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Lighters Up! 10 Essential Reggae Hip-Hop Fusions
Nas and Damian Marley perform during the 2011 Good Vibrations music festival in Australia

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Lighters Up! 10 Essential Reggae Hip-Hop Fusions

Rap and reggae took divergent paths from their shared sound system roots, yet have fused throughout the decades. Read on for 10 songs that showcase the connection between hip-hop and reggae, and listen to GRAMMY.com's playlist.

GRAMMYs/Jun 14, 2023 - 03:53 pm

When 12-year-old Clive Campbell, a.k.a. DJ Kool Herc, migrated with his family from Kingston, Jamaica to the Bronx in 1967, he brought with him a love of his island’s music and an understanding of the best way to experience that music: at a sound system dance. 

The Jamaican sound system began quite humbly with a single turntable and a hand-built amplifier in the late 1940s, then expanded to include two turntables, a crossfader mixer, massive assemblages of speakers, a selector who chooses the records and an emcee that hypes up the crowd with rhymes. As the popularity of sound system dances expanded, the selectors’ need for exclusive music to attract large crowds and trump their opponents in heated clashes gave birth to Jamaica’s prolific recording industry, as well as the development of ska, rocksteady and reggae music.

In New York Herc experimented with audio equipment purchased by his father in an attempt to maximize their sound. Playing records in between the band’s sets, Herc noticed dancers were most responsive to the songs’ instrumental breaks. In a technique he called the merry-go-round, Herc utilized two turntables and a mixer to alternate between dual copies of the same record to prolong the instrumental grooves. 

On Aug. 11, 1973, Herc’s sister Cindy held a back-to-school jam in the recreation room of their Bronx apartment building at 1560 Sedgewick Ave.; Cindy charged a modest admission to raise funds to buy new clothes. Herc played the music and his good friend, Bronx native Coke La Rock, took up the mic to shout out his friends and catchy rhythmic slogans over the records’ instrumental breaks — just like Jamaican emcees or deejays had done on Kingston’s sound systems in the previous decade. 

Word of the party, and Herc’s groundbreaking techniques spread quickly. Soon, others began imitating what Herc and Coke La Rock were doing, adding their own flourishes, which ushered in a new musical movement. Hip-hop wouldn’t have developed as it did without Herc’s pioneering efforts, or the adaptations he made to the Jamaican sound system template.

From their shared sound system roots, rap and reggae, took divergent paths. Fifty years after hip-hop’s birth, it’s one of the most streamed genres in the world; reggae has yet to attain commercial recognition commensurate with its widespread influence (notwithstanding Bob Marley’s global acclaim). Nonetheless, ongoing hip-hop and reggae conversations on record have yielded some great moments in popular music.

Whether its rappers chatting Jamaican Patois, dancehall deejays spitting bars with "Yankee" inflections or American and Jamaican artists collaborations, the connection between hip-hop and reggae runs deep. Click on the Amazon Music playlist above, visit the Recording Academy’s SpotifyPandora, and Apple Music pages, and read on for a chronological look at 10 songs that have brought together hip-hop and reggae. 

 The Fat Boys - "Hardcore Reggae" (1985)

"Hardcore Reggae" is a lighthearted yet sincere tribute to reggae and one of the earliest reggae/rap fusions by Brooklyn’s Fat Boys, Prince Markie Dee, Buff Love and (the sole surviving member) Kool Rock-Ski.  Taken from their 1985 album The Fat Boys are Back "Hardcore Reggae" reached No. 52 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop chart.

Over a bass-heavy reggae rhythm, the Fat Boys shout out a litany of reggae artists including Bob Marley (who died in 1981) and Peter Tosh, who was fatally shot two years after this song’s release. The song’s video features the Fat Boys starring in a western The Good, The Fat and the Hungry that also includes New York based reggae greats the late Denroy Morgan, (father of the sibling reggae band Morgan Heritage) Sammy Dread, Welton Irie and Mikey Jarrett. 

Buff Love captures the essence of 1980s dancehall toasting (rolling ad libbed syllables, punctuated by shouts of "right" and/or "ribit") and concludes the homage to Jamaican music with the simple rhyme, "the people is fresh/ the music is ok/ we rapping to the beat called hardcore reggae."  

Shinehead - "Who The Cap Fit" (1986)

Any list of hip-hop/reggae songs would be incomplete without Shinehead, a pioneer in blending the genres. Born in England, raised in Jamaica and living in the Bronx for many years, Shinehead’s impressive roster of reggae-rap mashups throughout the 1980s and 1990s undoubtedly inspired many Jamaican deejays forays into rapping and rappers attempts at reggae. 

Bronx rapper KRS-One introduced many hip-hop heads to dancehall with the classic diss track "The Bridge Is Over" (which featured Jamaican-accented delivery and a rhythmic interpolation of Super Cat’s 1984 dancehall hit "Boops") — but the legendary artist said he was influenced by Shinehead. 

Over the bassline taken from an early digital dancehall riddim called Tempo, Shinehead uses the hook from Bob Marley’s 1974 track "Who The Cap Fit" to address everything from "political chess games and bureaucratic red tape/worldwide genocide all the things we hate," to "terrorism, racism and all sorts of schisms/not enough work and overcrowded in prisons." There are American emcees who deejay and Jamaicans that rap, but few can vacillate between vocal styles with the astonishing skill Shinehead possesses.

Super Cat and Heavy D - "Dem No Worry We" (1992)

The 1990s were a significant decade for dancehall’s breakthrough beyond the Caribbean diaspora. Several Jamaican artists were signed to major labels, and hip-hop collaborations and remixes became essential tools in marketing the music in America and expanding the popularity of Jamaican hits. 

