Though Netflix's new series The Get Down primarily follows fictional characters, they exist within a world that's very strongly inspired by and based on real events. Some of the characters are based on real people, too. Grandmaster Flash is a character on the show, but he's also a real person who was instrumentally involved in the scene depicted on the show. He was heavily involved behind the scenes as well, which helped lend The Get Down a feeling of authenticity. But if you're unfamiliar with his career or the impact he's had, you're probably wondering: who is Grandmaster Flash?
Born Joseph Saddler, Grandmaster Flash is a legendary DJ who was an innovator when it came to various techniques used to cut and mix songs. His family was originally from Barbados but emigrated to New York when he was still very young, settling in the Bronx, where The Get Down is set. The techniques he devised in the early days of hip hop became the norm for all DJs and are still used now. One was backspin technique (also called quick-mix theory), which utilized duplicate records to endlessly loop the same section of music, playing it first on one turntable and then quickly switching to play the same section on a second turntable; this features a lot in The Get Down.
For Grandmaster Flash, and other innovative DJs, it was about using these new techniques to take a record, add to what was already there, and manipulate the pre-existing music into something brand new. The records could be of any genre as long as they had some small part that could be utilized and made into hip-hop. Flash in particular specialized at taking the breaks of songs and extending them because they were usually so brief; he was also able to do so accurately and quickly, unlike anyone else at the time. "I was like, 'Wait a minute, this is the best part of the record!'" he said in an interview with The Guardian. "'Why is it so short?' That really pissed me off. I heard this ten second break as ten minutes in my mind."
He went on to start collaborating with rappers, eventually forming the group Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five along with rappers Melle Mel, The Kidd Creole, Keith Cowboy, Scorpio, and Rahiem. The influential group was one of the earliest to find mainstream success in the wake of the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight," which has been cited as the release that proved there was an audience for hip hop records. Previously, the music had been local, unpolished, and enjoyed by its dedicated audience at parties.
That's part of what made The Get Down such an important story to tell. So much of the early evolution of hip hop was unrecorded in the time between its invention and becoming mainstream. Grandmaster Flash told Variety that he's been "trying to tell people [about the era] for ever and ever and ever," and now with The Get Down, he finally can.