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Essential Hip-Hop Releases From The 1970s: Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Flash, Sugarhill Gang & More

Releases from the 1970s demonstrate the many ways that hip-hop would be much more than a fleeting fad. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, revisit five releases from a decade that created the culture's framework.

GRAMMYs/Jul 6, 2023 - 03:10 pm

By the time Sugar Hill Gang’s "Rapper’s Delight" hit radio in 1979, early adopters of burgeoning hip-hop culture dismissed it as novelty — an easy cash grab capitalizing on organic artistry they lived and created. The culture's originators were youngsters who saw graffiti and breakdancing be both vilified and celebrated, all within a decade. But "Rappers’ Delight," not only charted but was for many a first peek into a new culture that was developing in poor parts of New York.

A lifetime transpired between the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. The Incredible Bongo Band’s 1972 track "Apache," for example, was an early anthem of pioneering b-boys and b-girls, but a mere few years later became the anchor sample for Sugarhill Gang’s 1981 comeback single of the same name. Much of what was released in the early part of the decade scaffolded the genre’s musical onslaught.

Lyrical content provided by the Watts Prophets, Gil Scott Heron, and the Last Poets had positioned socially-minded spoken word as a tool to shed light on conditions plaguing disadvantaged neighborhoods, racial politics, and more. There’s a direct corollary between their worldviews, spoken with grace and quiet ferocity, to songs like "The Message" (by Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five) almost a decade later.

The foreground to the ‘70s was rich with instances of proto-rap, but even a decade prior, Pigmeat Markham recorded an aesthetically traceable precursor to the ‘70s sound with "Here Comes The Judge," a curio replete with dialogue skits, breakbeats, and rap verses. Released on Chess Records in 1968, it’s closely akin to Fatback Band's "Personality Jock," a one-off funk tune that preceded many at the time.

The production and music from these early hip-hop artists was relentlessly avant-garde. Joe Bataan’s 1979 upbeat Latin-influenced disco single, "Rap-O-Clap-O" set an early example of mixing  genres and became rap’s debut in the European market. Three years later, Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock" fused rap with German electro.

By very late 1979, Kurtis Blow’s "Christmas Rappin’" enters the picture, a song that starts off not unlike a children’s song with "Twas the night before Christmas." Not only was it huge but was another example of rap’s boundless sound and potential.

These early recordings gave way to Kurtis Blow's breakthrough single "The Breaks" in 1980, which propelled Blow into early-rap superstardom as the first artist to sign to a major label — though, in hindsight, this was perhaps more of a breakthrough for the medium than the signee. Along with films and growing radio presence,  hip-hop became the predominant source of new ideas at the beginning of the ‘80s.

Releases from the 1970s demonstrate the many ways that hip-hop would be much more than a fleeting fad. Although it was eventually exploited and commercialized in the coming years, the late ‘70s produced some of the culture’s most essential music, providing a meaningful framework for its explosive development in the ‘80s. What occurred in the late ‘70s, however, were indispensable releases that furthered the culture; here are some very important ones.

Fatback Band - "Personality Jock" (1979)

Although not a "rap" record per se, Fatback Band’s "Personality Jock" in 1979 preceded Sugar Hill Gang’s "Rapper’s Delight" by about seven months. While no doubt a funk record, which was Fatback’s reputation, there's an undeniable end segment which is early rapping on record. At the song’s end, the funk gives way to King Tim III — sounding like a sixth member of the Furious Five — who steals the show. 

Years later, in a 2016 interview for Nerdtorious, Bill Curtis, Fatback’s nucleus and bandleader, remembered "Personality Jock’s" impact: "There was rapping in the Bronx and the cats there had been doing it for a while. So Fatback certainly didn’t invent rap or anything. I was just interested in it and I guess years later we were one of the first to record it… but it was already becoming all around us by then. It’s very hard to say who is the first but they credit Fatback as the first so I’m proud of that." 

Kurtis Blow - "Christmas Rappin" (1979)

Kurtis was rap’s first, perfect ambassador — clean cut and jheri-curled, he was a wholesome standout for the culture. Due in part to his early successes like "The Breaks," rap's first gold record, Blow was selling out stadiums in Japan by the '80s. Released during the holiday season in 1979,  "Christmas Rappin" was an audacious attempt at a newfound yuletide anthem. The industry took notice: Blow's debut single  signaled rap’s potential as a monetary gamechanger, and cemented Blow as one of its shimmering prodigies. 

