Happy birthday, hip hop! An ode to its birth and influence
On this day 46 years ago, hip hop was born. On-air personality and radio veteran, PJ Butta of Los Angeles’ first hip hop radio station 93.5 KDAY shares his personal story about growing up with it.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.
— By PJ Butta, 93.5 KDAY On-Air Personality
One of my favorite rappers of all-time, Big Daddy Kane, recently posted a meme on Instagram that said, “Hip Hop is for the kids. At some point the older generation have to give it up and be adults.” Then, next to it read, “ME:” with a picture of an old man who looks like Bill Cosby wearing a white hoodie, a blue fur coat, and skinny jeans with matching Nike Air Maxes. It made me laugh, but it also made me think, “Wait a minute. That’s me.”
Hip hop and I are the same age. As I type that out, I realize that it’s cool and scary at the same time. We were both born in 1973, hip hop in August, and me in October. But, we didn’t meet until I first heard the words by the Sugar Hill Gang in 1979, “I said a hip hop / the hippie the hippie to the hip hip hop / and you don’t stop the rock…” blasting out of my mom’s staticky AM radio. That’s when hip hop became my cool older brother from another mother and like with all cool older brothers, you just want to hang with them all the time. So, I started immersing myself into it.
At that time in the early 80s, hip hop wasn’t as accessible as it is today. There were no hip hop radio stations. There wasn’t YouTube, Spotify or other streaming devises. In fact, you know where you went to find hip hop? At the record store. And even there, records by Kurtis Blow and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were treated like Rosa Parks, and tried to be sent to the back. And it was a gamble buying hip hop records because you didn’t know what you were buying. You just went with your gut and bought an album based on either how dope the rappers name was or how fly the album cover looked, hoping you’d strike gold and discover artists who were more like Run DMC than Surfer MCs (yes, that was a real group and I cannot confirm or deny I purchased their album). To quote another meme, “Kids today will never know the struggle.”
But then, as hip hop got older, it grew bigger. It became a beast that could no longer be put in the corner like Baby (cue the film Dirty Dancing). Haters predicted hip hop was a fad that wouldn’t last 10 years, but that only fueled its rise and longevity. As it grew, it became more popular and even more so accessible. You no longer had to play the hip hop album Russian roulette game thanks to the media exposure it received from television programs like “Yo! MTV Raps” and radio stations like KDAY. At the time, there was no other radio station playing only hip hop music. Hip hop was spreading like the word of the Lord, and I was so down to be its Jehovah’s Witness knocking door to door. Ironically, it was also the reason I went into radio.
I got my first radio job in Los Angeles at “The Beat,” which filled the empty hip hop void left by KDAY when it was sold in 1991. Hip hop and I were 20 years old then. I was at the beginning my radio career, while hip hop was at the end of its “golden age” and entering its next golden era. I was there to witness the baton being passed from Slick Rick to Snoop Dogg, from Public Enemy to 2pac, from N.W.A. to the Wu-Tang Clan. I was there to see the West Coast rise and our Hip Hop kings die. Rest in peace Eazy-E, Notorious B.I.G. and 2pac. In fact, I was the first person to break the devastating news on the radio that Pac had passed, and I was on the air a block away from where Biggie got shot. Cool story bro, I know. But, the coolest thing to me was that I was able to play hip hop on the radio for others to hear, so that they wouldn’t have to repeat my struggles of guessing what rap albums to buy. That would all change in the 2000s with the internet. But, that’s not all that would change.
The internet made hip hop even more accessible and faster. Its consumption was as fast as its distribution. And its tastes were changing too, or maybe it was my tastes? The closer I got to 40 years of age, the farther I was slowly drifting away from hip hop because everyone started sounding the same to me. Everyone seemed to be named “Lil” something or “Young” someone. Rap was becoming too simplified, too gimmicky, and too mumbly. Sometimes, I’d yell at the radio, “Open your mouth and speak up!” like an old man yelling at the neighborhood kids to stay off of his lawn. Soon, I realized that hip hop and I no longer understood each other. We were not only growing older, but we were growing apart. That’s because Hip Hop is for the kids. It’s why my mom didn’t understand hip hop in the 80s and 90s because it was for me. It’s why I don’t understand hip hop today because it’s for my daughter. And it’s why my daughter won’t understand her future child’s hip hop because it will be for them.
I accepted long ago that my cool older brother will always be cool with the kids. But, just because I’ve become an adult, it doesn’t mean I’ve given up on hip hop completely. Just like I still have my hair, I still have my hip hop and I am proud to be an old hip hop head, who will always think that the music I struggled to find on the radio and in the back of the record store, will always be better than the next generation’s. It’s been over 20 years of hearing and observing hip hop transition into its new-age ways, but you can still catch me on the radio on 93.5 KDAY representing for my older brother and playing the hip hop from my era. One thing you won’t catch me doing, though, is wearing is a white hoodie, blue fur coat, and skinny jeans with matching Nike Air Maxes.
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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