Funkmaster Flex‘s notoriety within Hip Hop, specially the NYC scene is solid and well known. Who doesn’t remember his mixtapes, or his famous and most hated “bomb drops” or his very vivid rants on the radio?.
I first came in contact with Funkmaster Flex at the iconic Tunnel in October 1998, fresh out of Caracas, Venezuela. My then boyfriend, brought me to the Tunnel and we waited about two hours until Flex got on the set. I still remember how he took charge of the deep 2000 plus crowd from beginning to end. It was, as he is known to say “A MOVIEEEEEEEEE”. Now if you were not in NYC in the 90’s or a hip hop head you wouldn’t understand the importance of the Tunnel, let alone the significance of Funkmaster Flex in Hip Hop.
Last week, I highlighted the Behind The Speaker show created by DJ Tedsmooth and today I will share my personal experience at the show and my conversation with his guest NYC legendary DJ FunkMaster Flex .
On September 6, 2017, I arrived with my son to El Barrio’s Art Space in Spanish Harlem for the taping of Behind the Speaker and witnessed a conversation between two of the most renowned NYC DJs of all times: Tedsmooth and Funkmaster Flex on the art of djing, pop culture and the music industry.
My son is a big fan of Flex. Even though, he is only 14 he has been highly influenced by both his father and I when it comes to Old School Hip Hop music. If you check his downloads you will find Biggie, Nas, Slick Rick, Busta Rhymes, Bell Biv Devoe, and The Fugees . He is also influenced by new voices such as Future, Lil Uzi Vert, Lougotcash, Young M.A., J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar. Almost every night, we listen to Flex’s radio show which sometimes inspire some of our dinner conversations. These conversations are rooted in Hip Hop and weave into current issues. For me personally that is what Hip Hop is all about: it’s about addressing what is happening around the world, discovering what is inside the story teller, and being the voice of our communities.
So when I told my son about this event he was beyond excited to attend and hear what Flex had to say.
We were escorted to the room where Tedsmooth reserved front row seats for us. My son had the only Kool-Aid smile. Thanks Ted!
We were asked to turn off or silenced our phones to really be present and enjoy the conversation. I could tell by Tedsmooth’s body language that he was as excited as all of us to have in the show none other than (as he introduced him), the KingPin Funkmaster Flex.
Flex entered the room while everyone got up and applauded in sync as he stayed still and looked at every face in the room with grace. After giving Tedsmooth a dap, he sat ready to answer all the questions. If you ever have ran into Flex, he is very chill and outgoing, always has a smile on his face and is ready for a handshake, he is far from most Hollywood behavior- unapproachable- he is real.
Tedsmooth, began the conversation by asking Flex about his interest in Djing, to which he responded that it began with the Zulu nation parties in the Bronx,. This is where he first met Kool Dj Red Alert and fell in love with the art of djing. He praised Alert’s ability to read the crowd and play exactly what they wanted to hear and dance to, he shared how he was able to synchronize all the records and the crowd in one big party.
Then the conversation turned into pop culture and the sneaker game. Ted jumped off his seat showing off his Blue Suede Pumas and asking Flex who was wearing white Adidas: “Nike or Adidas?”. Flex went for Adidas referencing Hip Hop pioneers Run DMC and his upbringing in the Bronx where what you wore defined the music you listened to.
Of course, there can’t be an interview with Flex without asking about his infamous “bombs”. Bombs are the way he can replay over and over before he lets it play completely. I’m not going to lie, at times my son, gets frustrated and changes the station: “Maaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Can he let the song play? Jesussssssssss!!!!”
For me, the bombs are a signature of Flex, you can’t mention Flex without citing the bombs and in my opinion, no one else can use the bombs because it wouldn’t be the same.
So this is the story about the infamous bombs in his own words, It began back when he was djing at a club and he heard the sound from someone and he liked it. Now, why does he plays the bomb sound over and over and over?… Because he LOVESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS the record! So if your song gets lots of bombs now you know Flex loves your song. He said, the bomb sound could’ve been anything and he knows some people hate it but he laugh about it. .Ted played an Instagram video that imitated Flex when he plays the bombs over the song. Even though he was laughing, he mentioned, he really don’t like when people imitate him but he has learned to deal with it.
After, Ted invited him to show his skills at the turntable. And let me tell you, he didn’t hesitate, the room was moving in the 5 minutes, it was dope! He brought me back to the first time I saw him DJing at The Tunnel, you could tell this is truly his passion.
“From a young age I had hoped to become a Dj… I would dream of playing for 50 people or maybe be the resident Dj at any club in the Bronx. I thank God everyday for the chance to live my dream to its fullest. “
The conversation shifted to his now famous hashtag: “ThisisWhatNYCSoundslike” and how it unfolded. If you listen to his radio show or follow his social media, you heard this hashtag followed by new music from the Tri-state area. This is how I learned about Joey Badass, Dave East ,Young M.A. and Snoopy Dinero to name a few.
Flex explained it is important for a DJ to pay attention to what people are listening to and what they like. He told us the story of how he was first introduced to Young M.A. One day, while visiting his car garage in the Bronx, which happens to be located by a nearby school, two young students approached him and played to him M.A.’s record “Ouuu” and he liked it. He praised himself for always being attentive to what the youth are listening to because most of the time it is them who put him onto what’s hot in the streets. “ThisisWhatNYCSoundslike” gives his listeners an opportunity to listen to artists not usually played on the mainstream platform.
After a hour and half of taping, Ted opened the forum for the audience to ask Flex some questions. I was lucky enough to be one of them. I asked:
” Has it ever crossed your mind writing a book like others have done?”
