Grandmaster Flash Brings Back ’70s, ’80s Beats On Essential Mix

Legendary DJ spins new life into Nu Shooz, Indeep, D Train.

Grandmaster Flash has three lives … at least.

As the legendary DJ described it, his first life is as the breakbeat DJ, playing for all the b-boys and girls. The second is as the club DJ, playing for people who party on the dance floor all night long. And the third is as the DJ who plays new music by the likes of Jay-Z, DMX and Mary J. Blige.

Long story short: “Wherever there are partygoers, let Flash in, ’cause he can handle that,” he explained. “I’m just an old party animal at heart,” Flash added, laughing

Flash has already recorded music from his first life on The Official Adventures of Grandmaster Flash, which was released in the U.K. on Strut. Now he’s on to phase two: the dance album The Essential Mix: Classic Edition, due May 7.

The album features 17 prime tracks such as “It’s Just Begun” by the Jimmy Castor Bunch, “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life” by Indeep, and, of course, Blondie’s “Rapture,” featuring a nod to Flash himself.

Inspired by fond memories of New York nightclubs such as Danceteria and the Roxy — as well as the abundance of great dance material that came out of the ’80s — Flash said, “When I first started DJing in the mid-’70s, a lot of tracks were rock and R&B-based. As I grew in my career, dance music was pretty large. [Afrika Bambaataa] came out with “Planet Rock” and Nu Shooz came out with ["I Can't Wait"]. A lot of these songs were hot as fire on the streets of New York.”

The challenge wasn’t in finding those hot songs — it was editing them down to one album. “There were so many hits,” Flash said, exasperated. “I must have started off with 200 or 300 songs. Then it was just a process of elimination. But I feel I came up with 17 of the strongest songs and put them into a flow, a nice party flow.”

As for the songs that didn’t make the final cut, Flash couldn’t name one. “I just know it was frustrating,” he said. “I cried and did my boo-hoo when I cut them. Now I’m OK.”

He recovered quickly because “dance music is therapeutic,” he said. “You can go into your collection or buy this Flash album and dance your troubles away.” He cozied up with The Essential Mix as well as the houseful of other albums he owns to get over the sting of the cuts.

The good news for Flash, as well as for fans, is that there will be at least three more chances to use the material that didn’t make it the first time, as more volumes of The Essential Mix are planned. “[The first album] is a must-have, from my point of view,” Flash said. “Your average consumer might say, ‘Nah, man. You should have went with something else.’ And I’ll write that down for next time. Or maybe I’ll let the world program the next one.”

Then Flash will be on to new projects. At last month’s Winter Music Conference in Miami, Flash finally got a chance to meet some of the DJs people have been buzzing about, including Frankie Knuckles and Paul Oakenfold. “I got a chance to listen to some house music when I was there,” he said. “I might just do that! I’m investigating it right now, but I might walk down the house aisle. That could be my next life.”

Track list for Grandmaster Flash’s Essential Mix: Classic Edition:


  • Intro: Zack’s Fanfare
  • Nu Shooz – “I Can’t Wait”
  • Fatback Band – “I Found Lovin’”
  • Maze f/ Frankie Beverly – “Before I Let Go”
  • Positive Force – “We Got the Funk”
  • Blondie – “Rapture”
  • Indeep – “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life”
  • Liquid Liquid – “Cavern”
  • Denroy Morgan – “I’ll Do Anything for You”
  • Cymande – “Bra”
  • Rockers Revenge – “Walking on Sunshine”
  • Weeks & Company – “Rock Your World”
  • MFSB f/ the Three Degrees – “Love Is the Message”
  • James Brown – “Give It Up or Turnit-a Loose”
  • Jimmy Castor Bunch – “It’s Just Begun”
  • D Train – “You’re the One for Me”
  • Afrika Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic ForceĀ  – “Planet Rock”