11 pioneering hip hop acts whose contributions to the culture demand respect
In honor of hip hop’s birthday, let’s look at 11 hip hop acts who laid the blueprint for rap music today. They deserve all the respect, now and forever.
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As hip hop continues to dominate pop culture and be a driving force, it’s easy to forget how young the culture is given its influence. Less than 50 years have passed since its birth and hip hop has grown so much, making its current place in society even more impressive. And akin to wine, hip hop has only gotten finer with time, and looks to evolve and reach higher heights with each passing year.
On August 11, 1973, Clive Campbell, better known as DJ Kool Herc, threw a back-to-school party for his sister Cindy in the recreation room of their apartment building in The Bronx. Herc was at the forefront of the break-beat craze going on at the time, and the party was where many had witnessed the technique for the first time. This building has since been regarded as the culture’s birthplace, as the date signifies the moment hip hop was brought to life.
With 46 years having passed since that initial jam, hip hop is bigger and better than ever, and has no signs of slowing down. And as its birth-date looms close, it’s allowed us to reflect on just how far it’s come, as well as the many participants who have helped shape it in to what we know it as today.
In honor of hip hop’s birthday, REVOLT highlights 11 of rap’s pioneers and celebrate their invaluable contributions to the culture.
Doug E. Fresh & Slick Rick
Doug E. Fresh & Slick Rick made a big splash during the mid ’80s, as the Get Fresh Crew members unveiled their classic singles “The Show” and “La-Di-Da-Di,” both of which would establish the two as the hottest duo in the game. With Slick Rick handling the bulk of the penmanship, Doug E. Fresh backed his partner by beat-boxing, a wrinkle that set the pair a part from the pack and helped add another dimension to the genre.
Initially dominated by men, rap would quickly make room for the ladies to join the party. Acts like The Sequence, Roxanne Shante, Sparky D and others representing for the women. However, the first female solo rapper to release a full-length album was MC Lyte, who unleashed her classic Lyte as a Rock in September 1988.
Boogie Down Productions
Spearheaded by DJ Scott La Rock and KRS-One, Boogie Down Productions is regarded as one of the greatest collectives in rap history. Following the death of Scott La Rock in 1987, KRS-One and company were at the forefront of the “Stop The Violence” movement, which shed light on violence in the inner-city and was a precursor to various other social initiatives in hip hop.
During hip hop’s formative years, the DJ was of the utmost importance and no one’s name loomed more than Grandmaster Flash’s. He rocked local park jams and parties in The Bronx prior to joining the Furious Five, and is largely credited for inventing the scratching technique on the turntable. Flash was the first DJ to turn the wheels of steel into an instrument of its own, thus influencing generations of disc jockeys who would come after him.
Prior to businesses cashing in on the influence of hip hop, Run D.M.C. became the first rap group to earn an endorsement, as they parlayed their hit “My Adidas” into a partnership with the actual brand. This would help open the door for other artists and brands to join forces, thus taking the genre and culture to unprecedented heights.
In 1979, Kurtis Blow made history by becoming the first rap artist to sign a major label record deal after partnering with Mercury Records. Soon after, he released his debut single “Christmas Rappin’,” as well as its follow-up, “The Breaks.” The latter selling more than 500,000 copies; the track became the first rap record to achieve gold certification — a major milestone for a genre that was still fighting to be respected.
The growth of hip hop coincided with the Reaganomics era of the ’80s; which led to poverty, drug abuse and police brutality becoming hot button topics within the black community. One of the first acts to take the powers that be to task was Public Enemy, with frontman Chuck D calling out Ronald Reagan and other politicians with questionable political policies. Fighting the power with their words, Public Enemy helped inspire other rap artists to use their platform for activism and to spread awareness.
In a genre that’s often been taken to task for less than flattering portrayals and depictions of women, Queen Latifah began to attack those sentiments with her arrival on the rap scene in 1989. Releasing her debut album, All Hail the Queen, that year, Latifah became one of the first female rappers to call out misogyny in the male-dominated industry by pushing feminism and female empowerment through songs like “Ladies First.”
From Staten Island, New York City; the Wu-Tang Clan stamped themselves as one of rap’s groundbreaking acts with their debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, in 1993. However, it was their historic partnership with Loud Records, which allowed each group member to sign solo record deals with competing record labels, that truly established the crew as pioneers and vanguards.
Big Daddy Kane
Hailing from the Bed Stuy section of Brooklyn, Big Daddy Kane has always been associated with having style and flair inside and outside of the booth. His attractive looks and suave demeanor helped turn him into one of the biggest stars in rap. But, it was his supreme rhyme skills that helped push the art of being an emcee forward. Throwing down the gauntlet with his 1987 single “Raw,” which captured Kane rhyming at a feverish pitch, his performance led to other rappers following suit and coming up with more intricate flows and rhyme schemes, many of which remain popular today.
Sugar Hill Gang
While hip hop had been alive and well years before the emergence of the Sugar Hill Gang, it wasn’t until the group out of New Jersey released their single “Rapper’s Delight” that its earning potential was truly realized. Released in 1979, the song became the first rap track to reach the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Be sure to watch REVOLT TV’s “Happy Birthday, Hip Hop” special programming all day on Sunday, Aug. 11. From playing music videos by hip hop greatest emcees to premiering Ice T’s documentary, Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap, we got the celebration on lock. Check out where you can watch the REVOLT TV channel here.
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