Shahar Varshal’s new Grandmaster Flash/Bruno Mars mashup, “The 24K Message,” is an almost miraculously successful mashup of two musical extremes: the stone-cold serious and the proudly frivolous. It weds two familiar but extremely dissimilar recordings. “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five was not intended to get a party started. In fact, this socially conscious 1982 single, with its famous refrain of “Don’t push me ’cause I’m close to the edge,” is considered the first major rap song to address relevant issues such as crime, poverty, and violence. At the very opposite end of the scale, philosophically speaking, is Mars’ 2016 single “24K Magic,” a slick, retro-styled pop song about getting dressed up in “designer minks” and “Inglewood’s finest shoes” and having a delirious night on the town. While the 1982 song has a lot on its mind, the 2016 song could not be more carefree. But here they are, working in tandem, and it’s pretty great.
So who wins in this rap-meets-pop showdown? That will depend on the individual listener. Maybe rapper Melle Mel, who provides the impassioned lead vocals on “The Message,” lends relevance and gravity to the featherweight Mars song with his references to “broken glass everywhere” and “people pissing on the stairs.” Or maybe Melle Mel is the one guy in the corner trying to talk politics when everybody else in the room is just trying to have a good time.
Either way, it’s worth noting that “The Message” is also famous for the production work of musician Ed “Duke Bootee” Fletcher. The song’s prominent synthesizer riff has been sampled on literally hundreds of records, but it’s not in evidence in this mashup. And yet, the mechanized backbeat of Mars’ “24K Magic” still bears a strong resemblance to the Grandmaster Flash track. So maybe these songs have more in common musically than lyrically.