The Message was released in October 1982 by Sugar Hill Records. It was the only album released while the group's original line-up was together. The album charted at number 53 in the United States and at number 77 in the United Kingdom. Music journalist Robert Christgau gave it an "A–" and said that, although "She's Fresh" is the "only instant killer", each song's attempt to experiment and "touch a lot of bases with a broad demographic ... justifies itself". He named it the 21st best album of 1982 in his dean's list for the Pazz & Jop critics' poll.
In a retrospective review, AllMusic's Ron Wynn gave The Message four-and-a-half out of five stars and called it the group's "ultimate peak" whose highlight was the title track.Miles Marshall Lewis, writing in The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), gave its 2002 British reissue four out of five stars and cited "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel" as the album's "clincher" and "the only prime-period example of Flash's ability to set and shatter moods, with his turntables and faders running through a collage of at least 10 records that sound like hundreds."Colin Larkin also gave it four stars in his Encyclopedia of Popular Music (2006). Mark Richardson from Pitchfork Media said that The Message features "two absolutely essential songs"—the title track and "Scorpio", which he dubbed "the greatest early electro track". However, he felt the rest of the songs were inferior and gave the album a score of 6.4 out of 10.