And they said it wouldn’t last. When rap first infiltrated the mainstream, naysayers predicted it would be a fad. A quarter century later, it has exploded into a dominant force in the global pop-music marketplace. To commemorate the 25th anniversary of hip-hop, EW has compiled the following sampling of what we consider its 25 pivotal moments. And before you history heads send e-mails telling us rap actually started in the South Bronx circa 1974 and hence is at least 30 years old — we know all about it. But for five years it was little more than a murmur. Then came the explosion that truly began the rap era…
1. OCTOBER 13, 1979
The Sugarhill Gang’s ”Rapper’s Delight” lands on the R&B charts, making it hip-hop’s first hit single
The rap revolution started at the intersection of serendipity and inspiration. Sylvia Robinson, owner of a failing record label, was just looking for some cake and a good time when she went to a birthday party at the New York City club Harlem World in May 1979. But when she heard something called rap being performed there (by a DJ named Lovebug Starski), she recognized its potential. With the help of her 17-year-old son, Joey, she recruited Henry ”Big Bank Hank” Jackson, Guy ”Master Gee” O’Brien, and Michael ”Wonder Mike” Wright from their Englewood, N.J., hometown. Robinson taped 15 minutes of them rapping over a band playing Chic’s ”Good Times,” and quickly released it. The tune slowly exploded into an international smash. ”We recorded it for $700,” says Joey Robinson. ”It was definitely a good investment. It paved the way for a multibillion-dollar industry and a whole new genre of music.”
2. AUG. 11, 1973
DJ Kool Herc spins at the first hip-hop party
In the beginning there was Herc. Thirty-one years ago, in a sweltering community recreation room at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx, the original B-boy uncovered the fundamental ingredient of rap music. ”Let’s get this straight,” says Herc. ”Two turntables been out there, but they wasn’t using the same two records — obscure records — and prolonging [them]. That’s my innovation.” Born in Jamaica, Herc immigrated at age 12 and soon found himself immersed in the local music scene. He had been experimenting with his new technique at home before finally testing it out on his first paying crowd. And the response? ”Everybody went into a frenzy,” he says.
3. NOVEMBER 30, 1994
Tupac shot at New York City recording studio. East-versus-West Coast beef begins.
If Shakespeare had written a rap tragedy, it would have gone something like this: Once upon a time, Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur were friends. But in 1994, Tupac was shot at New York’s Quad Recording Studios, and he suspected Biggie was involved. A mythic conflict emerged: East versus West, Bad Boy (Biggie’s label) versus Death Row (Tupac’s label). And while some accused the media of hyping — or even inventing — the beef, the end of the story reflected a stone-cold truth: Two of the most beloved MCs of all time were both murdered in a barrage of gunfire a mere six months apart. Since then, both rappers’ reputations have continued to grow. ”Their legacy is exactly where it’s supposed to be,” says Ice Cube. ”You got two artists that died at the top of their game and [are] connected because of it — a big lesson for the world and for artists to not let nothing go too far.”