We are continuing to look at some of the intellectual capital that Savannah State University has brought to Savannah. The next professor is one of Savannah’s seminal musicians and influencers of contemporary music. His stage name was Duke Bootee and his real name was Edward Fletcher. He is known best for his hip-hop hit ‘The Message’. Fletcher grew up in Elizabeth, N.J. and came from a hip-hop environment. “The neighborhood I was living in, the things I saw — it was like a jungle sometimes in Elizabeth,” Mr. Fletcher told The Guardian in 2013. In another interview, with the hip-hop historian JayQuan, he recalled how often someone would “ride by and you hear a bottle get broken.”
When he proposed the song he worked for Sugar Hill Record Company, they were at first reluctant to produce it. They eventually gave the song to Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five who were baffled with what he was doing. He played all the instruments except for the guitar and offered his baritone for several of the verses.
Why the Message is so important when it came out in 1981 before it was produced hip-hop was all about the party scene and creating dance music. The Message took hip hop in a different direction with its realism and social commentary in the song. The rhymes included “Got a bum education, double-digit inflation/Can’t take the train to the job, there’s a strike at the station.” Or this verse “Don’t push me ‘cause I’m close to the edge/I’m trying not to lose my head/It’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder/How I keep from going under”. Mr. Fletcher wrote most of the lyrics and the lurching, ominous electro melody.
According to Rolling Stone the Message was the greatest song in hip-hop history and a major influence on rappers like Jay-Z and the Notorious B.I.G. It also helped earn Grandmaster Flash and his band a place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, even though Melle Mel was the only one of them to appear on what was called “their masterpiece,” aside from a short closing skit. The song is number one on Rolling Stone's list of 100 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time. “The world (me included) absolutely froze in its tracks the week it debuted on radio,” the musician and songwriter Questlove wrote in Rolling Stone. “Hip-hop was once known as party fodder, a fad. ‘The Message’ pulled a 180 and proved it could be a tool of sociopolitical change. The Message was the first hip-hop song added to the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress.
In 1984, Fletcher ever the individualist recorded his solo album as Duke Bootee, "Bust Me Out." He formed his own label — Beauty and the Beat Records, which released his single “Broadway” — and appeared alongside Melle Mel on the all-star Artists United Against Apartheid single “Sun City."
He wrote for, produced, and mixed for artists like Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, P. Diddy, Dr. John and Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones.
He was one of the bosses when it came to hip hop music. But he gave up his musical career to teach. He explained the money he was making was not worth all the travel and the time away from his family. He said his family, full of teachers, was in the business of teaching and he wanted to support the family business. He went back to school received a master’s degrees from the New School in media studies and from Rutgers University in education. He worked at a juvenile detention center, a high school and two colleges. He came to Savannah in 2007 and spent the last decade of his career as a lecturer in critical thinking and communication at Savannah State University. In a statement, SSU said, "Savannah State University is saddened by the death of Edward Fletcher. He came to Savannah State University as a lecturer on Critical Thinking & Communication educating countless students after his career in the music industry.”
A friend in His obituary in the Savannah News said he “loved his cigars, coffee, jazz and the beauty of his wife's natural hair,". A former student in the same obituary said. "He gave us a whole lecture one time about embracing your natural self." in an interview He propounded what he called the Fletcherian Principles. In the Channel 28 interview, the rap godfather explained the ultimate Message he had worked out for young students: “Figure out a way to take care of yourself, legal. Find somebody you can stand that can stand you. Pay your taxes. Take care of your teeth.”
Fletcher retired in Savannah in 2019 and died in 2020. Obituaries of his death could be found in every major U.S. Publication from the New York Times to Variety. He was yet another man that contributed to Savannah’s intellectual capital.
When I was in college, I had my share of unusual roommates. One would sleepwalk on the first night I found him in the dark with bended knees and swinging his arms back and forth. He was talking out loud ‘Let us see who could jump the longest’.” He then jumped a millimeter in the air and proclaimed triumphantly, ‘I won. I won.’ Then he crawled back in bed and slept the rest oof the night. The next night I woke with him banging on the door screaming, ‘Fire, Fire.” I woke up fast and looked all around the room and there was no fire to be seen and I realized he was sleepwalking again. When I confronted him the next day, he confidently stated he did not sleepwalk. In awake life we did not get along. I thought he was a bit weird, and he appeared to hold me in disdain. Between the awake dislike of each other and his sleepwalking I looked for another roommate.
My second roommate was a drum player who every time we were alone, he needed to wrestle. I was stronger and quicker and always won but he would provoke me to no end until I would subdue him. But as soon as I would let him up, he would come after me again. Years later (Yes years later I am a little slow on the uptake) upon reflection I have concluded it was serving some homoerotic purpose for him.
But the roommate who was the most memorable introduced himself as Sherwood Tidwell from Wadley, Alabama. Sherwood had never been away from home overnight without his mother. Whenever he was upset at something someone said or did, he would say in his almost lisp how waffle. The words that would upset him were any curse words. So of course, some chose to rib him with specially selected curse word laden conversations. Everyone loved to see the tizzy he would throw. Pacing back and forth and with the eventual how waffle. Because I was the resident assistant, he expected me to censor his hallmates. But he lost me when someone said damn in his presence and he became a nervous wreck demanding the death penalty for such a heinous crime.
