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Reading List: The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash by Grandmaster Flash
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New York DJ Grandmaster Flash is credited as one of the godfathers of hip-hop music and culture. In his new autobiography, The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash: My Life, My Beats, he claims that while he didn't invent DJing, he transformed it into an art form by developing the mixing technique of extending the best grooves of a song. But the book isn't completely self-congratulatory, which is part of its charm. The turntable superstar is also frank about the troubles he has encountered over the years, which range from having multiple baby mamas to using crack and the painful legal battle with his former record label, Sugar Hill, which appeared to live in luxury while he languished in poverty.

The DJ's abusive father left the young Flash and his mentally unstable mother, leaving Flash to bounce between relatives and foster care. The Adventures shows how this cycle of destruction continued through his own life, as Flash impregnated multiple women — including two best friends — and remained a largely absent father in his children's lives, particularly once he discovered the dangerous allure of the pipe.

Although Flash frequently mentions his role as a dad, he doesn't do much soul-searching about it. What he does detail, lovingly and obsessively, is his passion for DJing — the highs of performing to an appreciative crowd and the thrill of inventing something new. That alone would make for a good read. But combined with enough personal twists and turns to fuel a soap opera, and with Flash's brutal lesson on the music industry, The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash doesn't skip a beat.

[review originally appeared in SF Weekly, 6-25-08]