The Tragedy of Kidd Creole: A Rap Pioneer’s Descent into Alleged Murder

He was part of the pioneering hip hop collective Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, the first rappers to be inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Now Kidd Creole is in jail for allegedly stabbing a homeless ex-con during a late night scuffle on the streets of Manhattan. His tumultuous life had taken him from thrilling crowds at Madison Square Garden to making ends meet by working odd jobs as a security guard and handyman, but few could have predicted his descent into murder.

Kidd Creole was born Nathaniel Glover Jr. on Feb. 19, 1960, and grew up in the south Bronx. According to a self-penned biography on his website, his older sister Glander would recite original poetry to her siblings, including fellow Furious Five rapper Melle Mel (born Melvin Glover). This early exposure to literature—with an emphasis on meter and rhythm—would be a crucial influence on the future MCs. Creole began writing himself as a teen, forming the basis of his lyrics that he ultimately fused with funk and R&B samples in the burgeoning freestyle community.

The brothers developed their process of scatting and lyrical trade-offs, occasionally using television commercials taglines as dummy lyrics to hone their rhythm. After developing his talent at clubs throughout the outer boroughs, Creole and Melle Mel were ultimately recruited by DJ Joseph “Grandmaster Flash” Saddler, forming the group Grandmaster Flash & the 3 MCs with Cowboy Keef (A.K.A. Robert Keith Wiggins) in 1976. Known as “disco rap” at the time, according to legend it was Keef who coined the term “hip hop” while teasing a friend who has just joined the Army, scat-singing “hip/hop/hip/hop” in a cadence that mocked military marches.

Soon they welcomed Scorpio (born Eddie Morris, a.k.a. Mr. Ness) and Rahiem (Guy Todd Williams) into the fold, finalizing the lineup that would catapult them to fame as Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five. A weekly residency at the Bronx hotspot Disco Fever cemented their reputation as one of the top rap groups, with the five MCs verbal freestyle sparring overtop of Grandmaster Flash’s innovate turntable work.

An early single, “We Rap More Mellow,” was released on Brass Records under the name the Younger Generation in 1979, followed later that year by “Superappin’” under their own name on the Enjoy Records imprint, but the band failed to make a chart impact. It wasn’t until they signed with Sugar Hill Records—who had launched the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rappers Delight” into the mainstream as the first rap hit—that their fortunes reversed. Their Sugar Hill debut, 1980’s “Freedom,” reached No. 19 on the Billboard R&B chart, selling over 50,000 copies, and was followed “The Birthday Party,” which was also a sizable hit. But it was their next release, “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel,” that would be their artistic breakthrough. A live mix that blended Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” Blondie’s “Rapture” and Chic‘s “Good Times” among others, the single marked the first time that the deejay technique known as “scratching”—or manipulating the turntable with ones hands—was used on a major record.

The same  year brought their masterpiece, 1982’s “The Message,” a poetic depiction of inner city violence, drug abuse and poverty. At a time when hedonism, braggadocio and party anthems were the order of the day in rap, the song would help form the bedrock of socially conscious hip hop later popularized by acts like N.W.A. and Public Enemy. “We didn’t actually want to do ‘The Message’ because we was used to doing party raps and boasting how good we are and all that,” Melle Mel later said in an interview with NPR. The lyrics were anything but a good time.

Rats in the front room, roaches in the back
Junkies in the alley with the baseball bat
I tried to get away but I couldn’t get far
Cause a man with a tow truck repossessed my car

As its title suggests, it was a track with a message—bringing the plight of the urban ghetto into American living rooms. Its chart success was impressive, reaching No. 5 on the hip hop charts and cracking the Hot 100, but its cultural legacy is incalculable. Rolling Stone ranked at #51 on its 2004 list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and in 2012 named it the greatest hip hop song ever. When the Library of Congress began its National Recording Registry archival project in 2002, “The Message” was one of 50 tracks deemed historically significant. “It’s the only lyric-pictorial record that could be called ‘How Urban America Lived,’” Flash proclaimed in 1988.

Despite being credited to Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, the song was largely written and performed by Melle Mel and Sugar Hill session musician Ed “Duke Bootee” Fletcher. The success of the song began to cause a rift in the collective, one that widened when Flash sued Sugar Hill Records for $5 million unpaid royalties in 1983. The legal despite split the group in two, with Creole going against his brother Melle Mel and signing to Elektra Records with Flash and Rahiem. The trio added MCs Lord La Von, Larry Love and Mr. Broadway, effectively creating a new “furious five,” but with Sugar Hill Records owning the name rights, they recorded as simply Grandmaster Flash.

After releasing a trip of albums, plus mid-sized hits including “Sign of the Times,” “Style (Peter Gunn Theme),” and “U Know What Time It Is” in the mid ‘80s, the original Furious Five reunited at a 1987 charity concert at Madison Square Garden headlined by Paul Simon. After a rapturous reception, they reformed in the studio for a new album, On the Strength. The album was largely ignored upon release, and the group’s popularity waned. Aside from a brief reunion during a 1994 package tour of rap artists, their days as a hot hip hop act were finished.

Creole spent much of the ‘90s collaborating with independent rap artists. While he notably produced the 1999 Prince Paul track “Handle Your Time,” featuring Sadat X and Xzibit, much of his post Furious Five track record has been sketchy.

But history was kind to Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five. In 2007 they were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame by none other than JAY-Z. “Thirty years ago, the shot heard around the world was fired out of the South Bronx,” the rap mogul said of the band’s explosion onto the music scene. “It would change musical and cultural landscape forever: this thing was called hip hop.”

As the dormant group continued to receive accolades for their monumental contributions to hip hop, Creole sought to raise his own profile by embracing the internet. Between 2012 and 2013 he posted a hundred videos of himself on YouTube, showcasing his freestyling rhyming skills.

In addition to taking odd jobs as a security guard, reportedly not far from where the crime took place at Third Ave. and East. 44th St., Creole continues to occasionally tour with rappers of a certain vintage. On Aug. 20 he was due to perform at Philadelphia’s Dell Music Center under the Furious Five moniker alongside Doug E. Fresh, Big Daddy Kane, Sugarhill Gang, Das Efx and Silk.

As of Thursday, their name has been removed from the Live Nation concert listing.

from PEOPLE.com http://people.com/music/kidd-creole-grandmaster-flash-and-furious-five-to-murder/

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