Grandmaster Melle Mel, the pioneering lead vocalist and songwriter for the iconic rap group Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, is also the first rapper in history to call himself an MC (Master of Ceremonies).
Born Melvin Glover in The Bronx on May 15, 1961, Melle Mel’s journey began in the late 1970s alongside other group members The Kidd Creole, Scorpio, Rahiem, and Cowboy. The latter is credited with creating the term “hip hop” while teasing a friend who had just joined the US Army. The group started recording for Enjoy Records in 1979, releasing the track “Superrappin’.”
In a 2012 interview, Melle Mel reminisced about how he became the first rapper to label himself an ‘MC.’ He explained that at the time, they were just trying to be creative: “When we started doing music or hip hop, there was no real title for guys that talked on the mic; it was just DJs, and they would actually do their own talking on the mic. So me and my brother and all the other cats who couldn’t DJ were looking for a title. We were looking at ‘Master of Ceremonies’ thinking that would be our role, so we broke it down to ‘MC’.”
Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five later joined Sugar Hill Records, where they achieved popularity on the R&B charts with party anthems like “Freedom” and “The Birthday Party.” In 1982, Melle Mel began addressing more socially-aware topics, particularly the Reagan administration’s economic and drug policies, which profoundly affected the black community.
“The Message,” an instant classic, became one of the first examples of conscious hip hop by exploring personal and social themes. It marked the beginning of a new era in hip hop, laying the foundation for future artists to tackle important issues through their music. “The Message” was eventually added to the United States National Archive of Historic Recordings and became the first hip hop record inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.