It’s hard to believe it has only been 50 years since hip-hop was created in its homeland, Bronx, NY. The first ever hip-hop song has not been traced to one person, but is instead credited to several DJ’s in New York. DJs in New York during the 70’s sculpted an entirely new sound by isolating and extending the rhythms of funk, soul and disco tunes.
This new sound ruled the scene at block parties, which served as incubators for a new breed of entertainers. It was common for the master of ceremonies, usually referred to as MC or emcee, to accompany the DJ on stage at these events. The MC’s playful banter with the crowd swiftly transitioned into rhythmic poetry that perfectly synced with the music. And just like that, the label 'rappers' was born, marking the birth of hip-hop.
Hip-hop's turning point arrived in 1979 with the groundbreaking release of The Sugarhill Gang's ”Rappers Delight.” This track broke barriers, becoming the genre's first mainstream hit to be played on the radio. Within a year of its release, “Rapper’s Delight” became the first hip-hop single ever to claim a spot on the Billboard top 40, landing at an impressive number 36. Prior to this huge stepping stone, the beats of hip-hop remained largely confined within the streets of New York.
In 1983, a shift in radio culture unfolded as Los Angeles' KDAY radio station boldly embraced an all-hip-hop format — a daring step that rippled through the airwaves, amplifying the genre's sound nationwide.
In 1985, an influential rap group called Run DMC, sold 1 million copies of their sophomore album “King of Rock” and became the first rappers to receive video airplay on Music Television (MTV). By 1986, the rap group had established a style that was all their own, featuring Adidas. Prior to having any deals with the popular athletic brand, Run DMC released “My Adidas.” The song influenced Run DMC fans everywhere to buy the same shoes as their favorite hip-hop idols. Just three months after the song was released, Adidas officially teamed up with Run DMC, and they signed a $1.5 million deal to push the group’s own signature shoe. This music and fashion collaboration set a new standard, not only in hip-hop, but across the entire music industry.
Ice-T's acting debut in “New Jack City” in 1991 marked a significant crossover, establishing him as the first major rapper to venture into the world of cinema, bridging hip-hop and film. Hip-hop won its first grammy in 1999 when 'The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill' snagged the Album of the Year.
In the '90s, hip-hop faced amazing wins and devastating losses with the murders of two rising stars: Tupac Shakur in 1996 and Christopher Wallace, better known as The Notorious B.I.G., in 1997. These young talents, gone too soon, left a lifelong imprint on the genre. Their influence and impact solidified their status as hip-hop legends.
In the 21st century, hip-hop has expanded its influence into every corner of the artistic world —be it film, fashion, visual arts and beyond. Think Kanye West and Rihanna, not just for their music but also for their iconic status in the fashion world, all stemming from their hip-hop roots. Then there's Will Smith, who's seamlessly transitioned from a hip-hop career to dominating Hollywood, snagging leading roles in 21 films. Rap artist Pharell Williams created a YouTube show about art, interviewing art world heavyweights like David Salle and KAWS on his series ARTST TALKS. Williams, alongside R&B legend Chris Brown, have curated art exhibitions showcased in museums.
As a cultural force, hip-hop continuously and fearlessly addresses societal issues like racial inequality, police brutality and socioeconomic disparities. Its authentic voice sheds light on critical matters with urgency and authenticity. Hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar is a testament to this form of hip-hop and was acknowledged for his artistry in 2018 when he received the Pulitzer Prize for Music. His accolade marked a significant milestone, elevating hip-hop into a high art form, spotlighting its cultural significance and artistic depth.
As hip-hop reaches its 50th milestone, its journey from the Bronx streets to global stages showcases an enduring legacy. From the rhythmic beats in '70s block parties to today's global cultural influence, hip-hop's impact spans music, fashion, art and societal dialogue. It's more than music — it's a cultural force shaping narratives, sparking change and uniting generations.
Cheers to 50 years of hip hop — a timeless testament to artistic expression and social resonance.