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HIPHOP music history ...in seven songs!

Updated on November 25, 2009

Although hiphop was originally meant to refer to the urban lifestyle and rap was meant to refer to the music of the urban lifestyle, today the two terms hiphop and rap are often used interchangably for each other.

Hiphop music is a highly rhythmic musical form where vocals are spoken or shouted over strong backeats, the turntable is used as an instrument, and elements of previously recorded music by others are "sampled" (woven into the song).

The hiphop/rap movement is also an entire lifestylewhere and culture which began in the Bronx, in New York City, in the late 1970's.

"Rapper's Delight" (short version) - Sugarhill Gang (1979)

THE SUGARHILL GANG had the 1st hiphop song to crossover into pop music with "Rapper's Delight", performed over a looped (repeated) small sample of the hit song "Good Times" by Chic. There's a link to that video on this page.

KURTIS BLOW began as a breakdancer, local party DJ and music director at a college radio station, while beginning to incorporate into his performances the story and trauma of growing up in poverty. Click here to see the lyrics in "The Breaks", Blow's early breakthrough hit. And to listen to the song itself, click here

"I Need Love" - LL Cool J (1987)

 LL Cool J is one of the few rappers to continue a long string of successful recordings for more than 25 years, while most rappers fall out of favor after far less than 10 years. Although he has many upbeat songs to his credit, he is still well known for what some consider rap's first love song, the softer and quieter "I Need Love". A link to that song appears on this page.

Run DMC was a successful rap group which began during hiphops formative early years. Click here to watch the video of Run DMC's version of "Walk This Way", previously known as a rock anthem by the group Aerosmith (1987), this version cleverly uses Aerosmith within the video, and became the first rap song to successfully use a rock song as its main sample.

 WILL SMITH grew to prominence in his late teens as "The Fresh Prince", a rapper in the duo rap act DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince in the late 1980's.  The group's first album won the very first ever Grammy Award in the brand new category of rap music in 1988.  . This role led to his acting career, beginning with the TV sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air".

Click here to watch the video of "Summertime", an early rap love song featuring Will Smith rapping on the joys of hangin' around in warm weather in a big urban city.  This song has become a cherished summertime memory for millions. 

He left rap for many years to persue his acting career, citing his distaste for the wrong direction he felt rap was heading.

Smith became an acclaimed actor, winning numerous recognitions including two Academy Awards. He returned to hiphop in the late 1990's with the #1 hit song "Men In Black" and a platinum album which included the hits "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It' and "Miami". Just turning 40 in 2008, Smith's already long career in music and movies is far from over.

"Lose Yourself" - Eminem (2002)

 EMINEM is a white rapper from Detroit who quickly rose to super-stardom and has been hailed by many publications and organizations as one of the most influential rappers of all time. His role in the movie "8 Mile" earned him an Academy Award for best song, "Lose Yourself", a surprisingly positive and inspirational song about the eternal quest for success and how to keep going in spite of strong adversity.  Watch that video on this page.

 

KANYE WEST is a successful rapper, singer and music producer who now owns a record company. His latest album "808s and Heartbreak" features a rare concept among rappers, actual singing of notes, instead of rapping significant portions of a song.

US President-Elect Barack Obama cited West's song "Touch the Sky" on his list of top ten favorite songs of all time, as published in Blender magazine. West won a number of American Music Awards including favorite artist in late November, 2008. Click here to watch Kanye's "Touch The Sky".

NOTE: Because of the misogynistic, negative, violent and drug-laden themes within lots of rap music, much of society turns a deaf ear to the hiphop style completely. Unfortunately, this gives the music a bad name in many circles, but within the genre, as in all musical genres, there remains a high level of creativity and artistic genius which ignores these negative aspects and is able to provide long-lasting, positive and powerful music which has remained popular for a number of decades and generations. All the hiphop videos on this page have been carefully chosen to feature those artists and songs with the highest socially redeeming value within this ongoing popular genre.

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      Peter Meindertsma 

      6 years ago

      Nice overview!

      Minor correction: Will Smith was nominated twice for an Academy Award, but has not won one yet.

    • profile image

      Kwado 

      8 years ago

      Nice list but you skipped over the 90's. This is the bulk of the sample era, and what many consider to be Hip Hop's most creative time. A few very important contributers from this era are:

      Public Enemy, EPMD, Marly Marl and the Juice Crew, Showbiz and AG, and Pete Rock & CL Smooth.

      The list goes on but I think this era can not be ignored as being a crucial moment in the evolution of rap music.

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