For young people today, it’s hard to imagine a time when rap and hip-hop culture didn’t sit in the mainstream, when it wasn’t the default genre for chart-toppers and was even considered incendiary or dangerous. But 27 years ago it was just that, and no amount of commercial success was able to force it out of the margins.
Arguably, the premiere of “Yo! MTV Raps” on August 6, 1988 was a watershed moment in bringing this culture closer to the center. Opened up by the Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff’s freestyling, the episode (which you can watch in full above) featured Eric B. & Rakim’s legendary “Follow the Leader” as its opening track. Throughout the next seven years, hosts Dr. Dré, Ed Lover and Fab 5 Freddy (along with Lover’s signature dance) would navigate the expanding terrain of the culture they celebrated with agility and abiding respect for its artists. Now that MTV’s far less regarded for its music programming, “Yo! MTV Raps” is the signature of a bygone era when hip-hop felt like black and brown America’s special club, with the show being one of its main initiating rites.
Check out the premiere episode above, and share your favorite “Yo! MTV Raps” memories in the comments!