His response: “I signed a book deal with Simon and Schuster but it was about Biggie’s death and I thought about it and pulled from the deal because I didn’t want to be seen as a snitch. But the thought has crossed my mind…-who knows.”
So we will have to wait and see if the KingPin will bring his story to the page…
Ted and Flex exchange a final New York dap and Ted extended an invitation for part 2 of the interview which Flex agreed.The director asked the crowd to exit the room and wait outside for a Meet & Greet with Funkmaster Flex.
My son with the Kool-Aid smile made sure his battery life and mine was good enough for a picture with his favorite Dj. He couldn’t have been any happier!
At the Meet & Greet, Flex and I discussed how he came into the NYC Hip Hop scene, the loss of his mother, and fatherhood. The human side of the KingPin, many might overlook or haven’t seen. He dropped the “bomb” on our conversation and as any human being he is complex but also a great friend, father, mentor and business man.
WA: When did you discover that Djing was your calling, your passion?
Flex: I would say when I was in the 9th grade that’s when I discovered it and I really liked it. My dad was a Dj and he owned records and turntables. I also used to go weekly to the roller skating rink, The Skate Key in the Bronx, on Allerton Avenue where the DJ would play while you rollerskate. Then from there I began to buy my own records and used to listen and watch this group The Cold Crush Brothers who were from my neighborhood and also a big influence on me as well as Zulu Nation.
WA: Where did the name Funkmaster Flex originated from?
Flex: I remember I was on Third Avenue in the Bronx and there was a graffiti on the wall and it said Funkmaster and Imperial 3 and I liked it and I kinda took it from there. That was in the early 80’s.
WA: Now, let’s move more into our entrepreneurship skills. I see that besides Djing, a muscle car collector,an entrepreneur, you were one of the first Djs to have his own website, In Flex We Trust.com. Your website covers everything in the hip-hop landscape to the up-to-date information on anything relevant in the realms of technology, sports, sneakers, autos, and, most importantly, music. What made you embark in this venture instead of others?
Flex: With the rapid growth of the internet, I wanted to be more digital and be able to get my message across and for people to have access to the music industry information separate from the radio. That is why I started the site. It is also a medium to stay relevant and grow with the times.
WA: Do you feel there will be a moment when you will stop Djing?
Flex: I’m sure one day but I’m not ready. I still very much enjoy it.
WA: It has been said that you are a mentor to many in the industry. Angie Martinez mentions extensively in her memoir My Voice how you both started and developed in the scene and how important it was for her to have your support when she made the decision to leave Hot97. Also Karen Civil mentions in her book Be You & Live Civil how her hard work caught your attention, landing her an opportunity to intern for you and how much she learned from you.
What does it takes to be mentored by Funkmaster Flex? Is this your way of paying it forward?
Flex: I don’t think I go around seeking people out to mentor. I think is more of a mutual gravitation among those who like me are driven and passionate to follow and achieve their dreams. They are constantly hungry to learn, ask questions and execute and If I can in any way give them the push and share a word of advice and encouragement why not?
WA: Who do you consider as your Mentors?
Flex: Dj Chuck Chillout and Kool DJ Red Alert. They paved the way. I learned a lot from them.
WA: What is the key to Success?
Flex: Hard work. It is what get you from point A to point B. Always moving forward with something you love to do. Never giving up on that dream and giving everything you have and then some!
Photo credit: YZ Films
WA: Where do you see Hip Hop five years from now?
Flex: I think the industry will continue to evolve the way it has. No one wants to be like the last generation. In the beginning the focus was more on the music than on the revenue, today Hip Hop is focused more on the business aspect, you have to make good records with the intention to make it a business.
WA: How do you balance your public persona with your private life?
Flex: I don’t think I separate one from the other. I enjoy everything that comes along with being a celebrity Dj. I am very mellow and when I am approached by the fans I try my best to answer questions, take pictures and discuss music. You have to worry when people don’t care.
WA: Often times, people forget that artists are also human beings. So I want to bring our readers to the humanity of Funkmaster Flex.
You have three beautiful children and for those who follow you on social media, you share with your fans those family moments. What does it mean to you being a father?
Flex: It is a blessing to have children and then to be able to see them grow before your eyes. Also being divorced makes me appreciate even more the time I spend with them . I don’t take it for granted, I love them and I love being there for them.
WA: How do they handle being the children of Funkmaster Flex?
Flex: They are happy go lucky just like me. They really don’t have issues with it.
WA: The pain of losing a mother is unexplainable and a life changing experience. We both lost our mothers. How did losing your mother changed your view in life and how is life for you without your mom?
Flex: A mother’s love is a unique love that you experience only once. It is irreplaceable. I was very close to my mother and she is definitely the person who made who I am today. She was always a big supporter of my dreams, my back bone, who loved me unconditionally. Not having her around to celebrate milestones and triumphs is hard but I am learning slowly to find comfort in her memories, live in the moment and enjoying every second I am on this earth, tomorrow is never promised. You know I am learning slowly that grief never leaves, it simply evolves. The loss of your mother, it changes you forever and there are bad days and good days. It is an unexperience loss that you don’t know what it is like until you come face to face with it.
It is the single most important loss I ever experienced. I am fortunate enough to have a support system in my children, girlfriend, family and friends.
WA: What advice would you give to the younger generation?
Flex: You have to follow your passion and enjoy the journey, it is as much fun when you start as to when you reach the finish line.
FunkMaster Flex has not reach the finish line, he is a visionary, tireless and relentless entrepreneur, a passionate DJ and his contributions to Hip Hop culture can not be denied. A role he has earned through the years.