Updated: Oct 12, 2021
Anyone who has ever heard me discuss rap music knows that I hold Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5 in very high regard for their live performance, recordings and the overall dynamics and impact of the group. By 1982 the group had began to appear in magazine articles and television appearances and they began to release records containing the actual pictures of the group (opposed to the standard powder blue candy stripe logo that all Sugar Hill releases were presented in). As a young fan I always wondered why many pictures of the group contained 7 people instead of 6. When I looked at the legendary record cover for The Message full length lp, I wondered who this guy was in the far left of the picture. I would learn in time that Grandmaster Flash had 2 assistants – EZ Mike & Disco Bee. Disco Bee was rarely ever pictured, but EZ Mike is that mysterious 7th Man and this is his story:
JayQuan: I wanna start at the beginning, but I don’t know when that is for you, so you tell me. Were you aware of Hip Hop before you met Flash?
EZ Mike: Well the tag Hip Hop didn’t exist yet. I met Flash when I was 13 years old, and he was 14. The way that I met Flash was that he used to date the sister of a girl that I used to date. At the time I was one of the best dancers in my neighborhood.
JQ: You’re talking about B-Boying?
EM: Yeah B-Boying! Me and this guy named Black Jerry. We used to call him Profile. I used to go around battling people, and Flash became a dancer, and we ended up becoming competitors. We had a friend named Truman whose father was the super of a building, and he let us hang out at the basement of one of his buildings. We were just kids hangin’ out there. Flash would go into the garbage and find these old record players, not DJ equipment – just old record players. At the time he was going to Samuel Gompers High School for electronics, so he knew how to wire all that stuff up. He had speakers all through that little basement clubhouse – make shift stuff. When he was at home going through his father’s records, I wasn’t in the house with him. But I was there from the beginning when he first started putting records on a turntable, just letting the record play. We used to go to Kool Herc parties to dance and challenge each other. Flash started hangin’ out on 171st and Grand Concourse (called Concourse Village at the time).
We had a friend that lived over there that we called OJ, and Flash developed a dance crew, and they would come around Hoe Avenue and Fell St. to dance. I would burn all the dancers, and then me and Flash would square off. After awhile Flash disappeared, and I wondered where he was, so I went to his house. His Mother didn’t play that company stuff, so I had to climb up the back fire escape. Flash was working as a messenger boy at the time and he had been taking his money and buying records. The rest of us were smoking weed, playin' dice – things that 15 and 16 years olds do, but every time we tried to get him to hang out he wouldn’t do it. Flash was a real good basketball player, so he would come out and play basketball. A lotta people don’t know, but Flash could have probably gone pro. He was that good when we were younger, but he had the bug for music. I was the first person that Flash taught how to DJ. Even though his equipment was at Mean Gene’s house, I was his best friend and he taught me before anyone. He would take that Hot Shot break, and he would wind the record back, not spin it; but wind it with his finger repeatedly. He showed me that and told me to remember it. The next morning when we woke up he was doing it in the kitchen.
JQ: Did he have turntables yet, or was he still dealing with record players and make shift equipment?
EM: He had turntables now. The first Technics. Flash was the first one to have his cue in the middle on his mixer. Before, the mixers had knobs and you had to turn one up for the left cue and then turn the other for the right. Flash went to the hardware store and bought a toggle switch, drilled a hole in his mixer, and wired it. Now he could preview the left turn table when he clicked the switch to the left, and the right when he clicked it to the right. This added to his speed to be able to get from one side to the other.
JQ: Im glad that you explained that, because there has been some controversy surrounding KRS ONE saying that Flash made his own cross fader, or actually invented the crossfader. It sounds like he confused the cross fader and the cue.
EM: Right! Mixers already had cross faders. But the cue used to be knobs or push buttons. Flash wired a switch into his mixer, so he saved time not having to push 2 different buttons, or turn 2 different knobs. KRS and them weren’t around then, so we aren’t gonna get this thing confused. None of those guys were around, and if they were they weren’t DJing and they weren’t known. I’m not taking anything from anybody, but I didn’t know them. Flash kept telling me that I wasn’t ready, even though he had been teaching me for awhile. I bugged him so much one day to listen to me (I was cuttin’ up Lowdown by Boz Skaggs), that he finally let me D.J. And he was right, I wasn’t ready, I was shakin’ like a leaf – I couldn’t even put the needle on the record. But in the house, I could do it!! But he was absolutely right, I wasn’t ready – but I eventually got ready, and then he let me DJ. You’ll see flyers out there under Black Door Part 2, long before there were any rap records with me & Disco Bee as the DJ’s and Kurtis Blow as the Emcee. This was 1977 or so.
