The cheer that went up at the start of Grandmaster Flash's show Friday night at Luxy basically summed up the theme of the evening. "I was there. I was there. I was there," he repeated over and over while the packed house shouted along.
Being the inventor of hip hop, his immodest chant was Flash's way of announcing his credentials, which no one was doubting anyway. Flash, more than most artists in hip hop, lives up to the typical rapper's bluster. And with everyone shouting along, we were reminded that Flash's show was more than just a DJ dropping into town. He is history, and here we were screaming that we were witness to it. Not a bad way to kick off a thumping two-hours of classic hip hop.
Flash had told the Taipei Times before the show that it would be a "philoso-jam" -- his invented term for a walk through history to the beat of a raucous Bronx block party. For the most part, he delivered on what he promised.
We got a brief seminar in the first hip hop beats and then he launched into Hip Hop Hooray and OPP, the two early-1990s rap anthems that frankly seemed a bit out of sync with the way things were moving chronologically. But it got everyone waving their hands and shouting that they were down with adultery, so it did get the party started. And he played a few verses of Rapper's Delight, which Taipei Times was warned not to expect because of Flash's ongoing beef with Sugar Hill Records. But he played it, as he should have, and we loved him for it.
From there it was a non-stop assault of hip hop's best moments and, yes, Michael Jackson's Billie Jean, which signaled that while Flash was there to educate (his own words) he was also there to please. That isn't always an easy task with finicky Luxy patrons accustomed to being spoon-fed a strict diet of post-2000 commercial hits, but on Friday everyone was with Flash all the way through the wild moments and the slower ones.
The crowd was also ready to forgive Flash's frequent disappearances behind the stage, leaving back-up DJ Demo to keep the crowd moving. In fact, DJ Demo's constant presence behind the turntables was probably the only objectionable part of the evening, even more so than Flash's choice of the non-explicit version of the Black Eyed Peas Let's Get Retarded (Let's Get it Started).
But even in front of the decks hyping the crowd up, talking to people and ending the show with a heavily accented xie xie and a bow, Flash was brilliant.
Hip hop's come a long way in the three decades since Flash made history by cutting records to turn short breaks into full-length songs. It's come so far that there are now plenty of DJs with more technical skill than Flash who pass through Taipei -- ie., Krush, Kid Koala, Qbert -- but few, if any, have his presence and energy, which made it seem like a lot of fun for what was intended as a lesson in musical history. If only all school could have been that much fun.