Jamaican rapper Heavy D had already released three platinum selling albums by 1992, so his collaboration with Super Cat undoubtedly brought greater attention to the Jamaican dancehall "don dada" who had recently signed to Columbia Records. 

Heavy D listened to Jamaican deejays toasting in Patois before he moved to New York and started rapping, so there’s a natural chemistry between Heavy and Cat as they trade playful Patois boasts that are crowned by Heavy’s barrage of mesmerizing, scatted improvisations. Essentially a dancehall party record, "Dem No Worry We" stands as one of the era’s very best. 

Ini Kamoze - "Here Comes the Hotstepper" (1994)

Producer Salaam Remi, who excelled in fusing hip-hop breakbeats with dancehall’s syncopated rhythmic patterns, remixed several hit songs for reggae stars including Shabba Ranks ("Twice My Age") and Super Cat ("Ghetto Red Hot"); his most successful, a remix of sing-jay Ini Kamoze’s "Here Comes the Hotstepper," topped the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks in December 1994. 

Remi chops up an eclectic range of samples into an irresistible hip-hop pulse that’s dominated by the drum and funky bassline from Taana Gardner’s 1981 dance/R&B hit single "Heartbeat." Kamoze, the self-proclaimed "lyrical gangster," lays down a swaggering Jamaican accented rap. As "Here Comes the Hotstepper" ascended to No. 1 in the U.S. (and several other countries) a bidding war ensued and Kamoze signed to Elektra Records. Disillusioned with the lack of remuneration, he walked away from that deal after releasing just one album. 

In 2022, videos posted on TikTok with the hashtags #hotstepper and #herecomesthehotstepper featuring people dancing to the song earned millions of views and "Here Comes the Hotstepper" entered the R&B/Hip-Hop Digital Song Sales chart, nearly 30 years after its initial release.

Foxy Brown feat. Spragga Benz - "Oh Yeah"  (2001)

From the "most critically acclaimed rap bitch in the game," Brooklyn’s Foxy Brown asserts her supremacy in the male dominated rap world and dares "one of y'all rappin' chicks" to mention her name. 

Teaming up with her then-boyfriend Jamaica’s Spragga Benz on this 2001 rap reggae nugget, the intro to "Oh Yeah" samples Toots Hibbert’s classic "54-46 Was My Number" and Bob Marley’s "Punky Reggae Party." A booming bassline underscores each of Foxy’s tough edged rhymes as she reps for the streets: "I respect the rap game, but I don't f with rap bitches, I'm speakin’ from my heart/It's not that I'm too good, I'm just hood."

Spragga punctuates Foxy’s lines with the resounding, catchy chorus, "oh yo yo yo" as heard in the live versions of Bob Marley’s "Get Up Stand Up," which the reggae icon co-wrote with fellow original Wailer Peter Tosh.

Damian Marley & Nas - "Strong Will Continue" (2010)

Several tracks on Damian Marley and NasDistant Relatives a sprawling musical odyssey that explores the genres’ shared African ancestry beyond their sound system roots merit ranking on a best of reggae/hip-hop list, but the motivational "Strong Will Continue" has a slight edge. 

The track begins with a stark, rhythmic pulse akin to a heartbeat, building to a soldierly cadence overlaid with strings, keys and other flourishes. Damian’s emphatic vocals then offer persuasive encouragement: "When the Armageddon start get dread/a lot of weak heart go weep and moan/only the strong will continue, do you have it in you/‘cause we’ve got a journey to go." Throughout, their incisive lyrics and distinctive blistering vocals consistently complement one another but Nas asserts his dominance on the song’s final verse. 

Shifting from generally inspirational lyrics to musings on his own life (including his acrimonious, costly divorce from singer Kelis), the Queensbridge rapper wonders if Kelis cheated on him, complains about the monthly alimony payments and fears his life has "taken a turn to the Louis XIII life, twisted and mangled sort of Bruce Lee life." It’s a riveting passage and the music returns to a heartbeat that sparsely frames Nas’ astounding flow.

Snoop Lion feat. Mavado & Popcaan - "Lighters Up" (2013)

Snoop Dogg's Rasta guise, Snoop Lion, generated understandable skepticism when he announced his reggae project Reincarnated. He earned outright ridicule after proclaiming that he was Bob Marley incarnate. Just before the album’s release, Bunny Wailer, then the only surviving member of the original Wailers and prominently featured in the Reincarnated documentary, "excommunicated" Snoop from Rastafari, citing "fraudulent use of Rastafari personalities and symbolism."

Despite the surrounding mayhem, Reincarnated is a solid pop reggae effort. One of its best tracks is the catchy hip-hop jam "Lighters Up," featuring the innovative brass embellishments of Jamaica’s Tivoli Gardens Drum Corp, with dancehall artists Mavado and Popcaan each taking a verse. Their presence on the track is significant, and belies a complicated history. 

Popcaan was a protégé of now incarcerated dancehall superstar Vybz Kartel who was in a bitter feud with Mavado. Their dispute initially played out on an exchange of diss tracks, then escalated into violence between the respective artists’ camps and their fans, which eventually warranted intervention by Jamaica’s prime minister. Despite Mavado’s words on the first verse "Link up with me, all enemies" and Popcaan proclaiming "unity is the strength" on the third, the two Jamaican artists don’t acknowledge each other (or their battle) within the song’s lyrics or video. The dancehall artists’ icy exchanges thawed somewhat the following year and Mavado was featured on the remix of Popcaan’s "Everything Nice." However that truce was short-lived and the feud, which accelerated again in early 2016, continues today. 