We were selling 90 minute tapes of our performances for $90 - a dollar a minute. Flash would make customized slow jam or r&b tapes – $60 for a 60 minute tape......
JQ: It sounds like Flash was an innovator as far as a few things.
EM: Yeah Jay, and people may think that I say it only because he’s my homeboy, but Flash was the first DJ to rock on 3 turntables! He would use a 3rd turntable for sound effects! He’d throw a sound effects record on that 3rd turntable while he cut up on the other 2. I also think back to these 2 column speakers that Flash built. He put white vinyl around them and Christmas lights in the top of ‘em. No one would let Flash play with them – no one, not Herc - nobody. They said that he didn’t have a following. Flash had to earn everything that he got. Nobody gave him nothing, nobody handed him nothin’ – he earned it! He built his following because people were intrigued by what he was doin' on those turntables. It wasn’t his sound system – none of that! When the Emcees started to rap, people weren’t dancin’ – everybody was at the rope watchin’ Flash on the turntables!
JQ: Yeah Flash told me that every time that he played in the early days, it was like a seminar until Cowboy started picking up the mic.
EM: Yeah it changed somewhat, but anywhere that he played – T Connection or wherever, half of the party didn’t care what the Emcees were saying, they were watching Flash. They couldn’t believe what he was doing, like “how are you making the record do that”? There’s some discrepancy about the scratch. People say the Grandwizard Theodore invented it. I don’t wanna dispute that. Theodore is a great D.J. I would only question, what made you put your hand on the record in the first place? Why was your hand on the record? Your hand was on the record because that’s what Flash taught you how to do. The wheel can never be re invented, you can only improve on the wheel. You have low profile wheels, they are thicker, thinner etc – but it’s still a wheel. The whole technique of how people D.J. today comes from what Flash invented. Dj’s today are doing some incredible things – mind boggling. But you can’t re invent the wheel , only enhance it.
JQ: Around the time of 1976 what other Dj’s were prominent on the wheels?
EM: You had Kool Herc, D.J. Mario (aka Disco King Mario) – we battled him at junior high school 123.
JQ: He was down with Bambaataa right?
EM: Right. Their sound system killed us , but Flash’s skill killed them. You had Kool Herc, Bambaataa, D.J. Mario this other cat, I can’t remember his name. He went to the military after awhile. Damn, I can’t remember his name.....
JQ: Are you talking about D.J. Smokey and the Smokatrons?
EM: That’s it! Smokey!! All these guys were spinning records. But none of them were doing what Flash was doing with the records. What Flash had to do is find out which records Kool Herc and Bambaataa were playing. Remember they used to cover up the labels, and they had all the beats. This was early on. Flash would hear them spin the break, and after the breakdown was over, it went back into the song which was straight garbage. Flash had come up with a way to extend the breakdowns, but he needed to know which records they were using! Flash is very meticulous about what he does. He’s an introvert, and once he sets his mind on something it’s a done deal and he’s not gonna budge until he gets it. He started finding the records that the other Djs were using, but he also started finding new records. In fact I believe that he was the first to use Mardi Gras (Bob James’ Take Me To The Mardi Gras). I may be wrong, but I believe that he used that first.
JQ: And you guys used to call that “The Bells” right?
EM: Right! The Bells! Now maybe somebody else spun it first, but I didn’t hear it. Flash would vanish on me in a heartbeat and be who knows where, but you best believe wherever he was, he was testing music or listening to someone else DJ. Flash became a teacher, and a lotta Dj’s didnt like Flash.
Flash can be very arrogant if you push him into a corner. He’s an introvert, but he’s not passive. Not at all. People think Flash is soft, but he is a boxer. He actually comes from a family of boxers......
JQ: During that time before records, was there any DJ that you feel may have intimidated Flash, or made him feel threatened, or was he so good that he didn’t see anyone as competition?
