ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images
Black Sounds Beautiful: Why Rapper, Provocateur & GRAMMY Winner Cardi B Is A Beacon Of Black Excellence
In the newest episode of Black Sounds Beautiful, learn how Cardi B's artistry makes the GRAMMY winner a leading light for Black excellence
Are gore-soaked nude armies or undulating on an onstage bed with Megan Thee Stallion everyone's cup of tea? Depending on your personal sensibilities or capacity for offense, your mileage may certainly—and understandably—vary with Cardi B.
Regardless, you can't say the South Bronx rapper's bit isn't working on a grand scale—nor that she can't back up the 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year spectacle with rap-game legitimacy, bountiful technical skill and boundless fathoms of strip-club charisma.
Cardi B inspires horror in politicians, pundits and even fellow musicians (like Cee-Lo Green) while racking up more than 100 million Instagram followers for her trouble. She seems to burn the Billboard Hot 100 to a crisp every time she releases music. The prurient "WAP" short-circuited the Internet like a salad fork in a power outlet.
With unflinching sex-and-violence material and a litany of public feuds, she's scandalized straight America to an Elvis Presley degree while rapidly gaining global momentum to a… well, Elvis degree.
That said, if that soft-spoken Southern boy—even the version of him that terrorized Ed Sullivan with his hips—ran into Cardi, he'd flee for his life. This is a 21st-century provocateur we're dealing with.
One GRAMMY win and eight GRAMMY nominations into her career, the 28-year-old more than has the accolades to show for it, as the newest episode of Black Sounds Beautiful demonstrates.
In this video series, which illuminates the accomplishments of Black music creators through a GRAMMY lens—she has Dominican ancestry via her dad's side, too, which means we celebrate her during Hispanic Heritage Month, too—take a quick ride through Cardi B's astonishing career highlights.
In the meantime, try to predict what the next 10 years of life under Queen Cardi's reign will be like. Chances are it won't involve bridge games and quietly building birdhouses. (Which is a free idea for her next video, BTW.)
Check out the dynamic video above and explore below to enjoy more episodes of Black Sounds Beautiful.
Credit: Paul Natkin/Getty Images
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.
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.
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photo: Jora Frantzis
Listen: Megan Thee Stallion & Cardi B Release New Song, "Bongos"
The single is the first collaboration between the GRAMMY-winning rappers since 2020's "WAP."
GRAMMY-winning artists Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B are back with a new single, "Bongos." The song highlights the duo's flow and connection, as they trade verses over a bouncy, repetitive and infectious beat fit for the club.
Released at the brink of autumn, the accompanying video for "Bongos" features vibrant visuals, majestic choreography and a Latin-inspired rhythm that makes listeners yearn for summer. The tropical-themed video was directed by Tanu Muino, who is known for her work on Harry Styles' "As it Was" and Normani’s "Wild Side."
The single’s cover art was teased a week prior on social media, showcasing Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion holding lollipops with bright matching swimsuits and pastel-colored curls.
"Bongos" marks the second collaboration since the duo's groundbreaking "WAP" single, which was performed at the 2021 GRAMMY awards and made history for its debut as the first female rap collaboration to top Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.
Fans who were expecting a "WAP sequel" won't be disappointed. During an interview with DJ Whoo Kid, Cardi B speaks on the song themes and the difference between WAP, saying "We are talking a little, you know, about some p—y, but not like ‘WAP’ type of stuff,” she said.
Cardi B has consistently been on the charts since her 2018 debut LP, Invasion of Privacy which won Best Rap Album at the 2019 GRAMMYs. Recent collaborations including "Point Me 2" with FendiDa Rappa, "Put it On the Floor" with Latto and "Jealousy" with Offset have reached topped charts and there’s speculation for a new album soon.
It’s uncertain if "Bongos" will appear on Cardi B’s sophomore album. She recently told Vogue Mexico x LatinAmerica, "I’m not going to release any more collaborations, I’m going to put out my next solo single.”