Kendrick Lamar feat. Agent Sasco - "The Blacker the Berry" (2015)

"The Blacker the Berry" is Kendrick Lamar’s remarkable, complex expression of outrage towards racist white America and his own hypocrisy for crying over the death of Trayvon Martin then gangbanging and killing a man "blacker than me." 

Kendrick angrily poses profound societal questions over a track that’s an impeccable blend of hip-hop, rock and soul with a jazzy outro. Jamaica’s Agent Sasco considered among dancehall’s most astute lyricists underscores Kendrick’s sentiments with his raspy, thunderous, Patois-tinged vocal hook, providing a historical context that resonates whether you’re from the Caribbean or America: "I said they treat me like a slave, cah' me Black, woi, we feel a whole heap of pain, cah' we Black… imagine now, big gold chains full of rocks/How you no see the whip, left scars pon' me back/ But now we have a big whip parked pon' the block."

Kabaka Pyramid -"Kabaka vs Pyramid" (2016)

Kabaka Pyramid’s hip-hop influences run as deep as his reggae/dancehall inspirations. Prior to making his name as a reggae sing-jay, the 2023 GRAMMY winner pursued a career as a rapper. His ability to easily shift between rapped verses and Patois-chanted lyrics with optimal dexterity is highlighted on the clever "Kabaka vs. Pyramid," a battle track from his 2016 Accurate mixtape, produced by Major Lazer’s Walshy Fire.

In this skirmish, Kabaka is the Jamaican deejay and Pyramid is his hip-hop alter ego. Over the beat from the Notorious B.I.G.’s classic "Gimme The Loot" (where Biggie rapped in two voices, as himself and his younger self) each persona makes their case for vocal preeminence: Pyramid tells Kabaka "you realize your whole style is rap, posing as a reggae artist, hiding the fact." Kabaka retorts, "you only vex because when me deejay mi badda dan any flippin’ rapper ‘pon the planet where mi stand upon." 

Who won the battle? That’s hard to say, "but we the same person so pull it up and replay." 

Runkus - "Taxi: Zion" (2022)

The current generation of young Jamaican music makers have transformed decades of hip-hop/reggae blends, collabs and samples into innovative, genre-less sonics. An outstanding example from that progressive soundscape is "Taxi: Zion," by Jamaican sing-jay/songwriter/musician/producer Runkus. 

Produced by British radio host Toddla T, "Taxi: Zion" is a heartfelt tribute to Runkus’ close friend, aspiring artist France Nooks, who was fatally stabbed by a taxi driver (Nooks’ voice is sampled on the track). Fluidly crisscrossing a six-minute kaleidoscopic collage of boom bap hip-hop, pulsing reggae basslines, sleek R&B and crackling dancehall beats, Runkus raps, sings and deejays with dizzying speed, asking Nooks about reggae heroes in heaven ("do you see Garnet in garments of Silk sing by the fireplace?") offers complicated considerations on seeking revenge ("we used to walk with patience now we walk with a slug") and doubting his convictions ("I lost my faith the day you met your fate"). The song is the impressive result of tradition meeting revolutionary ideas, which parallels the creation of reggae and hip-hop.

How 'The Harder They Come' Brought Reggae To The World: A Song By Song Soundtrack Breakdown

GRAMMY Rewind: Watch Baby Keem Celebrate "Family Ties" During Best Rap Performance Win In 2022
Baby Keem (left) at the 2022 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

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GRAMMY Rewind: Watch Baby Keem Celebrate "Family Ties" During Best Rap Performance Win In 2022

Revisit the moment budding rapper Baby Keem won his first-ever gramophone for Best Rap Performance at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards for his Kendrick Lamar collab "Family Ties."

GRAMMYs/Feb 23, 2024 - 05:50 pm

For Baby Keem and Kendrick Lamar, The Melodic Blue was a family affair. The two cousins collaborated on three tracks from Keem's 2021 debut LP, "Range Brothers," "Vent," and "Family Ties." And in 2022, the latter helped the pair celebrate a GRAMMY victory.

In this episode of GRAMMY Rewind, turn the clock back to the night Baby Keem accepted Best Rap Performance for "Family Ties," marking the first GRAMMY win of his career.

"Wow, nothing could prepare me for this moment," Baby Keem said at the start of his speech.

He began listing praise for his "supporting system," including his family and "the women that raised me and shaped me to become the man I am."

Before heading off the stage, he acknowledged his team, who "helped shape everything we have going on behind the scenes," including Lamar. "Thank you everybody. This is a dream."

Baby Keem received four nominations in total at the 2022 GRAMMYs. He was also up for Best New Artist, Best Rap Song, and Album Of The Year as a featured artist on Kanye West's Donda.

Press play on the video above to watch Baby Keem's complete acceptance speech for Best Rap Performance at the 2022 GRAMMYs, and check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of GRAMMY Rewind.

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How 1994 Changed The Game For Hip-Hop
Notorious B.I.G. in Brooklyn, 1994

Photo: Clarence Davis/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

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How 1994 Changed The Game For Hip-Hop

With debuts from major artists including Biggie and Outkast, to the apex of boom bap, the dominance of multi-producer albums, and the arrival of the South as an epicenter of hip-hop, 1994 was one of the most important years in the culture's history.

GRAMMYs/Feb 13, 2024 - 05:22 pm

While significant attention was devoted to the celebration of hip-hop in 2023 — an acknowledgement of what is widely acknowledged as its 50th anniversary — another important anniversary in hip-hop is happening this year as well. Specifically, it’s been 30 years since 1994, when a new generation entered the music industry and set the genre on a course that in many ways continues until today.

