20 First Moments in Hip-Hop You Should Know
Hip-hop has been alive and thriving over the course of the past 40 years, but being that the genre is still relatively young in comparison to others, fans have been able to watch it evolve, go through its growing pains and blossom into a billion-dollar industry that serves as the pulse of everything that's hip and cool in pop culture. Basically built from scratch, the rap industry has had its fair share of defining moments along the way, as the artists, executives and other key players help to cultivate a community and economy of their own, mostly through trial and error.
Attempts at reinventing the wheel and pioneering a new style or trend are nothing new in the word of hip-hop today, but there was a time when innovation was still fresh and rap fans waited on the edge of their seats to find out what the next wrinkle added to the fabric of hip-hop would be. Whether it be a new dance or one of the major stars helping to push forward the culture, progression and raising the bar has always been a calling card in hip-hop, where everyone is looking to reach a higher height than the ones reached before.
There have been many occasions where hip-hop has experienced a watershed moment that has gone down in history as a major accomplishment for the culture. While there could be other "firsts" under the radar that never came to public attention, XXL highlights 20 of the more publicized moments here. Some of these are a bit wacky in nature, but all are firsts in hip-hop.
Eazy-E may have been a "n---a wit' attitude," but the rapping mogul put his best manners on display during his famous appearance at the White House in 1991. After being invited to a Republican fundraiser by Texas Senator Bill Graham, Eazy-E plunked down $1,250 to rub shoulders with the likes of President George H.W. Bush and other high-ranking Republicans at the luncheon. Eazy's appearance, which was covered by CBS News, is noted as the first time a rapper was invited to the White House and remains a huge moment in hip-hop history.
Many rap fans are familiar with pioneering female hip-hop group Salt-N-Pepa, but may be unaware of who Hurby "Luv Bug" Azor is. The mastermind behind Salt-N-Pepa's rise to fame, the producer, songwriter and executive formed a relationship with Salt that would extend beyond music, with the two becoming a couple during the '80s. While Hurby and Salt's relationship would become fodder for classic Salt-N-Pepa songs like "Do You Want Me," the two would call it quits in light of Hurby's philandering ways. However, the two will forever be connected through their distinction of being the first high-profile couple in hip-hop.
Foxy Brown's stunning looks and sex appeal was a hit with male fans, but even fellow rap stars became enchanted with the Brooklyn beauty, one of them being bi-coastal spitter Kurupt. With Foxy and Kurupt becoming an item during the late '90s, the two lovebirds looked to be building a happy home until rumors surfaced that Foxy was canoodling with then-rising rap superstar DMX. Clearly scorned and with no feelings to spare, Kurupt addressed the elephant in the room on the scathing diss track, "Calling Out Names," from his 1999 album, Tha Streetz Iz a Mutha. Firing shots like "Mothafuck D, Mothafuck M/Only X I know is Xzibit or RBX/Extraordinary, trynna snatch my bitch/You can have the bitch, two bitches gettin' rich," Kurupt put all of the dirty laundry out to dry in the first all-rapper love triangle to grab the hip-hop world's attention.
The late '80s were exciting years for hip-hop and rap duo Kid 'n Play were instrumental in making that era the cultural extravaganza that it was. After finding fame through their uptempo, carefree music and their House Party film franchise, Play, the more suave member of the group, decided to diversify his portfolio and step into the world of fashion. He launched his clothing boutique, IV Plai, in 1991, which sold custom designed threads to the likes of Salt-N-Pepa and other famous clientele. While names like Russell Simmons and Diddy may be a few of the first to come to mind when thinking of hip-hop luminaries jumping into fashion, Play was the originator of the trend and deserves the just due.
Hip-hop may be dominated by men, but there are more than a few ladies to have placed their imprint on hip-hop, from MC Lyte and Queen Latifah to Lil' Kim and Nicki Minaj. However, the first female rapper to have a platinum-certified album is Da Brat, who achieved the feat after the release of her debut album, Funkdafied, in summer of 1994. Executive produced by Jermaine Dupri, the album launched the career of one of the nastiest female spitters to touch the mic and is a landmark album and one of many achievements that serve as a testament to the value of women in the fabric of hip-hop.
