In the 1970s, Hip Hop started as an underground movement in Bronx, New York, which was predominantly an African American part of the city. Back then, it was simply a way to capture and express the frustrations and bitterness of living in an economically depressed South Bronx. Luckily for all of us, it didn’t stop there. Almost 40 years later, Hip Hop continues to live, now worldwide, becoming one of the most popular music genres.
Over the years, there were many game-changing moments that shaped the genre as we know it today. Throughout its ups and downs, we learned a lot about rap music and saw the way it changes over time. It is no secret that rap changed a lot since its beginnings in the 1970s and, to really feel the essence of the genre, we should go back to some of the greatest moments in Hip Hop history.
1. How Hip Hop Began
It is only fitting to start this list with the beginnings of the Hip Hop genre. It all started on August 11th, 1973, in the Bronx, New York. At one of his house parties, DJ Kool Herc decided to draw out the ‘breaks’ from popular funk records for the crowd wanting to dance their hearts out. For the first time ever, he performed on two turntables instead of one, which marks the birth of Hip Hop.
Gradually, with other DJs from New York, Kool Herc perfected the technique of breaking. Soon after that, they started performing in local clubs and gaining audience. It wasn’t long before this new style of music was embraced by larger audiences, and many new artists took their part, bringing life and diversity to the scene. The love for Hip Hop spread all over New York City. It was obvious that this type of music will become bigger than all of them could imagine, and that it was made to be heard all over the world. Just like that, the new art form was born, and it changed the music industry forever.
2. The Grammys Acknowledging Hip Hop
In 1987, the Grammys recognized the Hip Hop trio, Run-DMC, and their breakthrough album – ‘Raising Hell‘. Back then, Hip Hop was thought to be just a flavor of the month and had no separate Grammys category. Because of that, the first rap nomination was under the R&B category. Only a few years later did the genre get its own award, but the way it happened received a lot of backlash.
In 1989, the nominees, including LL Cool J, Kool Moe Dee, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, and Salt-N-Pepa, decided to boycott the Grammys. The first rap Grammy award wasn’t going to be given on-air, which made the nominees furious.
If they don’t want us, we don’t want them, Salt-N-Pepa said. That was the beginning of the love-hate relationship with the Grammys and the Hip Hop scene.
3. Make Some Room for Gangsta Rap, Everyone!
Hip Hop changed a lot throughout its short history, but nothing influenced it quite as much as West Coast gangsta rap did. By the end of the 1980s, the Hip Hop scene has moved to LA, which was marked by a harder and rawer type of rap, making West Coast the leading force in Hip Hop. The group credited for popularizing this genre of Hip Hop music was N.W.A, formed in 1987, whose core members were Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, and DJ Yella.
Although their music was seen as highly controversial at the time because of the explicit references to drugs, sex, gang life, and hatred for authority, it changed Hip Hop forever and helped greatly with its globalization. Gangsta rap became the dominant style of Hip Hop, romanticizing the outlaw lifestyle, enjoying popularity among those who were familiar with suburban life and have experienced the realities of the ghetto. It was the N.W.A’s album Straight Outta Compton which helped with the West Coast Hip Hop domination. Not long after that, MTV aired the pilot for ‘Yo! MTV Raps’, which brought Hip Hop music and videos to worldwide audiences.
4. The Fresh Prince of Rap
Almost completely opposite of gangsta rap and its main representatives, Will Smith introduced the world to a whole other side of rap through sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The Fresh Prince (who won the first rap Grammy in 1989, together with DJ Jazzy Jeff) showed the world more positive images, while still exploring the themes of race, gender politics, and class, with his own style of impudent Hip Hop.
The show allowed the mainstream audiences to see the Hip Hop culture as a whole different concept than it was popularized in the media, and represented it in a non-threatening light, emphasizing its rich culture beyond gangs and crime. The TV show took the world by storm and was an instant game-changer in the Hip Hop community, bringing a whole other side to the already diverse culture.
5. The Dark Side of Hip Hop
Unfortunately, the duel between the east and west coast transcended the limits of typical rap battles. The fun rap battles soon turned into a rap war and, after the two biggest rappers of the time became casualties of such rivalry, it raised questions of how far did all of it go and when does it all stop.
Tupac Shakur, who embodied 1990s gangsta rap, and Brooklyn-born Notorious BIG, started off as friends. However, friendship turned into a rivalry after 2pac accused BIG and Diddy of being a part of an attempt on his life when he was shot and robbed in 1994. Not long after that, BIG recorded ‘Who Shot Ya‘ as a way to declare his innocence. This further provoked Tupac who took to the mic and responded with his own record ‘Hit ‘Em Up‘, unaware of how far all of this will go.
The battle was hot in the media and it encouraged Hip Hop fans and other rappers to take sides. The rap battle soon turned into a rap war, which ended tragically. In 1996, Tupac was shot and killed in Las Vegas and, six months later, BIG was killed in Los Angeles. To this day, the murders remain unsolved, while Tupac Shakur and Notorious Big are remembered as Hip Hop legends.