There are many ways to look at 1994: lists of great albums (here’s a top 50 to get you started); a look back at what fans and tastemakers were actually listening to at the time; the best overlooked obscurities. But the best way to really understand why a single 365 three decades ago had such an impact is to narrow our focus to look at the important debut albums released that year. 

An artist’s or group’s debut is their entry into the wider musical conversation, their first full statement about who they are and where in the landscape they see themselves. The debuts released in 1994 — which include the Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready to Die, Nas' Illmatic and Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik from Outkast — were notable not only in their own right, but because of the insight they give us into wider trends in rap.

Read on for some of the ways that 1994's debut records demonstrated what was happening in rap at the time, and showed us the way forward. 

Hip-Hop Became More Than Just An East & West Coast Thing

The debut albums that moved rap music in 1994 were geographically varied, which was important for a music scene that was still, from a national perspective, largely tied to the media centers at the coasts. Yes, there were New York artists (Biggie and Nas most notably, as well as O.C., Jeru the Damaja, the Beatnuts, and Keith Murray). The West Coast G-funk domination, which began in late 1992 with Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, continued with Dre’s step brother Warren G

But the huge number of important debuts from other places around the country in 1994 showed that rap music had developed mature scenes in multiple cities — scenes that fans from around the country were starting to pay significant attention to.

To begin with, there was Houston. The Geto Boys were arguably the first artists from the city to gain national attention (and controversy) several years prior. By 1994, the city’s scene had expanded enough to allow a variety of notable debuts, of wildly different styles, to make their way into the marketplace.

Read more: A Guide To Texas Hip-Hop: Definitive Releases, Artists & Events

The Rap-A-Lot label that first brought the Geto Boys to the world’s attention branched out with Big Mike’s Somethin’ Serious and the Odd Squad’s Fadanuf Fa Erybody!! Both had bluesy, soulful sounds that were quickly becoming the label’s trademark — in no small part due to their main producers, N.O. Joe and Mike Dean. In addition, an entirely separate style centered around the slowed-down mixes of DJ Screw began to expand outside of the South Side with the debut release by Screwed Up Click member E.S.G.

There were also notable debut albums by artists and groups from Cleveland (Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Creepin on ah Come Up), Oakland (Saafir and Casual), and of course Atlanta — more about that last one later.

1994 Saw The Pinnacle Of Boom-Bap

Popularized by KRS-One’s 1993 album Return of the Boom Bap, the term "boom bap" started as an onomatopoeic way of referring to the sound of a standard rap drum pattern — the "boom" of a kick drum on the downbeat, followed by the "bap" of a snare on the backbeat. 

The style that would grow to be associated with that name (though it was not much-used at the time) was at its apex in 1994. A handful of primarily East Coast producers and groups were beginning a new sonic conversation, using innovations like filtered bass lines while competing to see who could flip the now standard sample sources in ever-more creative ways. 

Most of the producers at the height of this style — DJ Premier, Buckwild, RZA, Large Professor, Pete Rock and the Beatnuts, to name a few — worked on notable debuts that year. Premier produced all of Jeru the Damaja’s The Sun Rises in the East. Buckwild helmed nearly the entirety of O.C.’s debut Word…Life. RZA was responsible for Method Man’s Tical. The Beatnuts took care of their own full-length Street Level. Easy Mo Bee and Premier both played a part in Biggie’s Ready to Die. And then there was Illmatic, which featured a veritable who’s who of production elites: Premier, L.E.S., Large Professor, Pete Rock, and Q-Tip.

The work the producers did on these records was some of the best of their respective careers. Even now, putting on tracks like O.C.’s "Time’s Up" (Buckwild), Jeru’s "Come Clean" (Premier), Meth’s "Bring the Pain" (RZA), Biggie’s "The What" (Easy Mo Bee), or Nas’ "The World Is Yours" (Pete Rock) will get heads nodding.

Major Releases Balanced Street Sounds & Commercial Appeal

"Rap is not pop/If you call it that, then stop," spit Q-Tip on 1991’s "Check the Rhime." Two years later, De La Soul were adamant that "It might blow up, but it won’t go pop." In 1994, the division between rap and pop — under attack at least since Biz Markie made something for the radio back in the ‘80s — began to collapse entirely thanks to the team of the Notorious B.I.G. and his label head and producer Sean "Puffy" Combs. 

Biggie was the hardcore rhymer who wanted to impress his peers while spitting about "Party & Bulls—." Puff was the businessman who wanted his artist to sell millions and be on the radio. The result of their yin-and-yang was Ready to Die, an album that perfectly balanced these ambitions. 

This template — hardcore songs like "Machine Gun Funk" for the die-hards, sing-a-longs like "Juicy" for the newly curious — is one that Big’s good friend Jay-Z would employ while climbing to his current iconic status. 

Solo Stars Broke Out Of Crews

One major thing that happened in 1994 is that new artists were created not out of whole cloth, but out of existing rap crews. Warren G exploded into stardom with his debut Regulate… G Funk Era. He came out of the Death Row Records axis — he was Dre’s stepbrother, and had been in a group with a pre-fame Snoop Dogg. Across the country, Method Man sprang out of the Wu-Tang collective and within a year had his own hit single with "I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need To Get By." 

Anyone who listened to the Odd Squad’s album could tell that there was a group member bound for solo success: Devin the Dude. Keith Murray popped out of the Def Squad. Casual came out of the Bay Area’s Hieroglyphics. 

Read more: A Guide To Bay Area Hip-Hop: Definitive Releases, Artists & Subgenres From Northern California

This would be the model for years to come: Create a group of artists and attempt, one by one, to break them out as stars. You could see it in Roc-a-fella, Ruff Ryders, and countless other crews towards the end of the ‘90s and the beginning of the new millennium.