This is Megan’s first feature since her sophomore album, Traumazine, which was released in 2022. Megan announced a break from music in early 2023 to focus on her mental health amid the public trial against Tory Lanez.
Megan Thee Stallion has continued to flourish in the media, hosting "Saturday Night Live" and venturing into acting roles including Disney+ series "She-Hulk; Attorney at Law."
Photos: Larry Busacca/Getty Images; Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy; Brian Ach/Getty Images for Something in the Water; Kimberly White/Getty Images for Hennessy; Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images; Bob Berg/Getty Images; Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images; Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
A Guide To New York Hip-Hop: Unpacking The Sound Of Rap's Birthplace From The Bronx To Staten Island
The culture and art of hip-hop would not exist if not for NYC. Take a trip through Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island to learn how hip-hop developed sonically by the borough.
New York is indisputably the birthplace of hip-hop, but which of the city's five boroughs has dominated the genre continues to be a spirited debate among its scholars and natives.
The "Boogie Down" Bronx is the origin point of hip-hop history. It’s here Clive Campbell a.k.a. DJ Kool Herc threw a rec room party in 1973 that put hip-hop as we know it in motion. The city's northernmost borough is the home of groundbreaking artists from OGs Grandmaster Flash and Slick Rick, to contemporary stars including Cardi B.
Manhattan also plays a role in hip-hop’s evolution as a playground where rappers intermingled with punks, rockers and the thriving art scene throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. Elements of each of these developing artforms culminating in the music of the Beastie Boys. And because he is so often referred to as a West Coast rapper, it’s easy to forget Tupac Shakur was born in Manhattan.
Staten Island is, of course, home to the one and only Wu-Tang Clan and its diverse cosmology. Even the suburbs can boast major contributions — Long Island is the home of Public Enemy and Erik B & Rakim; head north of the Bronx to Westchester County, and you'll enter the home of the late rapper DMX.
What’s clear when we look at each borough, is that the culture and art of hip-hop would not exist if not for New York. Without the contributions,style and unique cultures of neighborhoods within Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and Staten, the artform would not have developed into the juggernaut it is today. Press play on the Amazon Music playlist below — or visit Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music — to take an auditory tour of the best of the boroughs.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, hop on the train and travel from borough to borough for its unique history and sounds.
As you examine the breadth of NYC hip-hop, you’ll find artists with a deep and complex relationship with the city. Biz Markie, for example, was born in one area of the city, raised in another, and claimed membership to a crew for a whole other borough. His story, and that of others who deserve many flowers, demonstrate that while hip-hop can be dissected by region and subway line, it’s the Big Apple's density, multiculturalism, an urban innovation that has made it arguably one of America's greatest art forms.
Mass immigration from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic in the 1950s made the Bronx the first majority Black and Latino borough in NYC by the mid-'70s. It’s not a coincidence that the Bronx was also woefully unserved by the city government, resulting in bleak economic conditions.
"Kids with little or no resources created something out of nothing," the Funky Four Plus One’s MC Sha Rock told ABC News said of hip-hop's origins. "No matter what was going on around us in New York City at the time, we looked forward to the park jams."
These jams featured breakdancing, DJs mixing, and MCing — all key elements of hip-hop that emerged from house parties and underground venues into a city-wide consciousness. "Hip-hop wasn't called hip-hop in the ‘70s, was called 'going to the jams,'" Sha Rock continued.
A few years before the park jams took off, DJ Kool Herc’s August 1973 rec room party put hip-hop as we know it on the map. Herc took classic records and popular hits, broke down the beats, and invited MCs to chime in over them invoking the Jamaican style of delivery, talking or chanting, usually in a monotone melody, over a rhythm known as "toasting" in reggae.
In 1975, the Bronx Boys Rocking Crew (or TBB) fostered another element of hip-hop when they organized late night tagging sessions. These young graffiti artists brought the color and life of their borough to the rest of the city, as painted subway trains provided moving canvases and controversy.
By the time the park jams were happening, some graffiti crews had expanded into competitive dance. With moves drawn from martial arts, gymnastics, and modern dance, "breaking, popping, and locking" would see b-boys and b-girls become as important as music to hip-hop as an art form. Breaking as an art has continued to flourish and will soon be an Olympic sport.
