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.
December 16, 2017 at 3:30 pm
After listening to the track New York New York by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five I agree with you that a lot of songs about New York only show the positive sides of the city whereas this one shows the negatives. However, even though this song will forever be an example of classic hip-hop, I find the album The Infamous by Mobb Deep a much more appealing example of early New York City hip-hop. Both New York New York and the songs on The Infamous showcase the gritty sides of New York but I’ve always liked Mobb Deep’s work a bit more because I feel like the way they used lyrics to build a story was much more effective and their beats bring me into the environment they’re describing a lot better. In New York New York, theres almost like a corny “80s sound” to the verses and I feel like it doesn’t go with the message they’re trying to get across.
December 17, 2017 at 1:25 am
I really love the song you chose as representative of New York city because rap is such a good medium through which the New York attitude is expressed. As I was doing research for my historical fiction assignment I discovered how formative that 1977 blackout had been to hip-hop production especially in new york. The looting that occurred during the blackout put dj sampling and mixing stations into the hands of people who would never have been able to buy them. To me that is just on of the ways New Yorkers are, resourceful to put it lightly. Many great and iconic producers grew out of this and the hip hop genre spread its influence across the city. You can still very much hear the sounds of those mixing devices, the synth like beats and shortened snare that characterize much of hip-hop and later pop music of the seventies and eighties.