In an interview with Wax Poetics, Blow described how the record came about: "Writers from Billboard magazine came to Hotel Diplomat one night when I was performing with [Grandmaster] Flash and they wanted to do a record with me. They wanted to pay for the studio time, promotion, flights, all of that. We went in and cut Christmas Rap."  The single was massive, the first to [be] released by a major label, preceding RUN-D.M.C.’s "Christmas in Hollis," selling an estimated 400,000 copies once released.  

Funky Four Plus One More - "Rappin' and Rocking The House" (1979)

Bronx-bred Funky Four Plus One More were not only one of larger, solely rap groups at the time, they were also the first to prominently feature a woman. Sha Rock, who proudly proclaims herself as the first female rapper, concisely says this on the track: "We're two DJs and five MCs. Four other fellas plus one is me!" For perspective, this was a whole five years before the mighty Roxanne Shanté even emerged. 

At 9-plus minutes, "Rappin' and Rocking"  was the first time  group dynamics were on full display with interchanging rhyme schemes.  Some of the techniques from rap's first mixed-gender crew became standard practice for groups that followed– Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five among them. While the song never made a commercial splash, it nevertheless propelled the group (and hip-hop) into the limelight. The Funky Four Plus One More became the first rap act to perform on national television in 1981, as the musical guest on "Saturday Night Live," which Deborah Harry hosted. 

Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five - "Superrappin’" (1979)

So much advancement in early DJ culture wouldn’t have occurred without Grandmaster Flash, a true innovator who built a mixer that enabled all future DJs to experiment with two turntables. 

Flash’s very first official release, a 12-minute cut called "Supperrappin’," was a watershed moment  for one of hip-hop’s true technical innovators who had a talented personnel of five beneath him. With long instrumental breaks and lots of in-and-out group rapping, the single couched serious societal stress into its exuberant verses.. It also signaled the arrival of Melle Mel, who would go down as possibly the most revered MC of this early era of which the likes of Chuck D, Rakim, and DMC still cite as utmost influential.   

Sugarhill Gang - "Rapper’s Delight" (1979)

Sylvia Robinson (of Mickey & Sylvia fame) had a legendary third act, one that would forever alter hip-hop’s trajectory. "Rapper's Delight" is the monumental record that broke rap into the mainstream. Robinson, perhaps hip-hop’s most important producer of this early era, corralled locals ("Big Bank Hank" Jackson, "Wonder Mike" Wright, and "Master Gee" O'Brien) who were open to putting their rhymes onto record — something that, in some ways, was considered taboo at the time — with the mindset that hip-hop was a living document. 

Robinson nevertheless tasked her in-house band play Chic’s "Good Times" on loop after loop— but it didn’t take long, supposedly "Rapper's Delight" is one of those capstone songs that was recorded in a single take, propelling her label, Sugar Hill Records, founded by her and her husband Joe, into the mainstream. It peaked at No. 4  on the Hot Soul Singles chart in 1979, and lodged  itself on international charts in the UK, Netherlands, and Spain. As the '70s ended, and as history would prove, there was no other song that can lay claim to the immense impact "Rapper's Delight" had on ushering in rap’s ‘80s era.    

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Crowd dancing at GRAMMY Museum's Hip-Hop Block Party
Attendees dance on the Ray Charles Terrace at the GRAMMY Museum

Photo: Randy Shropshire

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7 Ways The GRAMMY Museum’s Hip-Hop Block Party Celebrated Culture & Community

On June 6, the GRAMMY Museum honored Black Music Month with a vibrant, museum-wide soirée featuring dancers, musicians, and a fashion show.

GRAMMYs/Jun 11, 2024 - 01:32 pm

Most days of the week, the GRAMMY Museum closes at 6 p.m. But on Thursday, June 6, its doors were open well into the night. As some people filtered through them, others clustered around two rollerskate-clad dancers who synchronized to Aaliyah’s "Try Again" on the sidewalk outside the museum at L.A. Live. 

This was Richard "Swoop" Whitebear, the professional who choreographed the mononymous singer’s "Try Again" music video, and Alicia Reason, a skate coach and performing artist operating at the intersection of professional dance and roller skating. Their fluid movements drew a crowd outside the GRAMMY Museum’s inaugural Hip-Hop Block Party. 

The after-hours soiree, which ran to 11:30 p.m., is one of the larger events that the five-story archive of GRAMMY Award history and winners has ever hosted. Although the Hip-Hop Block Party honored Black Music Month, observed each June, its concept can be traced back to October 2023, when the museum launched "Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit" in celebration of the genre’s 50th anniversary. 