Multi-Producer Albums Began To Dominate

Illmatic was not the first rap album to feature multiple prominent producers. However, it quickly became the most influential. The album’s near-universal critical acclaim — it earned a perfect five-mic score in The Source — meant that its strategy of gathering all of the top production talent together for one album would quickly become the standard. 

Within less than a decade, the production credits on major rap albums would begin to look nearly identical: names like the Neptunes, Timbaland, Premier, Kanye West, and the Trackmasters would pop up on album after album. By the time Jay-Z said he’d get you "bling like the Neptunes sound," it became de rigueur to have a Neptunes beat on your album, and to fill out the rest of the tracklist with other big names (and perhaps a few lesser-known ones to save money).

The South Got Something To Say

If there’s one city that can safely be said to be the center of rap music for the past decade or so, it’s Atlanta. While the ATL has had rappers of note since Shy-D and Raheem the Dream, it was a group that debuted in 1994 that really set the stage for the city’s takeover.

Outkast’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was the work of two young, ambitious teenagers, along with the production collective Organized Noize. The group’s first video was directed by none other than Puffy. Biggie fell so in love with the city that he toyed with moving there

Outkast's debut album won Best New Artist and Best New Rap of the Year at the 1995 Source Awards, though the duo of André 3000 and Big Boi walked on stage to accept their award to a chorus of boos. The disrespect only pushed André to affirm the South's place on the rap map, famously telling the audience, "The South got something to say." 

Read more: A Guide To Southern Hip-Hop: Definitive Releases, Artists & Subgenres From The Dirty South

Outkast’s success meant that they kept on making innovative albums for several more years, as did other members of their Dungeon Family crew. This brought energy and attention to the city, as did the success of Jermain Dupri’s So So Def label. Then came the "snap" movement of the 2000s, and of course trap music, which had its roots in aughts-era Atlanta artists like T.I. and producers like Shawty Redd and DJ Toomp. 

But in the 2010s a new artist would make Atlanta explode, and he traced his lineage straight back to the Dungeon. Future is the first cousin of Organized Noize member Rico Wade, and was part of the so-called "second generation" of the Dungeon Family back when he went by "Meathead." His world-beating success over the past decade-plus has been a cornerstone in Atlanta’s rise to the top of the rap world. Young Thug, who has cited Future as an influence, has sparked a veritable ecosystem of sound-alikes and proteges, some of whom have themselves gone on to be major artists. 

Atlanta’s reign at the top of the rap world, some theorize, may finally be coming to an end, at least in part because of police pressure. But the city has had a decade-plus run as the de facto capital of rap, and that’s thanks in no small part to Outkast. 

Why 1998 Was Hip-Hop's Most Mature Year: From The Rise Of The Underground To Artist Masterworks

GRAMMY.com’s 50th Anniversary Of Hip-Hop Coverage: A Recap
A tribute to the 50th anniversary of hip-hop at the 2023 GRAMMYs

Photo: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

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GRAMMY.com’s 50th Anniversary Of Hip-Hop Coverage: A Recap

The Recording Academy’s celebration of hip-hop’s 50th anniversary included televised events and captivating interviews. Check out the wide range of articles and features produced by GRAMMY.com commemorating this musical milestone.

GRAMMYs/Dec 28, 2023 - 02:51 pm

When we look back at the Recording Academy’s 2023, the 50th anniversary of hip-hop will loom exceptionally large.

The ongoing celebration permeated every facet of the world’s leading society of music professionals this year, from the 65th Annual Awards Ceremony in February to the special airing of "A GRAMMY Salute To Hip-Hop" in December — a dense, thrillingly kaleidoscopic televised tribute to the breadth of this genre.

One major accompaniment to this was coverage of the genre’s legacy via GRAMMY.com, the editorial site run by the Recording Academy. If you haven’t been keeping up, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a highlight reel of the work GRAMMY.com published in honor of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop.

We Profiled Rising Stars

From Lola Brooke to Tkay Maidza, GRAMMY.com engaged in comprehensive in-depth interviews with artists who are at the forefront of shaping the future of hip-hop, and held a roundtable discussion about exactly what the next 50 years might look like. 

We Published Conversations With Legends

DJ Kool Herc and Questlove, who have played unquestionable roles in hip-hop’s continuing evolution, spoke to GRAMMY.com about their profound and abiding connections to the idiom.

The Contributions Of Women Were Highlighted

Without the inspired vision of countless women, hip-hop would not be what it is today. The "Ladies First" segment, which kicked off "A GRAMMY Salute To Hip-Hop" featuring Queen Latifah, Monie Love, and MC Lyte, among other lady greats with Spinderella as DJ, was an ode to this. 

In acknowledgment of female trailblazers in a world dominated by men, GRAMMY.com wrote about teen girl pioneers, women behind the scenes, a revealing Netflix doc, and women artists pushing the genre forward in 2023, from Ice Spice to Lil Simz.

We Revisted Hip-Hop’s Biggest Releases

From Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) to Jay-Z’s The Black Album to Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy, GRAMMY.com dove deep into the core hip-hop canon. We also broke down the genre’s development decade by decade through the 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s, 10s, and 20s, with a focus on classic albums from each era.

Listen To GRAMMY.com's 50th Anniversary Of Hip-Hop Playlist: 50 Songs That Show The Genre's Evolution

We Criss-Crossed The Country

GRAMMY.com’s series of regional guides — from the Bay Area and SoCal, to Texas and the Dirty South, to D.C. and NYC highlight hip-hop’s diversity of culture and sound.

