Those are the lyrics of the now-famous song, “The Message”. In years following that 1982 hit song, it would be sampled nearly 300 times, according to whosampled.com. Rolling Stone called it the greatest song in hip-hop history and a major influence on rappers like Jay-Z and the Notorious B.I.G.
It also helped earn Grandmaster Flash and his band a place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, even though Melle Mel was the only one of them to appear on what was called “their masterpiece,” aside from a short closing skit.
The co-writer and the mind behind the Message is the legendary Ed Fletcher aka Duke Bootee. He died on January 13 of heart failure at his home in Savannah, Ga. He was 69.
As we celebrate 50 years of Hip-Hop on August 11, 2023, we remember Fletcher as served as a member of Sugar Hill Records’ house band. The label released the early work of groups such as the Sugar Hill Gang and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.
Fletcher was born on June 6, 1951, in Elizabeth. Ga. After graduating from Dickinson College in Pennsylvania in 1973 with an English degree, he played with local New Jersey bands before working at Sugar Hill.
He would go on to write for, produce and mix for artists like Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, P. Diddy, Dr. John and Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones, per USA Today.
In 1984, Fletcher recorded his solo album as Duke Bootee, “Bust Me Out,” and released the single “Broadway,” the following year under his own label — Beauty and the Beat Records.
It was in his mother’s basement in the city where he grew up, Elizabeth, New Jersey, that Fletcher was with a friend and fellow musician, Jiggs Chase.
“The neighborhood I was living in, the things I saw — it was like a jungle sometimes in Elizabeth,” Fletcher told The Guardian in 2013. In another interview, with hip-hop historian JayQuan, he recalled how often someone would “ride by and you hear a bottle get broken.”
The images of the jungle and broken glass contributed two signature lyrics of “The Message,” that painted a vivid picture of what was really going on. The song began to define what everyday life for those who created hip-hop. The rhymes included “Got a bum education, double-digit inflation…Can’t take the train to the job, there’s a strike at the station.” Fletcher wrote most of the lyrics and the lurching, ominous electro melody.
This gritty approach to hip-hop was new back then. So new, in fact, that Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five weren’t feeling it at first.
“It was just too serious,” Melle Mel, a member of the group, told Uncut magazine in 2013. “We were making party tracks,” he added, “and wanted to keep in the same lane. Nobody wanted that song.”
Melle Mel eventually caved to pressure from Sylvia Robinson, one of Sugar Hill’s owners. He contributed a final verse to “The Message” and shared rapping duties with Fletcher, who played all the instruments except guitar.
As a rapper, Fletcher’s baritone voice registered a cool impassivity that stood in contrast to the excitability of many of his peers.
The song was an instant hit and as they say, the rest in history.
Rest in Peace Duke. We will carry on the message for you.