EM: No, there was nobody! When Theodore stepped on the scene it was a selling point, because here was this little kid on a milk crate doing what Flash does. But that wasn’t a threat because Flash trained him to do what he did. So no one posed a threat to Flash in any way. If he felt a threat, he expressed it through progress in what he was doing. Like "if you got that, then I got this”. “If you got that, then I have 3 Dj’s going around the turntables (the merry go round), catching it on time”. He kept on improving. Remember it was just Grandmaster Flash. When Cowboy got down it wasn’t Cowboy & Grandmaster Flash. When Creole came, It wasn’t Creole, Cowboy & Grandmaster Flash. It wasn’t until Mel came that a group title came into play: Grandmaster Flash & The 3 Mc’s. Everybody mimicked that.
JQ: Wow, I never knew that Creole joined before Mel. I thought that they joined at the same time, or even that Mel was first.
EM: Nah, Creole was first. Mel was was still dancing. Mel was a great break dancer, I used to dance against Mel. But after the 3 Mc’s, Mr.Ness joined and it was Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 4, then came the Funky 4. Once Rahiem joined making it the Furious 5, you saw The Fantastic 5, Funky 4 +1 more. We were always the forerunner! Flash remained humble, but as a group we became very arrogant. No one could see us. Like the Cold Crush Brothers, they didn’t blow up until we started going on tour, we weren’t in New York anymore. Don’t get me wrong the Cold Crush was nice!! But we were selling 90 minute tapes of our performances for $90 - a dollar a minute. Flash would make customized slow jam or r&b tapes – $60 for a 60 minute tape. He would turn on the faucet and pour water into a glass, then he would hold a microphone up to the glass so it sounds like a waterfall. He would talk over that with a personalized message with the person’s name who’s buying the tape for $60.
JQ: Were you hearing about DJ’s in the other boroughs like The Disco Twins from Queens, DJ Hollywood from Manhattan or Grandmaster Flowers from Brooklyn?
EM: We started hearing about the Disco Twins after we got our real system, and we were huge by then. Infinity Machine had a tremendous sound system. Goede from Infinity Machine used to play at Fantasia. I’ve heard them say that they were the first to spin records backwards, and that’s not true. They may have come to the Bronx and seen Flash do it and then they took it back to Queens. Goede was a good DJ, he just couldn’t touch Flash. Anyone that battled Flash was gonna lose, and like I said before the only one that could come close was Theodore. Theodore was just like Flash as far as that drive and determination and it showed in his work! For myself I know how to DJ, but I wouldn't call myself a DJ. Dj’s do it for life, it’s their livelihood, and I don’t do it anymore. I never loved it enough to make it my livelihood. When the group split up, I went with Mel & them, and I was the DJ. I could do onstage what Flash did to the letter, but I wasn’t Flash. I never spent my money on records, I can’t put together a schedule, I just knew what Flash taught me how to do. I've been friends with Flash for 46 years now. He is my best friend, and he gave me the opportunity to travel the world, have nice things and be considered a legend and I thank him for that.
JQ: I know that both yourself and Disco Bee were his assistants, what was your role compared to his? Do you both do the same things?
EM: We were both his assistants with similar roles, but I would say that on the turntables I was better than Disco Bee,but as far as going in the crates and finding records, Bee is better than me. There's no way that I could be on the tables and turn around and grab records, and go back to the tables like that. I'd forget what I went to the crates for. Flash would ask Bee for a certain record, and he would find it and jump right back in.
Flash went up to Herc and said “can I play”? Herc told him yes. Flash grabs Good Times and throws it on. He hits the the turntable while it’s playing to see if it jumps......
JQ: I noticed that I see Disco Bee’s name on the early flyers with Flash more often than yours....
EM: Yes, but I was with Flash before Disco Bee or Mean Gene (Theodore’s older brother). Flash would let Bee DJ on his own while Flash took a break. It took a little longer before Flash would allow me to hold it down by myself, but when he did people would do a double take because they thought Flash was playing, but it was me. I remember we did a show at the Pier. It was New Edition, us and Run DMC, and Flash was sick. You should have seen Jam Master Jay & Run’s face when we showed up without Flash. They thought that we were incomplete, and wouldn’t be able to compete. When the show was over Jay came up to me and said “yo Mike, I aint know”. I killed it, because remember, I could mimic Flash to the letter as far as the stage show.
JQ: Speak a bit about how Hip Hop was barely accepted in the beginning.