We Went International

Although hip-hop is a quintessentially American phenomenon, its impact, appeal, and influence has spread worldwide. The international appetite for hip-hop was showcased in coverage of Latinx and Argentinian rappers to know, as well as five international hip-hop scenes to know: France, Nigeria, Brazil, South Africa, and England.

We Explored Hip-Hop’s Larger Impact

Hip-hop is more than a sound. It’s a culture that permeates almost every sector of life. Showcasing this effervescence, GRAMMY.com ran pieces about the evolution of hip-hop’s influence on educational curriculum worldwide, as well as its biggest fashion and style moments.

We Covered On Stage Celebrations

"A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop," the two-hour special that aired in December on CBS and is available on demand on Paramount+ represented a culmination of the Recording Academy’s 50th year anniversary celebration.

Revisit the 2023 GRAMMYs’ hip-hop revue, and check out a recap of "A GRAMMY Salute" with photos, a rundown of all the performers and songs and coverage of the Black Music Collective’s Recording Academy honors in February.

It Didn’t Stop There…

Notable coverage also included the evolution of the mixtape, 11 Hip-Hop Subgenres to Know and 10 Binge-worthy Hip-Hop Podcasts, as well as a breakdown of Jay-Z’s Songbook and Snoop Dogg’s discography.

For everything GRAMMY.com and all things hip-hop — including our rap-focused run in the GRAMMY Rewind series — visit here.

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20 Iconic Hip-Hop Style Moments: From Run-D.M.C. To Runways
LL Cool J

Credit: Paul Natkin/Getty Images

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20 Iconic Hip-Hop Style Moments: From Run-D.M.C. To Runways

From Dapper Dan's iconic '80s creations to Kendrick Lamar's 2023 runway performance, hip-hop's influence and impact on style and fashion is undeniable. In honor of hip-hop's 50th anniversary, look back at the culture's enduring effect on fashion.

GRAMMYs/Nov 29, 2023 - 03:01 pm

In the world of hip-hop, fashion is more than just clothing. It's a powerful means of self-expression, a cultural statement, and a reflection of the ever-evolving nature of the culture.

Since its origin in 1973, hip-hop has been synonymous with style —  but the epochal music category known for breakbeats and lyrical flex also elevated, impacted, and revolutionized global fashion in a way no other genre ever has.   

Real hip-hop heads know this. Before Cardi B was gracing the Met Gala in Mugler and award show red carpets in custom Schiaparelli, Dapper Dan was disassembling garment bags in his Harlem studio in the 1980s, tailoring legendary looks for rappers that would appear on famous album cover art. Crescendo moments like Kendrick Lamar’s performance at the Louis Vuitton Men’s Spring-Summer 2023 runway show in Paris in June 2022 didn’t happen without a storied trajectory toward the runway.

Big fashion moments in hip-hop have always captured the camera flash, but finding space to tell the bigger story of hip-hop’s connection and influence on fashion has not been without struggle. Journalist and author Sowmya Krishnamurphy said plenty of publishers passed on her anthology on the subject, Fashion Killa: How Hip-Hop Revolutionized High Fashion, and "the idea of hip hop fashion warranting 80,000 words." 

"They didn't think it was big enough or culturally important," Krishnamurphy tells GRAMMY.com, "and of course, when I tell people that usually, the reaction is they're shocked."

Yet, at the 50 year anniversary, sands continue to shift swiftly. Last year exhibitions like the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Fresh, Fly, and Fabulous: Fifty Years of Hip-Hop Style popped up alongside notable publishing releases including journalist Vikki Tobak’s, Ice Cold. A Hip-Hop Jewelry Story. Tabak’s second published release covering hip-hop’s influence on style, following her 2018 title, Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop.

"I wanted to go deeper into the history," Krishnamurphy continues. "The psychology, the sociology, all of these important factors that played a role in the rise of hip-hop and the rise of hip-hop fashion"

What do the next 50 years look like? "I would love to see a hip-hop brand, whether it be from an artist, a designer, creative director, somebody from the hip-hop space, become that next great American heritage brand," said Krishnamurphy.

In order to look forward we have to look back. In celebration of hip-hop’s 50 year legacy, GRAMMY.com examines iconic moments that have defined and inspired generations. From Tupac walking the runways at Versace to Gucci's inception-esque knockoff of Dapper Dan, these moments in hip-hop fashion showcase how artists have used clothing, jewelry, accessories, and personal style to shape the culture and leave an indelible mark on the world.

*The cover art to Eric B and Rakim’s* Paid in Full

Dapper Dan And Logomania: Luxury + High Fashion Streetwear

Dapper Dan, the legendary designer known as "the king of knock-offs," played a pivotal role in transforming luxury fashion into a symbol of empowerment and resistance for hip-hop stars, hustlers, and athletes starting in the 1980s. His Harlem boutique, famously open 24 hours a day, became a hub where high fashion collided with the grit of the streets.

Dapper Dan's customized, tailored outfits, crafted from deconstructed and transformed luxury items, often came with significantly higher price tags compared to ready-to-wear luxury fashion. A friend and favorite of artists like LL Cool J and Notorious B.I.G., Dapper Dan created iconic one-of-a-kind looks seen on artists like Eric B and Rakim’s on the cover of their Paid in Full album.

This fusion, marked by custom pieces emblazoned with designer logos, continues to influence hip-hop high fashion streetwear. His story — which began with endless raids by luxury houses like Fendi, who claimed copyright infringement — would come full circle with brands like Gucci later paying homage to his legacy.

