Duke Bootee comes to Savannah
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.
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