EM: Listen, we’d try to play at Club 371 and they wouldn’t even let us in. “We heard y’all touch records and scratch ‘em”. 371 you had to be 21 and older to get in. You had to wear dress shoes and all that. We were 17/18 years old. They didn’t want that Hip Hop stuff, and they called us Hip Hoppers as a derogatory term. But you mentioned Grandmaster Flowers earlier. Flash battled Flowers at St Mary’s Park in ‘77 or ‘78. Flowers could blend (mix) his ass off. Like Pete DJ Jones and those guys, he played all the disco stuff. He went on and was blending, and you couldn’t tell where one record ended and the next began. Flowers was killin’ it, then Flash came on. Flash could blend too! Flash began blending, and in the middle of nowhere he chopped it in. When he brought the next record in, he just brought it right in, but it was on time. Then he added sound effects to his blend. When it was over, it was like “Flowers, Flash did everything you did, but you couldn’t do what he did, so how did you win the battle”?
JQ: So Flowers didn’t scratch or anything?
EM: No! He was a blender! And he was really good, but he couldn’t do what Flash was doing, and then Flash ended with cutting.
JQ: So the scene in Wild Style where Flash is in his kitchen, was that really how his set up was
EM: Exactly like that. He used to wake me up at 3 in the morning. I would be in his living room sleep, and he would wake me up and show me something that he just came up with. He would have me up until 5 in the morning sometimes, just showing me stuff that he was working on, and he would still ask me questions the next day about what he did the night before. I was the first person to ever see Flash put his hands on records. There was no Disco Bee at this time. Remember, he came up with back spinning before he came up with cutting!
JQ: Flash always says that Kool Herc was off beat in his timing and transitions. He says that Herc had the dance floor in disarray. Sounds like Herc had a vision that maybe his skill set couldn’t fully execute according to Flash. Would you say that Flash greatly improved upon what Herc was doing?
EM: Definitely. I think that Herc’s vision was to bring the people together for music purposes. I don’t think that he had the vision of taking his skill to the next level, I really doubt seriously that he did. Im not saying that he didn’t, but I doubt it. I will tell you a story that’s Herc related:
Me and Flash were walking down Washington Avenue and we had on black 69s-the Pro Keds that were called 69s before the Super Pro Keds came out. We both had on those sneakers, white pants and black mock necks with white Kangols. I don’t know how we ended up in that area, but we were just hangin’ out. I think somebody said that Herc was playin’ over there. I don’t remember the name of the park right there on Washington Ave. in front of the projects, but Herc was actually over there playing. Clark Kent (one of Herc's Dj's) was on the wheels and someone was on the mic and they said “you’ve never seen it done like this before, there’s no one better than Clark Kent”. Keep in mind that everyone is mimicking Flash at this time, but whoever is on the mic is saying that Clark Kent is better. What they don’t know is that me and Flash are right behind the turntables, on the sidewalk looking and listening to everything.
We went out into the park and when people saw Flash their jaws dropped. Flash went up to Herc and said “can I play”? Herc told him yes. Flash grabs Good Times and throws it on. He hits the the turntable while it’s playing to see if it jumps. He grabs another Good Times and taps that turntable. He stands back, puts on the headphones and goes in. He starts back spinning Good Times, he spins around backwards, cuts it with his mouth, then he gets to the point where he is just continuing the word “Good”. The crowd is going crazy. He lets one record play the rest of the song and he takes the headphones off. The crowd is really crazy at this point. He goes under the ropes like he is about to leave the park, then stops, runs back and goes back under the ropes. He goes to the other turntable and throws in Good Times – right on time!! Then we left! There was no dispute that you can’t fuck with Flash!
The Furious did 3 things: they enticed the crowd, they sold Flash and they sold their individual personal skills.....
EM: Flash can be very arrogant if you push him into a corner. He’s an introvert, but he’s not passive. Not at all. People think Flash is soft, but he is a boxer. He actually comes from a family of boxers.
JQ: As one who went to Herc parties, tell me what the difference was between Coke La Rock (Herc’s Emcee, regarded as one of the first Emcees ever) and Mele Mel and his brother Kid Creole (also regarded as firsts).
EM: The difference is that early on the rappers focus was on crowd participation. Coke La Rock wasn’t. “ All the ladies scream, fellas say ho, ladies say owww”, Coke didn’t do that. Coke La Rock, I never heard say a 16 bar rhyme.
JQ: So he just said phrases, not necessarily on the beat?
