the sky, they are still so far away from their reach. There is a great difference in the way the two live their lives. The rich are able to live luxuriously in a castle with comfort whereas the poor live in ghettos or on the streets. However, the rich do not do anything to help the poor and just watch them suffer. The middle and lower classes need to continue their jobs whether it’s trying to make fifteen cents or a few dollars to survive. They have little money to spend, since it is just enough to live, and are unable to purchase luxurious products. The group shows the daily difficulties that people who live in New York have faced. The events lead to their overall downfall and poverty where they have to do anything to survive.
I was attracted to this song because most of the songs that I discovered were about the positive aspects of New York or love songs in the city. However, I was intrigued to find one that critiqued New York City and exposed it for what it truly was during that time. Although it is seven minutes long, it does tell an interesting story about what it is like to live in New York during times of poverty and a financial crisis. This song is a warning to those wanting to come to New York and informs them to find a different place to inhabit if they want to start anew and become wealthy.