The Story Behind The Sample: Apache and Grandmaster Flash
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The Story Behind The Sample: Apache and Grandmaster Flash

Grandmaster Flash is one of hip-hop’s pioneers and an individual that helped birth the genre. The Bronx native (real name Joseph Saddler) is responsible for many things people in music take for granted today. He was the inventor of the slipmat and the first person to develop a device that allowed DJs to listen to and prepare an upcoming track without audiences hearing it. Widely considered a visionary and cultural icon, the Barbados-born disc jockey was the first DJ ever to lay hands on a vinyl record to manipulate it.

The South Bronx performer perfected DJ Cool Herc’s “Merry-Go-Round Technique,” which created an extended break using two records. Saddler used this method to make a perfect instrumental bed for MCs to rap over, and the rest is history. However, as well as being a DJ, Saddler was also a producer and along with his crew, the Furious Five, he created some well-known hits.

One of his most notable is ‘The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel,’ an excellent seven-minute turntablism showcase. The hip-hop of the 1970s and ’80s had some classic records that were staples of the culture. Some tracks had classic breaks from ‘Shaft In Africa’ by Johnny Pate to ‘The Champs’ by Mohawks. However, one of the most sampled and important is ‘Apache’. Initially released in 1960 by The Shadows, in 1973, the Incredible Bongo Band remixed the instrumental. It is this second rendition that many hip-hop producers and breakdancers utilised during the ’70s.

In 2005, the Seattle Weekly journalist Michaelangelo Matos wrote an article about the importance of the track and noted how in 1974, “a young man named Clive Campbell (DJ Kool Herc) began playing the record at parties.” and explained “the pioneering hip-hop DJs who followed him the most storied being Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash turned the Incredible Bongo Band’s ‘Apache’ into an underground hit.” The segment of the record that b-boys and MCs loved was the distinctive drum break, played by session drummer Jim Gordon. This crucial part of the record would end up being sampled Afrika Bambaataa, LL Cool J, The Roots, Beastie Boys and Nas, as well as The Sugarhill Gang.

In a 1996 for Davey D’s Hip-Hop Corner, Grandmaster Flash spoke about why many considered his choice to sample ‘Apache’ oscure explaining: |”You take a song like ‘Apache’ which is considered one of the themes of Hip Hop. The guys who did were The Incredible Bongo Band. They were a bunch of white guys. There was one person in there who was Black and that was King Erickson.”

However, Saddler explained how it didn’t matter because he made it work. ‘The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel,’ peaked at number 55 on the Billboard R’n’B Chart in 1980. It’s B-side was ‘The Message’ one of the most impact rap records of all time. You can listen to ‘Apache’ below and hear Grandmaster Flash’s twist on it.