top of page

White Lines (Don't Do It) - Grandmaster and Melle Mel

Back to Sylvia Robinson: after "Rapper's Delight" Sylvia went on to produce more early rap artists including Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five whose legendary "Message" is nowadays recognised as the first rap hit to display social consciousness as opposed to being a party strut. She also co-wrote "White Lines (Don't Do It)" with Melle Mel (one of the Furious Five). It's said that they added the cautionary phrase "Don't Do It" to make sure the song got more airplay. Certainly, there would have been a lot of people wanting to ban it had it seemed to be nothing more than a glorification of the joys of cocaine.

But, all moral issues aside, it's a great track, driven by the fantastic base line by Doug Wimbush, that has you dancing to the hypocrisies of the urban jungle:

"A street kid gets arrested, gonna do some time he got out three years from now just to commit more crime a businessman is caught with 24 kilos he's out on bail and out of jail and that's the way it goes...... ....athletes rejected, governors corrected gangsters, thugs and smugglers are thoroughly respected the money gets divided, the women get excited now I'm broke and it's no joke it's hard as hell to fight it, don't buy it...."

What was so disquieting about the record is the upper class sounding respectability of Melle Mel's voice, subtly authoritative, almost professorial, which gives the lie to any thought that this is a cautionary tale of cocaine use. What comes across is a caustic rap about the double standards of the cynical, modern world. The original single was credited on the label to "Grandmaster and Melle Mel", deliberately implying that Grandmaster Flash was on the record in order to sell more copies. He wasn't: he'd already left Sugar Hill months before it was cut. Which is consistent with the culture of low complicity in search of profit that characterises the world of "White Lines".

On a more positive note, the film accompanying this Youtube clip is the first music video directed by a 26 year old film student called Spike Lee.

bottom of page