As one reaches middle age, it is often a good time to reminisce. Basking in past victories, lamenting defeats, and committing hard-earned lessons to memory are a part of growing up. Well, as Hip-Hop turns 40 this year, we thought it would be a good time to think of some memorable moments from Hip-Hop’s infancy, it’s golden era, and some more current but important occurrences.
This isn't an exhaustive list of Hip-Hop game changers, but snapshots of a few legendary moments that will live on throughout history.
1. Kool Herc on Sedgwick and Cedar (1973)
1520 Sedgwick Avenue. That’s where it all started. Jamaican-born Clive Campbell figured out how to take the best part of a record and play it indefinitely. Dancers partied to those breakbeats. The huge sound systems that powered the dancehalls in Kingston were replicated in New York City parks. Call and response lead to rhythmic rhymes and a new genre and culture was born.
2. The Scratch (1970s)
Grand Wizzard Theodore probably didn't know that he would completely alter the direction of a genre when he accidentally stumbled upon the technique of scratching while honing his DJ skills as a teen. The Bronx native essentially created a new instrument and artform.
3. Kool Moe Dee vs. Busy Bee (1981)
Kool Moe Dee took the art of emceeing from crawling to walking with his evisceration of Busy Bee at Harlem World in 1981. Before this day, battle participants were judged by who rocked the party harder, crowd response, and bodies on the dance floor. Following his blinding sneak attack, Kool Moe Dee launched his career and added an increased emphasis on lyricism to all those that followed.
4. RUN-DMC’s adidas (1986)
Run-DMC opened the door for acts like Kanye West and A$AP Rocky to make their marks in fashion as well as music. Instead of the costumes donned by their Hip-Hop forbears, Run-DMC brought Hollis to Hollywood and dressed as they did in the New York streets. When adidas executives saw thousands of teenagers all hold of their adidas in unison in venues throughout the nation, they became aware of the buying power of the Hip-Hop community. The Kings from Queens became the first Hip-Hop artists to garner their own shoe deal.
Run DMC - "My Adidas"
5. KRS-ONE destroying the Juice Crew on “The Bridge Is Over” (1987)
"Manhattan keeps on making it/ Brooklyn keeps on taking it/Bronx keeps creating it/and Queens keeps on faking it!"
The words echoed throughout the Hip-Hop world like a gunshot in a project hallway. KRS-ONE laid the gauntlet down and staked Boogie Down Production’s claim as a force to be reckoned with on “The Bridge Is Over.” Marley Marl and The Juice Crew took a historic L, and MC Shan never quite recovered.
6. Rakim’s Quantum Leap (1987)
If Kool Moe Dee brought the art of emceeing from crawling to walking, Rakim grabbed the mic and headed toward the future in a dead sprint. The combination of his commanding voice, relaxed delivery, and verbose, multi-layered style, became the blueprint and proverbial bar for the next generation to leap over.
7. Hip-Hop Boycotting The Grammys after they decided not to televise their category (1989)
In 1989 DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince won the Grammy for "Best Rap Performance," but if you were watching the awards on television, you would never new. The Academy decided that Hip-Hop was not important enough an award to televise. In response to the snub, the duo, and other nominated Hip-Hop acts boycotted the awards and defiantly spoke out against the lack of respect by The Grammys and other media outlets.
8. Nas’ verse on "Live From The BBQ" (1991)
A jolt of electricity coursed through the Hip-Hop body politic when a skinny 18-year-old named Nasty Nas took the mic first on Main Source’s “Live From The BBQ” and made you forget about everyone else on the song (though I sometimes wonder what Joe Fatal is up to). Nas’ Rakim-inspired flow, cinematic imagery, and blatant irreverence marked the beginning of a career that would land him a spot on Hip-Hop’s Mt. Rushmore, and inspired countless others to step their collective games up.
9. Outkast “The South got something to say!” after being booed at The Source Awards (1995)
Turn on the radio in New York City and the South’s influence will be immediately evident. Not so much in 1995. When an incredulous Salt N Pepa announced that Outkast won a much deserved Best New Group Source Award, the boos rained down upon the pair of teens in New York like a soaking summer thunderstorm in Georgia. Upset, but unfazed, a prophetic Andre Benjamin proclaimed to the hostile crowd that “The South got something to say!”
10. Big Pun being the first Latino to go platinum (1998)
Oft forgotten are the contributions that Latino and Latina emcees, b-boys, b-girls, DJs, and graffiti artists made in the Hip-Hop’s infant stages. Pun’s platinum album Capital Punishment was the culmination of many years of unsung innovation and sacrifices. The album’s blend of hardcore emceeing, radio friendly jams, and Pun’s outsized personality, continues to resonate well after the BX native’s unfortunate death. R.I.P. Christopher Rios.
11. "Ether" vs. "Takeover" (2001)
There can only be one king. Jay and Nas’ epic battle for Hip-Hop supremacy resulted in at least a pair of great diss tracks, and daily arguments on messageboards and barbershops that haven’t stopped since Nas responded to Jay’s opening salvo with “Ether” on December 4, 2001.
12. President Carter, meet President Obama (2008)
In the past, whenever politicians mentioned Hip-Hop it was to declare it a scourge on America’s youth, and to try to silence the culture with censorship. While Hip-hop is still an easy target for lazy politicians to shift blame upon, there has been a more welcoming relationship between Hip-Hop and Washington in recent years.
No one has penetrated the pop culture consciousness in quite the same way as Jay-Z. He stumped for then candidate Obama on the way to a historic presidential term victory in 2008, campaigned for him again in the fall of 2012, and hasn’t stopped telling us that he’s friends with the president yet. It’s still hard to believe that the guy who made “D’Evils” could become the topic of discussion at a White House press briefing or become the butt of a joke at the White House Correspondence dinner.