EM: Right! It wasn’t meant to entice the crowd per se’. Remember the Furious did 3 things: they enticed the crowd, they sold Flash and they sold their individual personal skills. All that was a process. They didn’t just jump outta the gate with that. Cowboy made the crowd feel like they were part of the show: "Keith Keith in the house/Terry Love in the house/Reggie Reg in the house". These are people in the crowd, not just random names. There were people who had sweatshirts made for every party that we did.
JQ: With the iron-on letters?
EM: Yeah! Junior High School 123 Grandmaster Flash, Monroe High School Grandmaster Flash, Dixie Club Grandmaster Flash. They would have a sweatshirt with the name of the party every time.
JQ : Creole says that his brother Mel was the first to do a full rhyme about himself on the beat.
EM: I would definitely agree with that. Cowboy and Creole weren’t doing that. They were talking about Flash. Creole started early mimicking Cowboy. Mel with his arrogant self said: ”hold up, im Mele Mel”.
JQ: I hate to jump out of my chronological timeline, but on The Message album cover, where are y’all standing?
EM: 123 St. & 8th Ave. right on the corner by the 23rd precinct. Somebody posted a picture online of The Message album cover, and compared it to what it looks like today.
JQ: Oh yeah, there’s a website that tracks down all the iconic record cover locations. When Flash did Adventures On The Wheels, did you think that the performance was groundbreaking?
EM: It was nothing to me, because I saw him do it all the time. A lot of Bronx Dj’s knew exactly what he was doing, because they were mimicking by then. But the world didn’t understand what he was doing on that record at the time. I think that Flash saw himself being pushed aside in the group, and that’s what made him wanna do that record. But I didn’t think that it was mind blowing at the time, in fact I could do that routine verbatim. Honestly he can do it without anybody passing him the records; he just stacks them in order. I’ve seen Flash do some remarkable things with them turntables.
JQ: Did you ever have any creative input as far as the music?
EM: Yeah, Its Nasty was my idea. I kept telling those guys about Genius Of Love by The Tom Tom Club, I really liked that bass line and I kept telling them that we needed to do it. They ignored me for a long time and I finally pressured them into doing it.
JQ: You spoke earlier of Flash feeling pushed aside in the group….
EM: Yeah, before he did Adventures On The Wheels, he didn’t scratch on any songs. But the tracks that they were using were all beats that he discovered and used to spin at their parties for routines. Superrappin’ was 7 Minutes Of Funk, Freedom was Get Up And Dance, The Birthday Party was basically Get Up And Dance with kazoos added. That “Flash one time” line from Birthday Party was something that Flash was doing in his routines. White Lines was The Cavern. Those were all records that Flash discovered and cut up in his sets. Because he wasn’t able to scratch on the records, he was only contributing to the live show, so he felt like his position in the group was being diminished. It’s not like they went in the studio and the music was already there, Flash provided the musical ideas for most of those records. Even 8th Wonder by The Sugar Hill Gang that uses the Daisy Lady break, that was originally our song. Listen to the clap track, The Furious 5 are all over it. The Sugar Hill Gang needed a record at the time, and Sylvia gave that track to them.
JQ: As someone who was around before rap records, what did you think when you heard Rappers Delight?
EM. I had 2 opinions. One was of disgust, because I was like who the fuck are these guys, I’d never heard of them. Also I didn’t care for it lyrically compared to what we were doing. I felt that we were robbed and undermined not just us a group, but the entire Bronx collective that played the P.A.L., The Dixie Club and all that. I felt that they didn’t put in the work that we all had put in. I’m hearing this record all day everyday, and I’m like you can’t be serious. But they had the perfect formula for commercial success. Good Times was the hottest record that Summer (1979), and they rapped over it with subject matter that was universal enough to relate to everybody. When we did Superappin’ even that couldn’t catch up in terms of commercial appeal. If the business would have been correct, Sugar Hill records could have been so much bigger. They opened the door for Russell Simmons, Puffy , Dre , Lyor Cohen and everybody who came after. Sylvia introduced it to the world, and I have to give her props for that. Regardless of her short comings.
JQ: I agree. I’ve heard people say that if she didn’t do it someone else would have, but I don’t necessarily believe that to be true.
EM : I don’t either, because they could have come out with the wrong song! And she was already plugged in. She had access to the radio and other networks because of all of her other labels that she ran before.
JQ: Thanks for your time Mike. Respect...
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