Melle Mel

By: Brian Berger
May 15, 2010

“Broken glass everywhere/People pissin’ on the stairs, you know they just don’t care.” So 1982 and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s epochal “The Message,” written by MELLE MEL (Melvin Glover, born 1961). For the next seven minutes, the Bronx-native transformed hip-hop into (potential) literature. Before it was party music; after, it could be anything. Having busted through, Melle Mel didn’t step back: “White Lines,” a paradoxically seductive anti-cocaine jam, defined 1983, while that vile year of the Los Angeles Olympics and Ronald Reagan redux, 1984, was salvaged by Melle Mel’s voicing of another, vastly less triumphalist America. From “New York, New York:” “I’m living in the land of plenty and many/But I’m damn sure poor and I don’t know why.” From “World War III”: “What the hell were you fighting for?/A silly ass medal? A stupid parade?/For all those innocent people you slayed?” From: “Beat Street”:

Minds are poisoned and souls are polluted
Superiority complex is deep rooted
Leeches and lices, and people got prices
Egomaniacs control the self-righteous
Nothing is sacred and nothing is pure
So the revelation of death is our cure

You can’t get much harder that and Melle Mel didn’t. He took a star turn with Chaka Khan (“I Feel For You”), threw darts at the inferior lyricists whose style would supplant him (Run-DMC), and — if Melle Mel won the battles but nearly lost it all, he told us it could happen — to anyone — all along.

ALSO BORN THIS DATE: Brian Eno | Mikhail Bulgakov | Jasper Johns | James Mason | L. Frank Baum

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HIP HOP ON HILOBROW: HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM series (25 posts about old-school hip hop) | DJ Kool Herc | Gil Scott-Heron | Slick Rick | Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels | Afrika Bambaataa | Biz Markie | U-God | Slug | Adam Yauch | Ghostface Killah | DJ Run | Flavor Flav | Scott La Rock | GZA | Schoolly D | Aesop Rock | Terminator X | Notorious B.I.G. | Melle Mel | Doug E. Fresh | Kool Keith | Rick Rubin | Rakim | Ol’ Dirty Bastard | Madlib | Talib Kweli | Danger Mouse | Kool Moe Dee | Chuck D | Dizzee Rascal | RZA | Cee-Lo Green | Best Ever Clean Hip Hop

Each day, HILOBROW pays tribute to one of our favorite high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes on that person’s birthday.

READ MORE about the Original Generation X (1954-63).

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HiLo Heroes, Hip Hop, Music

What do you think?

  1. Was “White Lines” really an anti-cocaine song? I always thought the refrain “don’t don’t do it” essentially canceled itself out.

  2. Melle Mel is one of the greatest mcs ever to pick up a microphone; if not the greatest. Today, hip hop artists make records from a cookie cutter. Mel and his contemporaries were innovators. He was a true pioneer. He didn’t sit down to listen to what his peers were doing and then take a poll of what would sell. His voice is distinctive. His concepts were superior. His lyrics have been poignant. As an older hip hop head, I wish that he would find a young producer with a hot hand to help him update his sound. He should still be making great albums.

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