The borough would go on to boast Kool Keith, KRS One, Big Pun, Fat Joe, and Cardi B, among many others, as acts who have innovated the Bronx’s place in hip-hop culture. The borough is now home to the Universal Hip-Hop Museum and will host events at Sedgwick and a 50 Years of Hip-Hop concert at Yankee Stadium.
In 1990, Brooklyn was New York’s Blackest neighborhood, with 73.1 percent of its Black residents native born. The previous decade had seen Brooklyn rappers rise to prominence in hip-hop, by the end of the 1990s the world’s ear was tuned into Brooklyn.
Known for his use of three turntables, Cutmaster DC's early tracks "Brooklyn's in the House" and "Brooklyn Rocks the Best" were the first to mention Brooklyn as a force in hip-hop music. These early '80s tracks also featured DC's pioneering technique of cutting breaks over Roland TR-909 beats, a marked moment for hip-hop's technical advancement.
Combining speed, style and humor, few would influence hip-hop's syncopation and cadence like Big Daddy Kane. In their 2012 list of The Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time Rolling Stone called Kane "a master wordsmith of rap's late-golden age and a huge influence on a generation of MCs." Within a few years Brooklyn flow would be redefined by the slow deliberative annunciation of the Notorious B.I.G., whose delivery would become one of the most interpolated in rap history.
The styles of both would be emulated and refined by a young Brooklyn rapper named Shawn Carter. The artist later known as Jay-Z attended George Westinghouse High School in downtown Brooklyn, where his classmates included Busta Rhymes, Biggie and DMX — all of whom would play a critical part in the evolution of rap’s delivery styles.
The borough wasn’t only a boys club. MC Lyte, Foxy Brown, and new rappers like Young MA continue to put Brooklyn on the musical map.
The largest Borough by area, Queens boasts the Guiness World Record for most languages spoken and gained the nickname "The World’s Borough" for its diverse population. Whereas Bronx hip-hop was derived from Black American and Caribbean cultures, Queen’s hip-hop samples the world. While the 1970s saw the Bronx give birth to hip-hop, the 1980s saw the eastern borough of Queens mature the art form.
Queen’s hip-hop history has roots in two specific areas: the Queenborough Projects and Hollis. The Queensboro Projects, a.k.a. "The Bridge," were one of the few unsegregated projects in New York. It was also home to Marley Marl, who accidentally discovered sampling while working on a Captain Rock record as a studio intern in the early ‘80s.
"I was actually trying to get a riff off of a record. I made a mistake and got the snare in there before the sound came," he recounted to NPR. "The snare sounded better than the snare that I had from the drum machine when I was popping it…I was like, "Hold up!" This will enable me to take any kick and a snare from any record that people love and make my own beat." Marls’ use of the 808 pulse to trigger different samplers was revolutionary, and he would become a pioneer for his ability to blend sampled and 808 drum sounds.
Marl’s contribution would extend beyond the technical. As a member of the Juice Crew, he brought the voice of 14-year-old Roxanne Shanté to the world. She created a new lane for women in rap as well as the blueprint for the diss track on the seminal "Roxanne's Revenge."
About a half hour east on the F Train in Hollis, Queens, brothers Joseph and Russel Simmons (a DJ and promoter respectively) founded Run-D.M.C. with friends Darryl Mc Daniels and Jason Mizell. Run-D.M.C.'s sound featured a synchronized, aggressive delivery over simple but memorable rock hooks and beats. Later, the group established Def Jam Records, the label that would prove rap could sell millions of records to Top 40 audiences and bring rap to the mainstream as the first rappers to be featured on MTV.
As valuable as the musical contributions of Run-D.M.C are, they are equally vital to the development of fashion as an element of hip-hop. Street style, as it would come to be known, is born in Queens: Kangol hats, unlaced Addias, Carzal frames, and thick gold chains are now as synonymous with hip-hop as beats and samples. Today, fashion is so central to hip-hop, and vice versa, that New York's FIT Museum recently held an expansive exhibit on hip-hop style.”
