February is Black History Month and it is also 50 years of hip hop. There was a special performance at the Grammy’s and a special on PBS called How Hip Hop Changed The World. In this 50 years of hip hop part 1 we are going to look at the major records that are necessary hip hop listening and key to the 50 years of hip hop.
SugarHill Gang: Rapper’s Delight
Let’s start off where it all began and look at the track that brought hip hop to the masses. Hip hop was around big cities at them time, but it was local and word of mouth. Sugarhill Gang broke through and helped take hip hop to new heights, while also ushering in a timeless tradition in hip hop…getting sued. Debby Harry…yes THAT Debbie Harry…took Niles Rodgers to a hip hop event in the Bronx where people were break dancing and freestyling over Chic’s Good Times. Later the Sugarhill Gang will use the track in their song, which prompted Rodgers to threaten legal action. He would back off and came to love the track.
2 Live Crew: Me So Horny
There is one big year for hip hop, which was 1988 – 1989. This is when hip hop became dangerous and white politicians tried to stamp out this new form of black expression. The law in Florida ruled that the record was obscenity and tried to shut down performances and record sales, which stood until the supreme court shot the obscenity law down in 1992. 2 Live Crew sold millions of copies and helped make hip hop the mode of expression for youth.
N.W.A: Straight Outta Compton
In 1989 came a record that changed everything and the N.W.A’s title track Straight Outta Compton lit the hip hop fuse. Police brutality, drugs, poverty, racism and systemic abuse was brought hard and raw to the forefront of music. Much like the punk music of the 70s, N.W.A was sharing what survival and life was like for a long marginalised population. They were cast as glorifying violence, but they were really shedding light on societal issues white dominated media was ignoring. This record gave rise to the hip hop of the 90s, which became a golden age for the genre.
Run DMC: It’s Tricky
Let’s take a step back before the 90s to look at a great record from 1986. Run DMC took that Sugarhill Gang sound, stripped out the disco influence, and added rock, scratching and a far more aggressive delivery. This took off in the mainstream and made hip hop a real player in the music industry. Hip hop will eventually move off of this structured symmetric lyrical delivery, but the edge to the lyrics was something that set Run DMC apart from other groups.
Dr. Dre ft. Snoop Dogg: Nuttin’ But a “G” Thang
Remember that symmetric delivery I was talking about….well Dre and Snoop Dogg put an end to that. Snoop speeds up bars to fit 4/4 time, while slowing down others. This flow fits the chronic vibe of the track along with Dre’s electro / synth beat will define West Coast rap for a decade at least. This track is like the Nevermind of hip hop in how it will blast everything out of the water and define hip hop on both coasts as music is either building on this sound or a response to it.
Missy Elliott ft Lil’ Kim: Hit ‘Em wit da Hee
Missy broke all the rules for women rappers. She was aggressive, overtly sexual and could burry you with her bars. She took Snoop Dogg’s asymmetric style with a very unique delivery and similarly changed words in order to make them rhyme and fit 4/4 time. Missy is simply incredible and her debut record changed all the rules for women rappers, which many women are taking one step further in the 2020s.
Migos: Bad and Boujee
I know there was southern trap before Migos, but they turned it up to 11. This track broke the world and was one of the first trap cuts people have ever heard. We have come a long way from the Sugarhill Gang and showed that the south was a player along with the east and west coasts. Takeoff’s tragic death has left a huge mark on the industry and there is no telling how far Migos would have evolved trap.
Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion: WAP
If the 90s was a golden age for hip hop, the 2020s is a golden age for women in rap. Cardi B, Stallion, Lizzo, GlorRilla, Ice Spice and Doja Cat are all blowing up and taking hip hop to places it has never been before. Women are no longer sexual objects for men to rap about, but have their own sexual agency. These women are not only breaking walls down, but exploding them. WAP is taking what Missy Elliott started and cranking it to like 100. There is going to be some amazing women’s hip hop in the next few years.
Tribe Called Quest: Jazz (We’ve Got)
One of my favourite east coast groups is Tribe Called Quest. For me, this track represents the best of east coast hip hop, which acts as a mix between jazz and Langston Hughes. The writing is excellent with some of the smoothest beats in hip hop. Biggie will bring a harder edge to the more lush east coast sound, but Tribe and the Roots really nailed down that soulful jazz groove I love about east coast hip hop.
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