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In Celebration Of The 50th Anniversary Of Hip-Hop

[Photo by: Valerie Albert/Megan Thee Stallion]

Hip-hop/rap music is officially 50 years old this year. That’s a half-century of a genre of music that has undeniably changed the world. It crossed over into the mainstream in the ‘80s. The likes of LL Cool J and, to a greater degree, MC Hammer became enormous pop stars. But it also never lost its underground edge.

And yet, in some quarters, hip-hop won’t ever achieve musical credibility. People who are swamped in dinosaur musical constraints refuse to see MCs and DJs as bonafide musicians. “That’s just talking” or, “They’re just scratching other people’s records” are the sort of ignorant, ancient statements that you’ll hear from people who don’t know any better and refuse to learn.

Rap is vital. It’s storytelling, and in most cases, it’s coming from people who need to have their stories told. With a few exceptions, rap tells of the Black experience. Those of us who aren’t Black can’t relate. But unless we’re sociopaths, we can empathize and, more importantly, learn.

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Naturally, most of the criticism is rooted in racism, even when the critics say that it’s not. It’s “play by the rules and know your place.” People say that they used to like rap when it was edgy but can’t enjoy it now that the lyrics are all about sex and bling. Yet they’re ignoring the fact that rock & rollers have been singing about those same things for decades, and nobody complained. But when Black musicians have disposable income, we want them to shut up and stay in their lane? It’s bullshit.

Half a decade in, you’d hope that we’d have evolved further. That doesn’t seem to be the case at all. Fortunately, the market for hip-hop is bigger than ever. The genre isn’t going anywhere. Even better—more and more female rappers, such as the likes of Cardi B, Saweetie and Megan Thee Stallion are getting greater and greater success.

“Hip-hop is an unstoppable cultural force and the most dominant genre on Apple Music,” said Ebro Darden, Apple Music’s global editorial head of Hip-Hop and R&B, in a statement. “We wanted to make sure that we paid homage, paid respect, and that we did a great job capturing these stories. Our aim is to make sure that they’re archived for people to go back and listen to for years to come. The future of hip-hop is bright. Here’s to the next 50.”

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In that same statement, Apple marked the date August 11, 1973 as the exact date of hip-hop’s birth. “The day DJ Kool Herc isolated breakbeats at a back-to-school party in the Bronx. The groundbreaking genre has gone on to shape all points of global culture and society. To toast the golden anniversary and Apple Music’s yearlong celebration around hip-hop’s foundational figures, Apple Music is bringing hard-to-find, iconic hip-hop mixtapes to streaming for the first time. Listeners can now stream DJ mixtape legend Kid Capri’s 52 BeatsOld School R&B Vol. 2, and 10/9/89 mixtapes across Apple Music’s Hip-Hop DNA collection, which also includes a series of audio specials, exclusive DJ Mixes, hand-picked classic records, and must-hear playlists.”

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which always takes a ton of flack from people who, again, don’t know any better whenever they induct a performer from the hip-hop world, has been running an exhibition celebrating the genre’s golden anniversary.

“The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has been recognizing hip-hop and its contributions to music since 2007 when it inducted Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five,” said 2013 inductee Chuck D of Public Enemy at the opening in August. “This year, the innovator of it all, DJ Kool Herc, will receive his Musical Influence Award. And Missy Elliott and Rage Against the Machine—two artists who show us all how far the genre can go – will be inducted. I’m honored to be a part of the Rock Hall’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. Both as a member of Public Enemy and as the co-creator and executive producer of the PBS/BBC docuseries Fight the Power: How Hip Hop Changed the World.”

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Meanwhile, NTWRK, in collaboration with Amazon Music and Audible, presented HIP-HOP SOUNDS & STORIES: A 50 & Forever Celebration Through the Decades

“The free two-day multimedia experience will celebrate the various formats and methods of listening to hip-hop over the last five decades through today,” they said. “Taking place on August 26-27, 2023, at NTWRK LA, the event will offer attendees a deep dive into the history of hip-hop through unique experiences. Including live performances curated by DJ Drama and Amazon Music Breakthrough Artist SleazyWorld Go, an in-depth panel discussion, exclusive bespoke product reveals available only through NTWRK, engaging audio content and more.”

Def-Jam celebrated Hip-Hop 50 with a vinyl release of the soundtrack to the Paramount+ documentary Def Tape.

The Def Tape serves as the companion album to MIXTAPE. The new documentary film from Paramount+ in association with MTV Entertainment Studios, Mercury Studios and Def Jam Recordings,” they said. “The film—which explores how the creation of mixtapes launched hip-hop into mainstream culture—is now streaming exclusively on Paramount+. The album itself consists of 13 new original tracks recorded for the MIXTAPE and mixed by legendary DJ and producer Tony Touch. Among many highlights, GRAMMY® Award-nominated gold-selling Harlem hip-hop heavyweight Dave East links up with superstar Teyana for the heartfelt and hypnotic ‘All I Need.’”

That’s just a fraction of the celebrations that have been going on so far this year. There have been many more. But really, the way that we can best celebrate hip-hop is by enjoying the fact that it continues to blossom and expand. From Future to Saweetie. A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie to Coi Leray. There’s always exciting new talent just around the corner and that will likely never change. 

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