It seems like you're not really popping as a rapper these days if you're not being approached to appear on a reality TV show, but 25 years ago, that was far from the case. That door would be cracked open by Heather B, a female rapper hailing from New York City with ties to KRS-One's Boogie Down Productions outfit. Appearing on the MTV show The Real World's inaugural season in 1992, Heather B became a fan favorite among viewers, parlaying her newfound fame and rap skills to acquire a record deal with Pendulum Records in 1995. Releasing two studio albums before transitioning into a career in radio (she now serves as a host on Sway in the Morning), Heather B blazed the trail for the likes of Flavor Flav, The Game, Jim Jones and many other rappers that have graced the small screen and have had their lives documented for the world to see.
The evolution of the mixtape and the DJ in rap has long been discussed in the wake of names like Funkmaster Flex, DJ Clue, DJ Khaled, and a host of others transitioning from being disc jockeys playing the back to mainstream stars in their own right. But the path they've ventured down was first forged by Kid Capri, a legendary mixtape DJ that dominated the late '80s and early '90s while earning the title of the hottest maestro of the boards of his time. Taking his game from the street to retail, Kid Capri linked up with Cold Chillin' Records, releasing his debut album, The Tape, in 1991. While the album failed to make a dent on the charts, it's the first instance of a mixtape DJ stepping up to the big leagues and influenced his predecessors to take advantage of their influence on the vibe of the concrete and enterprise.
Vocalists in hip-hop have helped elevate the artistry of their rapping counterparts, with Nate Dogg and T-Pain being a few voices that have tickled the fancies of rap enthusiasts who don't mind a little harmony in between the lyrics. But prior to their arrival, T.J. Swan was the most famed around-the-way vocalist in the game and helped set the trend of melodic hooks. Originally a rapper, T.J. Swan would transition into crooning during the latter half of the '80s before fading into obscurity, but is a name that students of the culture are well aware of and is an unsung contributor to the progression of how artists make rap music.
Too $hort is one of the more tenured artists in hip-hop still active today. Making his debut in 1986 with his album Don't Stop Rappin', $hort enjoyed a highly successful run before abruptly announcing his retirement from rap in conjunction with the release of his 10th album, Gettin' It (Album Number Ten) in 1996. While Too $hort would never put the mic down, appearing on tracks by the like of The Notorious B.I.G. and Jay Z in the subsequent years, he would indeed take three years of downtime before coming out of hibernation in 1999 with his 11th album release. Other rappers have followed in Too $hort's footsteps and announced retirements that proved to be farces, but the Oakland vet is the true originator of the trend.
Rap legend Big Daddy Kane may have established himself as one of the top MCs in hip-hop by the early '90s, but felt the need to take advantage of his appeal as a sex symbol and spice things up. The Brooklyn native decided to accomplish this by posing for Playgirl magazine in 1991. “I think that this will increase my popularity and make a closer relationship with me and female fans,” Kane said in reference to his decision to leap from the rap pages to the nudies. The move, which received a mixed reaction from the hip-hop community, would be borrowed by other rap stars down the line, most recently Azealia Banks, who posed for Playboy just last year.
Erick Sermon made dollars alongside rhyme partner Parrish Smith during his days as one-half of rap group EPMD, but the Green-Eyed Bandit made headlines in 2001 after being injured in a mysterious tumble out of a third-story window. Initially claiming that he received his injuries from being involved in a car accident, it was later discovered that he had actually sustained the injuries while visiting the home of a New Jersey woman whom he was allegedly romantically involved with. While some initially speculated that Sermon's plunge was a suicide attempt, which all parties have vehemently denied, what we do know is that it's one of the most high-profile incidents involving a rapper and a window we can think of and serves as one of the more bizarre moments in hip-hop history.
N.W.A. shocked the world with their 1988 album, Straight Outta Compton, courting millions of rap fans -- and the F.B.I. -- in the process. The bureau, which took offense to their song "Fuck tha Police," an incendiary salvo against the LAPD and police brutality, clapped backed with a few words of their own in the form of a letter that was sent to the group in 1989. The F.B.I.'s acknowledgment of a mere rap group did little to deter N.W.A. from making politically incorrect songs, and played a part in Straight Outta Compton selling more than 3 million copies. The Feds would continue to keep a watchful eye on hip-hop and it's major players for decades to come, but N.W.A. can be credited with first grabbing the government's undivided attention.