He was upset by sexual language. Need I remind you that this was a hall of college men. Whenever I would ask his floor mates to lighten up, they would explain it was for his own good. And I realized they were sincere, maybe wrongly so, but heartfelt. They always included him in any of their games and shenanigans. Though, sometimes his easy offense drove them crazy.
He was meticulously clean. Always wearing khaki pants and a button-down shirt with penny loafers. He would also incessantly wash his hands six or eight times a day for at least five minutes. When I questioned him about his handwashing, he said he had oily skin. Which he did so I no longer question his dorm behavior His bed was always made and the sheets always clean. He took showers at least twice a day. The floor shared a locker room style shower room. He always went in the shower stall entirely dressed and left the shower stall entirely dressed.
Regretfully, he made the perfect target for bullying. They would hang naked pictures of women on the hall door and our room door. And he could not enter the hall or his room. I would find him sitting on the hallway stairs when I would return to the room. He would explain to me the horribleness of the pictures. When I asked him why he did not tear them down. He would explain to me he could not touch them. I guess they would pollute his body. Apparently, he thought my body was beyond polluting as he asked me to tear them down for him. I try to convince him if they saw him tear them down, they would be unlikely to put more up. But he would pace back and forth on the landing saying he could not touch them and would I please remove them. So, I relented and taped them to the door of the person most likely to have posted them in the first place. Then as the resident assistant for the hall wrote him a note that nude pictures on his door was against the rule. That seemed to stop that harassment.
Every night he would call his mother always at the same time. The conversations could last for over thirty minutes. Every Friday he would head home for the weekend. This would upset some when suddenly he would have to stop in a middle of a card game to call his mother. The other players would insist that he finish the game before he called but he never could which would bring an assault of some cursing and him exclaiming how waffle.
The residents of the hall had decided that Sherwood needed to stay at the dorm for a weekend. They began to prod Sherwood to stay. They even resorted to bribery. A free meal out and no curse words for the weekend. But Sherwood was not going to stay. It had been over a year and still he had never stayed a weekend. One day they inquired from Sherwood what he was going to do that weekend. He said study. They insisted he could do that here. Because he was struggling, one of the other pharmacy students offered to help him study over the weekend if he stayed. I could see the storm developing but knew I could not stop it. A Friday came and Sherwood was in a panic he could not find his car, car keys, or suitcase. He was pacing and shaking his head and washing his hands when I came on the hall. He insisted that I demand his keys from whoever had taken them. I said have you asked for them. He said it was not his job too. When I required of his other hallmates what was going on. They said he needed to promise to stay one weekend on campus and they would ‘find’ his keys. They stated if he came to them in two hours and demanded the keys, they would help him find them. I reported back to him he needed to promise to stay a weekend or wait two hours and demand the keys and they would give them to him. Although he was in a panic to get home, he would not promise to stay a weekend. He was reaching a breaking point. I told him than wait two hours and go ask for them. If they did not at that time ‘find’ them I would start penalizing them. He insisted that he would not ask for them they would give them to him. I agreed this would be good, but I sincerely doubted this would happen. He was now not so much in a panic but a power struggle. I looked at him and shook my head. I was slowly getting curious would panic or his desire to win the power struggle win. I had never seen this side of him before. He was in anguish, but he would neither promise to stay a weekend or ask for the keys. I asked if he wanted to file a formal complaint although he would have to file it with the whole dorm hall. No apparently, he was above that. He liked the guys too much to get them in trouble.
For two hours he was in a total frenzy. I thought he would have to cave. But he waited another hour. Pacing up and down the hall. The guys were tiring of the game. They wanted to start their weekends. To my amazement they were caving. It started with grumblings among his hallmates about whether they should give Sherwood his keys. But the ones with nothing better to do held fast. Sherwood washed his hands and told me a few times they and me were waffle. Another hour passed only two remained. I looked at them and said I would pay for a pizza outing but they would have to find the keys before we left. This picked another one off. Now the contest was between Sherwood and the most harassing member of the hall. Sherwood and he had good times although he was the most vulgar and sent Sherwood rushing down the hall saying how waffle more than once. I had no hope of him caving and to my amazement I did not see Sherwood caving. I was also ready for this standoff to end. I had things to do but could not leave Sherwood. Sherwood looked at me and said I could leave. He would wait. I went down the hall and said he had proven his point (this was six hours later) give him his keys. He looked at me and said he is not really going to cave. I said I did not think so. He looked totally puzzled. I shrugged my shoulders and said surprises are found in everyone. He sighed and said, ‘if he comes to the room I will give them to him.’ I told Sherwood this and he said he needs to bring them to me. I relayed the message to the key holder and said it was time for him to give up the keys. He looked at me and said you are no fun. But because you are making me, I will give them to you. I took the keys and returned them to Sherwood. I detected a smile on the corner of his lips. ‘Thanks Mike’, he said. I laughed inside Sherwood had battled the whole hall and he won, who would have thought this. Sherwood said,’ You know when I am at home I am going to talk to my mother about staying for a weekend.’