Working Artists Lab: Grandmaster Flash

As hip-hop approached its 50th birthday, the UB Arts Collaboratory celebrated the birth of a movement that has left an indelible mark on music, dance, visual art, fashion, literature and film. The centerpiece of the AC’s Fall 2021 Working Artists Lab was the residency of hip-hop royalty, Grandmaster Flash, the Bronx native universally recognized as one of the genre’s originators and innovators.

Grandmaster Flash’s semester-long UB residency included collaborations with UB and Buffalo State students, area artists, DJs, musicians and dancers. Students engaged with one of the masters of hip-hop through a variety of classes, workshops and private sessions. The residency concluded with a presentation by participants utilizing various mediums, including storytelling, art and performance.

mural that spells out grandmaster flash.
Grandmaster flash with people sitting on stage.

“This is what hip-hop is about for me, no segregation, no thinking you're better than this other thing. This is the way it should be.”

Grandmaster Flash

The Curriculum

The UB Arts Collaboratory’s Working Artists Lab with Grandmaster Flash brought together legendary hip-hop artists, some of the biggest names on the Buffalo scene, and recognized experts on subjects ranging from street art to breakdancing. Following a unique curriculum developed by the Arts Collaboratory and Grandmaster Flash, these luminaries shared their knowledge and experience with UB students. “Hip-hop university” guided participants through the history, innovations and impact of the most influential American art movement of the last fifty years.

The Classes

The classes centered on the Origin Story of hip-hop. Each class brought in experts—some of national/international stature and others local heroes—to focus on one of hip-hop’s original four pillars.  

The experts included:

Rahiem. Producer and musician (Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five). Based in New York City.

Carlo McCormick, Curator, critic and author (“Trespass: A History of Uncommissioned Urban Art”). Based in New York City.

Charlie Ahearn, Filmmaker (“Wild Style”) and artist. Based in New York City.

Derrick Jackson, Exec hyphenate of Griselda Records. Based in Buffalo.

Schondra Aycht, Writer (“Sneakvibing”) and producer. Based in Buffalo.

ToneyBoi. Musician and producer (“Outside Influence”). Based in Buffalo.

DJ Optimus Prime. DJ and producer. Based in Buffalo.

Naila Ansari. Dancer and educator. Based in Buffalo.

Moncell Durden. Educator, choreographer, author. Based in Los Angeles.

The Performance

The UB and Buffalo communities were invited to a special performance of Grandmaster Flash’s Hip-Hop People, Places and Things at the Torn Space Theater.

group of people standing in front of grandmaster flash mural.

The Presentation

When it came time for the Working Artists Lab students to share the art inspired by their time with hip-hop’s pioneers and innovators. Grandmaster Flash, IACE Director, Maria S. Horne, and the Arts Collaboratory Director, Bronwyn Keenan, were blown away by the passion, energy, talent and radical vulnerability that went into the students’ presentations. Toward the end of the fall 2021 semester, the UB Arts Collaboratory released a remarkable film that follows the Working Artists Lab students during their two months of discovery. Featuring interviews with guest lecturers and student performances, it’s a celebration of hip-hop’s influence on our cultural landscape.

The Impact

The students who graduated from “hip-hop university” describe it as a life changing experience. Their deep dive into the greatest American art form of the last fifty years did more than broaden their horizons, it helped them push the limits of their artistic experience and realize the power of collaboration.

group of people standing in front of grandmaster flash mural.
group of people standing in front of grandmaster flash mural.

The Press

The Working Artists Lab with Grandmaster Flash garnered a significant amount of local, regional and national press. The Lab was the lead spotlight in the weekend arts section of The Buffalo News, written by local music journalist, Jeff Miers.

group of people standing in front of grandmaster flash mural.
group of people standing in front of grandmaster flash mural.

The Documentary

Throughout Grandmaster Flash’s residency, director Brett Deneve had his cameras were right there, capturing every class, guest lecture, performance and presentation. The result of Brett’s labors is a short, powerful documentary on Grandmaster Flash’s time in Buffalo. Featuring music produced by DJ Optimus Prime and Brett Deneve, the doc captures the magic of the Working Artists Lab with Grandmaster Flash.