Despite a professional downturn since his heyday in the 1980s and ’90s, Grandmaster Flash, one of hip-hop’s founding fathers, proved last Wednesday that he’s still got what it takes to get heads bopping and hands waving in the smoke-filled air.
A near-capacity crowd of Phnom Penh-ites, the vast majority expats, were eager to see one of the genre’s trailblazers work his magic on the ones and twos at Pontoon.
Bronx-raised Joseph Saddler, better known as Grandmaster Flash, came to prominence in the 1980s as the DJ for Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, where he pioneered turntable moves such as “scratching” and track looping that are now considered standard deejaying techniques.
The group was the first rap crew to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Flash’s recent solo attempts, however, have not been greeted with much enthusiasm.
VICE magazine said his latest album, The Bridge – Concept of a Culture, released in 2009, “sounds just a little too much like exactly what you would expect from a 51-year-old who’s been out of the game for more than two decades”.
The same could be said of Wednesday’s show, with Flash spinning and mixing tried-and-true classics like the Furious Five’s biggest hit, 1982’s The Message, 1990s gangsta rapper Snoop Dogg, and other mainstream crowd-pleasers that even the most lily-white of suburban-raised expats recognised from their MTV-fuelled adolescences.
There were no surprises, but it was precisely the throwback feel of the set that got the crowd smiling and bumping.
Having fostered a reputation for grumpiness offstage, the legendary DJ radiated only positivity throughout his set.
He told the audience that of all the shows he had done in the region, this was the best.
“I’ve been to Hong Kong, I’ve been to Singapore,” he yelled into the microphone. “But Cambodia can rock tha mothafuckin’ house!”
To contact the reporters on this story: Abe Becker and Diana Montaño at [email protected]