R.I.P. Duke Bootee, Rapper and Co-Writer of Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five’s “The Message”

Music News
Dusty Henry
photo by geoff l johnson

Duke Bootee, the moniker of rapper Edward Fletcher, passed away in his Savannah, Georgia home from end-stage congestive heart failure on Wednesday, Jan. 13. The news was confirmed by Fletcher’s wife Rosita to Rolling Stone. He was 69.

Among his many accolades, Fletcher is likely most known for co-writing Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five’s “The Message,” one of the most iconic and influential hip-hop singles of all time. The song began as a demo penned by Fletcher with the original title “The Jungle.” At the time, Fletcher was working as a session musician and member of Sugar Hill Records’ house band. Throughout the song Fletcher is featured with multiple verses and can be heard repeating the iconic phrase, “It’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder how I keep from going under.” It is one of the earliest instances of hip-hop as a practice of social commentary.

"The neighbourhood I was living in, the things I saw — it was like a jungle sometimes in Elizabeth, New Jersey,” Fletcher told The Guardian in 2013. “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."

After “The Message” was released in 1980, it went on to receive numerous accolades. Rolling Stone named it one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and the song was inducted into the Library of Congress in 2002. Decades after its release, the song was sampled and reinterpreted by numerous artists, including Ice Cube, Puff Daddy, 2Pac, Blank Banshee, and more.

Fletcher would release one solo album in 1984 with Bust Me Out and went on to form his own label Beauty and the Beat Records in 1985. Later in life, Fletcher turned his focus toward teaching. He began as a high school and college professor before becoming a lecturer on Critical Thinking & Communication at Savannah State University. He would retire from this role in 2019.Join us in remembering Fletcher’s life and incomparable influence to music, and specifically hip-hop, by revisiting “The Message” below.

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