Hip-hop pioneer Edward “Duke Bootee” Fletcher has died according to published reports. The former MC and poet was responsible for bringing consciousness, politics and social commentary into hip-hop as co-lead rapper on Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5’s “The Message.” Fletcher, who was 69, reportedly suffered from heart failure and passed away on Wednesday, Jan. 13, at his home in Savannah, Georgia.
Fletcher wasn’t an actual member of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5, but was a session musician with their label Sugarhill Records when he recorded a demo called “The Jungle.” The song was re-worked with Melle Mel adding his verses and “The Message” was born. Flethcer and Clifton “Jiggs” Chase produced the musical opus. His chorus also became one of the most notable in history as he rapped, “It’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder how I keep from going under.”
A few of his classic bars on the track included, “My son said, ‘Daddy, I don’t wanna go to school/ ‘Cause the teacher’s a jerk, he must think I’m a fool/ And all the kids smoke reefer, I think it’d be cheaper/ If I just got a job, learned to be a street sweeper/ Or dance to the beat, shuffle my feet/ Wear a shirt and tie and run with the creeps/ ‘Cause it’s all about money, ain’t a damn thing funny/ You got to have a con in this land of milk and honey.”
“The Message” was released in 1982 and was one of the first 50 songs included in the National Recording Registry in 2003.
Fletcher would later become a high school teacher and college professor. In 2007, he became a lecturer on critical thinking and communication at Savannah State University before retiring in 2019.
In a previous interview with The Guardian, Fletcher spoke of his trailblazing song. “The neighborhood I was living in, and the things I saw — it was like a jungle sometimes in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Even though we lived in a nice area, I’d sit in the living room and watch things happening across the street in the park. The lyrics were sort of cinematic: I tried to hold a message up to society.”
RIP to the legend and check out his timeless classic on the next page.