Biography
Due in large part to an uncommonly long-lasting tenure at New York's Hot 97, a bundle of gold records, and presence across additional mediums, Funkmaster Flex has held a highly influential rank in hip-hop since the early '90s. Foremost a radio and club DJ, and also a producer and host, Flex ascended so quickly during his first few years on the airwaves that by the mid-'90s his audience was global, with shows broadcast in Los Angeles, the U.K., and Japan. He capitalized on his reach by envisioning and proving the commercial potential of the hip-hop mixtape, beginning with The Mix Tape, Vol. 1 (1995), which led to gold-certified second, third, and fourth volumes in the series (from 1997 to 2001). Having ventured into production with 12" recordings for prestigious underground labels and boutique subsidiaries, Flex expanded his scope alongside partner Big Kap with The Tunnel (1999), another one of his gold titles. He continued to diversify throughout the 2000s and 2010s with cable television series such as Ride with Funkmaster Flex and Funk Flex Full Throttle, and multiple roles as a DJ in the Grand Theft Auto video game series. Still with Hot 97 in the 2020s, Flex returned to production with collaborative singles on his InFlexWeTrust label.

The son of Jamaican immigrants, Funkmaster Flex (Aston Taylor, Jr.) was born and raised in the Bronx. Flex's father was a sound system DJ, and at the age of 16, he bought his own set of turntables, inspired by hip-hop forebears such as Red Alert. Flex got his foot in the door by carrying records for Chuck Chillout at Kiss FM (WRKS). He got his first taste of airtime when Chuck needed a fill-in, and later moved with his mentor to WBLS, where he helped spin on the weekends. After Chuck and Flex were let go, Red Alert scooped up Flex for substitute duties at Kiss. Flex further built his reputation by working street parties and nightclubs, and rocked crowds at major venues such as the Palladium and the Tunnel. When Flex moved up to Hot 97, where he was responsible for number one ratings on each of the six nights he was in control, it went off so well that he was soon on Power 106 (KPWR) in Los Angeles, the BBC in the U.K., and Bay FM in Japan. During this period of rapid growth, Flex was testing the waters as a co-producer and solo producer, whether for the Masters of Funk or Doug E. Fresh, or for his own tracks as a headliner, issued on labels such as Freeze (run by Todd Terry and Will Socolov), Nervous, and Massive B (operated by Bobby Konders, one of Flex's strong links to the reggae world).

Flex's turntable prowess had been documented on actual cassette mixtapes circulated outside the boundaries of the music industry -- a hip-hop tradition dating back to the '70s -- but the DJ landed a deal with Steve Rifkind's Loud Records that enabled him to make the artform a proper major-label endeavor. The corner was turned in 1995 with The Mix Tape, Vol. 1, which registered at number 15 on Billboard's R&B/hip-hop chart and crossed into the Billboard 200 at number 108. The set incorporated Flex productions for Doug E. Fresh and R&B artist Yvette Michelle, established and soon-to-be hip-hop classics, and numerous freestyles. It led the way to greater reception for 1997's The Mix Tape, Vol. 2, 1998's The Mix Tape, Vol. 3, and 2000's The Mix Tape, Vol. 4, the last of which consisted primarily of original tracks. All three nearly topped the R&B/hip-hop chart and went gold. Another gold Flex project during this period was The Tunnel, billed to Flex and fellow DJ Big Kap with a large assembly of MCs and fellow producers in support. Like the second through fourth volumes in the Mix Tape series, The Tunnel -- titled after the club where Flex was hosting weekly parties, and issued in 1999 on Def Jam -- performed well on the R&B/hip-hop and pop charts and went gold. Not as high-profile but just as significant was Flex's Flip Squad Allstars project, an extension of the Flip Squad (which made a 12" debut back in 1993). The Flip Squad Allstar DJs, issued on MCA in 1998, combined the talents of Flex, Big Kap, Biz Markie, Cipha Sounds, DJ Enuff, Mister Cee, Doo Wop, and pre-fame Mark Ronson, plus assorted rappers and singers.

While The Mix Tape, Vol. 4 proved to be Flex's last commercial release for some time, he continued to crank out underground sets on cassette and CD-R. By the time he issued the Car Show Tour mix on Koch in 2005, he had become a widely known television personality thanks to MTV's Direct Effect and Spike TV's Ride with Funkmaster Flex, the first in a wave of series he hosted. ESPN's Car Wars with Funkmaster Flex and MTV2's Funk Flex Full Throttle account for only a fraction of his small screen endeavors into the 2010s. All of this coincided with contributions to assorted Def Jam video games and the Grand Theft Auto franchise. In 2014, Flex took part in the VH1 reality television series This Is Hot 97. At the turn of the next decade, he ended an extended break from producing records with "Lurkin," featuring King Von. "Game Time" and "Re Route," respectively featuring Fivio Foreign and Rowdy Rebel, followed in 2021. All three singles were issued on InFlexWeTrust. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi




 
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