6. The Birth of Slim Shady
White rappers were hardly taken seriously or given a spotlight before Eminem appeared on the Hip Hop scene, and it was rather brave of him to try and make a name in the predominantly black scene. Marshall Mathers III, a controversial rapper from Detroit going by the name Eminem, brought something new and refreshing to the Hip Hop scene. With his fast rapping style, dark yet humorous lyrics, and amazing rhyme, he was taking the Hip Hop world by the storm.
He was discovered and endorsed by Dr Dre of the legendary N.W.A, who was one of the biggest producers in the industry. His debut single ‘My Name Is‘, and debut LP ‘Real Slim Shady‘ crushed the charts and got Eminem a Grammy award for the Best Rap album. In 2002, Eminem brought his life story and Hip Hop scene to the big screen with his role in Curtis Hanson’s movie – ‘8 Mile.’ The movie was an instant success and it brought Eminem an Academy Award for original song ‘Lose Yourself‘. Although his career was followed by many controversies, Eminem keeps topping the charts even 20 years later.
7. Kanye West Calls Out George Bush
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans. The catastrophe resulted in 1,833 deaths and, on September 2, NBCUniversal aired ‘A Concert for Hurricane Relief’. The concert featured many celebrities, including famous actors, singers, and many more. Among them was Chicago rapper Kanye West, who left the biggest mark that night.
West shared the stage with comedian Mike Myers, where they were soliciting donations to help those affected by Katrina. While the actor decided to stick to the script, it wasn’t long before it became obvious that Kanye was completely ignoring what he was supposed to say. Instead, he spoke from the heart and it resulted in one of the most famous and controversial pleas for help, and many still remember the words said by West, which were broadcasted nationwide:
George Bush doesn’t care about black people. Immediately after that, the duo was cut, and confusion was visible on everyone’s faces. Although the statement could have caused an uproar and ruin the legacy of the show, the Chicago rapper enjoyed the support of many artists, and it is remembered as the biggest and most important moment in the show. Ever since then, Kanye West has never stopped fighting for what he believes in, no matter the controversy it brings, which is what rap is all about.
8. Hip – Hop in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was formed in 1983 and, back then, Hip Hop was still seen as a passing fad. It was not until 2007 when the Hall of Fame inducted Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five. In spite of slight protests, the social and political motives in their songs and innovational techniques made their place in the Hall of Fame a well-deserved one. Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five opened the doors for many other Hip Hop artists to be inducted, showing the world that Rock’n’roll is more of a style than the genre itself and that Hip Hop is as Rock’n’roll as it can be.
Since 2007, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has inducted many other Hip Hop acts, including 2pac in 2017, and four Hip Hop groups – Run-D.M.C. in 2009, Beastie Boys in 2012, Public Enemy in 2013, and N.W.A in 2016. The controversy around the Hall of Fame being strictly for Rock music has died down since then, and it gave more freedom to the very interpretation of the term ‘Rock’n’roll’. As a NWA member said it himself:
Rock’n’roll is not conforming to the people who came before but creating your own path in life. That is rock’n’roll and that is us. Rock’n’roll is NWA.
9. Straight Outta Compton
It was only a matter of time before the story of the legendary N.W.A hits the screens, and many wonder what took so long. ‘Straight Outta Compton’ came out in 2015, and it follows the story of the rise of N.W.A and its members – MC Ren, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, and DJ Yella, five Hip Hop icons who started off as talented boys from the hood, and ended up changing the Hip Hop world.
The drama was not only a huge success, smashing the box office, but it also renewed the public’s interest in the group. The movie ended up grossing more than $200 million and setting a new record for music biopics. Straight Outta Compton showed the ups and downs of the group, how their attitudes were shaped in Crompton, a city with a reputation for drugs, street gangs and crime, and their counter-cop resistance. It included the good and the bad of such lifestyle and showed the wonderful story of friendship and brotherhood.
10. Rap Dominates the Grammys
Yes, it took them 40 years, but the Grammys finally gave Hip Hop the chance to reflect the true world domination it has. Better late than never, I guess? In 2018, rap owned multiple nominations in some of the major Grammys categories, such as song, album, and record of the year. Ever since the controversy revolving the Hip Hop nominees in 1989, it’s been a rocky relationship between rap and the Grammys.
Although Jay-Z received the most nominations of any artists for 4:44, he won no awards. The same goes for the most nominated female artist that night – SZA, who was nominated in five categories but brought no awards home. It seems as if the Grammys once again failed to recognize and show Hip Hop music as one of the most popular genres today.
Throughout its short, but remarkable history, Hip Hop has seen it all – the good and the bad, the rising and falling, the respect and the loss of it. One thing stays true: there has never been a dull moment for followers of the genre, and we are all excited about what the future of Hip Hop holds.