Athleisure Takes Over

Hip-hop's intersection with sportswear gave rise to the "athleisure" trend in the 1980s and '90s, making tracksuits, sweatshirts, and sneakers everyday attire. This transformation was propelled by iconic figures such as Run-D.M.C. and their association with Adidas, as seen in photoshoots and music videos for tracks like "My Adidas."

*LL Cool J. Photo: Paul Natkin/Getty Images*

LL Cool J’s Kangol Hat

The Kangol hat holds a prominent place in hip-hop fashion, often associated with the genre's early days in the '80s and '90s. This popular headwear became a symbol of casual coolness, popularized by hip-hop pioneers like LL Cool J and Run-D.M.C. The simple, round shape and the Kangaroo logo on the front became instantly recognizable, making the Kangol an essential accessory that was synonymous with a laid-back, streetwise style.

*Dr. Dre, comedian T.K. Kirkland, Eazy-E, and Too Short in 1989. Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images*

N.W.A & Sports Team Representation

Hip-hop, and notably N.W.A., played a significant role in popularizing sports team representation in fashion. The Los Angeles Raiders' gear became synonymous with West Coast hip-hop thanks to its association with the group's members Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, and Ice Cube, as well as MC Ren.

 *Slick Rick in 1991. Photo: Al Pereira/Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives*

Slick Rick’s Rings & Gold Chains

Slick Rick "The Ruler" has made a lasting impact on hip-hop jewelry and fashion with his kingly display of jewelry and wealth. His trendsetting signature look — a fistful of gold rings and a neck heavily layered with an array of opulent chains — exuded a sense of grandeur and self-confidence. Slick Rick's bold and flamboyant approach to jewelry and fashion remains a defining element of hip-hop's sartorial history, well documented in Tobak's Ice Cold.

Tupac Walks The Versace Runway Show

Tupac Shakur's runway appearance at the 1996 Versace runway show was a remarkable and unexpected moment in fashion history. The show was part of Milan Fashion Week, and Versace was known for pushing boundaries and embracing popular culture in their designs. In Fashion Killa, Krishnamurpy documents Shakur's introduction to Gianni Versace and his participation in the 1996 Milan runway show, where he walked arm-in-arm with Kadida Jones.

*TLC. Photo: Tim Roney/Getty Images*

Women Embrace Oversized Styles

Oversized styles during the 1990s were not limited to menswear; many women in hip-hop during this time adopted a "tomboy" aesthetic. This trend was exemplified by artists like Aaliyah’s predilection for crop tops paired with oversized pants and outerwear (and iconic outfits like her well-remembered Tommy Hilfiger look.)

Many other female artists donned oversized, menswear-inspired looks, including TLC and their known love for matching outfits featuring baggy overalls, denim, and peeking boxer shorts and Missy Elliott's famous "trash bag" suit worn in her 1997 music video for "The Rain." Speaking to Elle Magazine two decades after the original video release Elliot told the magazine that it was a powerful symbol that helped mask her shyness, "I loved the idea of feeling like a hip hop Michelin woman."

Diddy Launches Sean John

Sean "Diddy" Combs’ launch of Sean John in 1998 was about more than just clothing. Following the success of other successful sportswear brands by music industry legends like Russell Simmons’ Phat Farm, Sean John further represented a lifestyle and a cultural movement. Inspired by his own fashion sensibilities, Diddy wanted to create elevated clothing that reflected the style and swagger of hip-hop. From tailored suits to sportswear, the brand was known for its bold designs and signature logo, and shared space with other successful brands like Jay-Z’s Rocawear and model Kimora Lee Simmons' brand Baby Phat.

 *Lil' Kim. Photo: Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images*

Lil’ Kim Steals The Show

Lil' Kim’s daring and iconic styles found a kindred home at Versace with

In 1999, Lil' Kim made waves at the MTV Video Music Awards with her unforgettable appearance in a lavender jumpsuit designed by Donatella Versace. This iconic moment solidified her close relationship with the fashion designer, and their collaboration played a pivotal role in reshaping the landscape of hip-hop fashion, pushing boundaries and embracing bold, daring styles predating other newsworthy moments like J.Lo’s 2000 appearance in "The Dress" at the GRAMMY Awards.

Lil Wayne Popularizes "Bling Bling"

Juvenile & Lil Wayne's "Bling Bling" marked a culturally significant moment. Coined in the late 1990s by Cash Money Records, the term "bling bling" became synonymous with the excessive and flashy display of luxury jewelry. Lil Wayne and the wider Cash Money roster celebrated this opulent aesthetic, solidifying the link between hip-hop music and lavish jewelry. As a result, "bling" became a cornerstone of hip-hop's visual identity.

Jay-Z x Nike Air Force 1

In 2004, Jay-Z's partnership with Nike produced the iconic "Roc-A-Fella" Air Force 1 sneakers, a significant collaboration that helped bridge the worlds of hip-hop and sneaker culture. These limited-edition kicks in white and blue colorways featured the Roc-A-Fella Records logo on the heel and were highly coveted by fans. The collaboration exemplified how hip-hop artists could have a profound impact on sneaker culture and streetwear by putting a unique spin on classic designs. Hova's design lives on in limitless references to fresh white Nike kicks.

Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams. Photo: Mark Davis/WireImage

Pharrell Williams' Hat At The 2014 GRAMMYs

Pharrell Williams made a memorable red carpet appearance at the 2014 GRAMMY Awards in a distinctive and oversized brown hat. Designed by Vivienne Westwood, the hat quickly became the talk of the event and social media. A perfect blend of sartorial daring, Pharrell's hat complemented his red Adidas track jacket while accentuating his unique sense of style. An instant fashion moment, the look sparked innumerable memes and, likely, a renewed interest in headwear.