Complex proclaimed Nas’ Illmatic "set off a seismic shift in rap geopolitics" and added that the 1994 record "galvanized Queensbridge hip-hop and by extension East Coast rap as a whole." His introspective and poetic approach to writing is credited for bringing the best out of his contemporaries and inspiring next generation rappers like Killer Mike and Kendrick Lamar, challenging them to meet his lyrical bar.
Though "The Fly Borough" is the most densely populated, the majority of its hip-hop history is concentrated in the northern Manhattan neighborhood of Harlem.
Home of the legendary Apollo Theater, the neighborhood was well rooted in Black music when World War II vet Bobby Robinson opened Bobby’s Records in 1946 — one of Harlems’ few Black owned businesses at the time. The record store would evolve as would Robinson’s involvement in music. He would become a producer and label head whose 1970 imprint Enjoy Records released music by hip-hop's earliest innovators, including Grandmaster Flash, the Treacherous Three, and Doug E. Fresh. The label would also feature Master Don, whose signature use of a "Funk Box" percussion synthesizer and its crispy digital hi hat is still heard in trap music today.
Harlem was also home to Dapper Dan, the first designer to "borrow" designer goods and modify them with hip-hop flair. His boutique operated from 1982-1992 and was essential to the merging of luxury brands and hip-hop culture. Although brands like Gucci first sued for copyright infringement, they eventually saw the value of hip-hop's branding power on high end fashion sales. In 2018, Dapper Dan and Gucci collaborated on a capsule collection.
Also during this ‘80s culture boom, three high schoolers from Manhattan applied the ethos of punk rock to the emerging street sounds of hip-hop.
The Beastie Boys began by pirating rap, self-admittingly "Rhyming and Stealing" for their 1986 Def Jam debut License to Ill, and went on to forge a new lane for the medium. They broke all the rules of sampling and production with their seminal Paul’s Boutique, which Rolling Stone noted is often dubbed "The Sargent Pepper of hip-hop" and lauded for its layer sampling technique. In their ranking of Paul’s Boutique Consequence of Sound wrote, "Paul’s Boutique sat at a finish line waiting for the rest of the world to catch up."
While the outer Boroughs would enjoy most of the attention musically throughout the '90s and 2000s, the 2010s would see Harlem again centered in hip-hop with the arrival of young rappers like Azealia Banks and the ASAP Mob collective.
RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard and later Cappadonna would find success as both a group and as solo artists. infiltrating the "big six" 1990s major record labels by design. You can also hear the influence of RZA on modern acts like El Michels Affair, which draws inspiration from Wu-Tang's melodic take on instrumentation and released two albums of instrumental soul covers of Wu-Tang Clan songs.
Their impact would go far beyond music however. Hip-hop biographer Will Ashon recounted Wu’s influence on fashion, noting that the group were part of a trend of simplification.
"Their whole modus operandi was to present themselves as real and unmanufactured, so their clothing choices had to reflect this. The rawness and directness of the music was supposed to be echoed in the rawness and directness of their clothing. They were a big part of the early 1990s move towards baggy and oversized clothes. Huge combat trousers or sweatpants, Timberland boots, hoodies, puffas, do-rags, gold fronts and so on. A ‘street soldier’ look."
As you’d expect, Wu’s presence looms large over future Staten Island artists, including G4 Boys and Killarmy. New artists like Cleotrapa, a spicy, no-holds-barred femme rapper, also counts Wu-Tang as an influence and is helping define Staten’s next chapter.
The history of the intersection of New York City and hip-hop culture is as big and diverse as the city itself. We could only touch on a handful of artists and creators in this piece, but the topic has been explored at length in books like Cant Stop Wont Stop by Jeff Chang and The Come Up: An Oral History of the Rise of Hip-Hop. Documentaries on hip-hop can be found on almost all streaming platforms Netflix’s notable Hip-Hop Evolution and Ladies First: The Story of Women in Hip-Hop.