Azealia Banks looked to be a breakout star in the making when her single, "212," received praise from critics and tastemakers, but it's been far from smooth sailing for the Harlem native since then. Known for her polarizing commentary on race, sexuality, and a myriad of other topics, which she shares constantly on social media, Banks caught the ire of fans recently after dissing pop star Zayn Malik. It seems as if the singer's fan base called for the rapper's removal from Twitter. The powers that be seemingly obliged fans' request when Banks was booted from the social media platform -- even though Twitter cannot reveal why her account was suspended -- a first in the history of potty-mouthed rap stars.
Ol' Dirty Bastard's charm was evident from his earliest appearances on wax and was bolstered by his unforgettable appearance on Mariah Carey's "Fantasy Remix," but his most indelible moment came at the 1998 Grammy Awards. After Wu-Tang Forever was beat by Puff Daddy and The Family's blockbuster album, No Way Out, ODB decided to crash the stage during Shawn Colvin's acceptance speech following her win in the Song of the Year category and give all in attendance a peace of his mind. Reminding the public that "Wu-Tang is for the children," ODB started a trend that would be picked up by Kanye West and other rappers in future years.
Slick Rick is one of the most beloved and influential MCs to ever enter the rap game and regarded as one of the best to ever spit a rhyme. Hip-hop may be a global affair these days, but it was Slick Rick who was the first to foreigner to succeed on a widespread scale as rap artist. Born and raised in London, MC Ricky D would move to the U.S. in 1976, where he would achieve acclaim after the release of his 1988 debut, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, and go on to have a legendary career. After years of fighting the legal system, he finally became a U.S. citizen in April.
Rap music and hip-hop culture in general was initially thought to be a fad by its detractors, but many mainstream institutions began to make attempts to embrace it as it became clear that it would not be dying out anytime soon. The Grammys were once of the first award shows to include hip-hop by introducing a category for Best Rap Performance in 1989, with the inaugural award going to DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (otherwise known as Will Smith) for their 1988 single, "Parents Just Don't Understand." Although the group would boycott the awards ceremony in light of the category not being televised, their win remains a highlight in hip-hop's infiltration of the mainstream and is still cherished until this day.
Thousands of rap groups have come and gone, but Run-D.M.C. remains the golden standard and are a cornerstone in the history of hip-hop. After wowing fans with their classic cut, "Rock Box," which was the first rap video to ever be aired on MTV, the trio upped the ante and further aligned themselves with the rock aesthetic with their collaboration with Aerosmith, "Walk This Way." A single from the group's third album, Raising Hell, the track would be the first rap song to peak within the Top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart and knocked down the barriers between rap and rock that have yet to be rebuilt.
Rap may be recognized as a predominantly African-American genre, but Latinos have always been assisting in blazing trails for the culture. However, those contributions failed to translate into respect from the greater hip-hop community for rappers of Latin descent, resulting in a lack of superstars to rep for this Hispanic sect of rap fans. That changed in 1998, when Big Pun, a protege of fellow Latin rhymer Fat Joe, rose to prominence. His debut album, Capital Punishment, would be the first from a Latin rapper to achieve platinum status, and a big reason was the success of the single, "Still Not A Player" featuring Joe, which transformed Big Pun from respected lyricist to a budding superstar.
Your favorite artists joining forces and going on a tour may be a formality these days and all but an afterthought, but thirty years ago, the event was a pretty big deal. So when it was announced that the likes of Kurtis Blow, Whodini, Run-D.M.C., Fat Boys, Sugar Hill Gang, Furious 5 and other iconic rap pioneers were embarking on the first major rap tour ever, the news was history in the making, as were the shows, which birthed an innumerable amount of memories for the artists and the fans alike. Setting the bar high and drafting a blueprint that the industry would use time and time again, Fresh Fest remains one of the most cited tours of all-time.
Rap and Hollywood have had an extensive relationship dating back to the days of Beat Street and Krush Groove, but no rap act had ever scored big at the Academy Awards, the ceremony during which the movie industry elite are honored for their contributions to the film industry. Heavyweights like Queen Latifah and Will Smith may have been among those predicted to break through that threshold, but it would be rap group Three 6 Mafia that would pop hip-hop's cherry when it comes to the Oscars. Bringing home a win in the Best Original Song category for their musical contribution to the Hustle & Flow, "It's Hard out Here for a Pimp," Three 6 Mafia may have been unlikely winners, but the victory was a sweet one for rap fans worldwide and evidence of its impact on the world.