Kanye’s Rise & Fall At Adidas (2013-2022)

Much more than a "moment," the rise and eventual fall of Kanye’s relationship with Adidas, was as documented in a recent investigation by the New York Times. The story begins in 2013 when West and the German sportswear brand agreed to enter a partnership. The collaboration would sell billions of dollars worth of shoes, known as "Yeezys," until West’s anti-semitic, misogynistic, fat-phobic, and other problematic public comments forced the Adidas brand to break from the partnership amid public outrage.

Supreme Drops x Hip-Hop Greats

Supreme, with its limited drops, bold designs, and collaborations with artists like Nas and Wu-Tang Clan, stands as a modern embodiment of hip-hop's influence on streetwear. The brand's ability to create hype, long lines outside its stores, and exclusive artist partnerships underscores the enduring synergy between hip-hop and street fashion.

*A model walks the runway at the Gucci Cruise 2018 show. Photo: Pietro D'Aprano/Getty Images*

Gucci Pays "homage" to Dapper Dan

When Gucci released a collection in 2017 that seemingly copied Dapper Dan's distinctive style, (particularly one look that seemed to be a direct re-make of a jacket he had created for Olympian Dionne Dixon in the '80s), it triggered outrage and accusations of cultural theft. This incident sparked a conversation about the fashion industry's tendency to co-opt urban and streetwear styles without proper recognition, while also displaying flagrant symbols of racism through designs.

Eventually, spurred by public outrage, the controversy led to a collaboration between Gucci and Dapper Dan, a significant moment in luxury fashion's acknowledgement and celebration of the contributions of Black culture, including streetwear and hip-hop to high fashion. "Had Twitter not spotted the, "Diane Dixon" [jacket] walking down the Gucci runway and then amplified that conversation on social media... I don't think we would have had this incredible comeback," Sowmya Krishnamurphy says.

A$AP Rocky x DIOR

Self-proclaimed "Fashion Killa" A$AP Rocky is a true fashion aficionado. In 2016, the sartorially obsessed musician and rapper became one of the faces of Dior Homme’s fall/winter campaign shot by photographer Willy Vanderperre — an early example of Rocky's many high fashion collaborations with the luxury European brand.

A$AP Rocky's tailored style and impeccable taste for high fashion labels was eloquently enumerated in the track "Fashion Killa" from his 2013 debut album Long. Live. ASAP, which namedrops some 36 luxury fashion brands. The music video for "Fashion Killa" was co-directed by Virgil Abloh featuring a Supreme jersey-clad Fenty founder, Rihanna long before the two became one of music’s most powerful couples. The track became an anthem for hip-hop’s appreciation for high fashion (and serves as the title for Krishnamurphy’s recently published anthology). 

*Cardi B. Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage*

Cardi B Wears Vintage Mugler At The 2019 GRAMMYs

Cardi B has solidified her "it girl" fashion status in 2018 and 2019 with bold and captivating style choices and designer collaborations that consistently turn heads. Her 2019 GRAMMYs red carpet appearance in exaggerated vintage Mugler gown, and many custom couture Met Gala looks by designers including Jeremy Scott and Thom Browne that showcased her penchant for drama and extravagance.

But Cardi B's fashion influence extends beyond her penchant for custom high-end designer pieces (like her 2021 gold-masked Schiaparelli look, one of nine looks in an evening.) Her unique ability to blend couture glamour with urban chic (she's known for championing emerging designers and streetwear brands) fosters a sense of inclusivity and diversity, and makes her a true trendsetter.

Beyoncé & Jay-Z in Tiffany & Co.’s "About Love" campaign

The power duo graced Tiffany & Co.'s "About Love'' campaign in 2021, showcasing the iconic "Tiffany Yellow Diamond," a 128.54-carat yellow worn by Beyoncé alongside a tuxedo-clad Jay-Z. The campaign sparked controversy in several ways, with some viewers unable to reconcile the use of such a prominent and historically significant diamond, sourced at the hands of slavery, in a campaign that could be seen as commercializing and diluting the diamond's cultural and historical importance. Despite mixed reaction to the campaign, their stunning appearance celebrated love, adorned with Tiffany jewels and reinforced their status as a power couple in both music and fashion.

Kendrick Lamar Performs At Louis Vuitton

When Kendrick Lamar performed live at the Louis Vuitton Men’s spring-summer 2023 runway show in Paris in June 2022 following the passing of Louis Vuitton’s beloved creative director Virgil Abloh, he underscored the inextricable connection between music, fashion and Black American culture.


Lamar sat front row next to Naomi Campbell, adorned with a jeweled crown of thorns made from diamonds and white gold worth over $2 million, while he performed tracks including "Savior," "N95," and "Rich Spirit'' from his last album, Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers before ending with a repeated mantra, "Long live Virgil." A giant children’s toy racetrack erected in the Cour Carrée of the Louvre became a yellow brick road where models marched, clad in designer looks with bold, streetwear-inspired design details, some strapped with oversized wearable stereo systems.

Pharrell Succeeds Virgil Abloh At Louis Vuitton

Pharrell Williams' appointment as the creative director at Louis Vuitton for their men's wear division in 2023 emphasized hip-hop's enduring influence on global fashion. Pharrell succeeded Virgil Abloh, who was the first Black American to hold the position.

Pharrell's path to this prestigious role, marked by his 2004 and 2008 collaborations with Louis Vuitton, as well as the founding of his streetwear label Billionaire Boy’s Club in 2006 alongside Nigo, the founder of BAPE and Kenzo's current artistic director, highlights the growing diversity and acknowledgment of Black talent within high fashion.

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