"The idea for [the party] came from the energy of the exhibit, which celebrates five decades of hip-hop. I was lucky to be a part of curating the exhibit and hosting its opening night, and that experience fueled my passion for continuing to share the story of hip-hop and its journey across cultures," says Schyler O’Neal, the Museum’s Manager of Education & Community Engagement. 

A grant from L.A.’s Department of Cultural Affairs enabled O’Neal and colleagues to coordinate the one-night-only affair, billed as an opportunity to "experience the pulse of hip-hop culture like never before." Across nine interdisciplinary art demos, activations, and pop-ups encompassing mediums ranging from photography to live music and dance, the GRAMMY Museum made good on this promise while providing a platform to compelling California-grown creatives. 

"Our goal was to shine a spotlight on local talent across the hip-hop spectrum: DJs, MCs, dancers, fashionistas, and photographers. We brought together an awesome lineup to represent the culture," O’Neal tells GRAMMY.com.  

Many spirited, community-building moments colored the evening. Read on for a snapshot of some of its most memorable.  

Uraelb Pays Homage To Hip-Hop’s Past, Celebrates Its Present & Embodies Its Future 

"I’m setting the tone at 8 pm," Uraelb proclaimed in an Instagram post ahead of the Hip-Hop Block Party. That’s precisely what the L.A. native did when he took the stage at the Clive Davis Theater for the evening’s first vocal performance. Flanked by a drummer, bassist, pianist and two supporting vocalists, UrealB opened with a performance of his original song, "Brace Face."  

He created a culture of artist participation by encouraging the crowd to smile and later, to sing along to his buttery-smooth rendition of OutKast’s "So Fresh, So Clean." From there, UraelB’s "homage to hip-hop" crossed coasts and generations, culminating in a pumped-up cover of Kendrick Lamar’s "King Kunta."  

"If I leave you with anything, I want to leave you with a deep appreciation for hip-hop," he said before closing with another one of his own productions, "Groovy." 

Uraelb first performed at the GRAMMY Museum as part of its educational program INDUSTRY SESSIONS. "[Uraelb] made such an impression during that class that we said, ‘we’ve gotta have him come perform at one of our events,’" O’Neal said just before the activation started.

Over the years, INDUSTRY SESSIONS — open to creatives 18 years and older — and the GRAMMY Museum’s other music education programs, have attracted a host of talent, including Giveon and Billie Eilish.  

Larry "Ruin" Combs Krumps to MJ’s "They Don’t Care About Us" 

To celebrate hip-hop’s history and culture is to appreciate dance’s inextricability from the music — and vice versa. On the Ray Charles Terrace, professional krumper Larry "Ruin" Combs nodded to South Central L.A., where krumping was born, in an impassioned performance to Michael Jackson’s "They Don’t Care About Us." 

A powerful medium of self-expression, krumping is a street dance that evolved from clowning, another style of dance with roots in African and Caribbean culture. Krumping is characterized by sharp, quick, and vigorous movements, like chest pops, stomps, and arm swings, used to convey emotion. Krumpers have historically turned to the art form to release negative or charged emotions and to navigate difficult experiences and circumstances.

Hence the title of the dance special that Combs is crafting, "The ‘e’ in ‘Krump’ is silent." 

"A lot of what Krump presents is very emotional; you see it, you don’t hear it," a nearly breathless Combs told the event co-host Leslie "Big Lez" Segar. "That’s what the format of the show is going to be like — various types of music that tug at your emotions, from good to bad."

While additional details about the forthcoming special are limited, those interested can follow Combs — who has notably performed on "America’s Got Talent" and the season finale of "So You Think You Can Dance." 

Cross Colours & Black Design Collective Dress For Success 

The GRAMMY Museum's attention to curating an event that celebrated the whole of hip-hop culture was especially apparent in the block party’s inclusion of a fashion show.

Cross Colours — a clothing brand launched in 1989 by Carl Jones, who studied fashion at the Otis Parson School of Design and Trade Technical College in L.A. — dressed local models from the Black Design Collective, a group of accomplished fashion industry professionals of color. The collective's goals include amplifying the influence of and creating opportunities for a global community of Black apparel, accessory and costume designers. 

Their partnership paved the way to a striking fashion show, during which more than five models circled the museum’s third floor, donning a variety of garments ranging from T-shirts with brightly-hued graphic designs to overalls.

NANA Shows Off His Lyrical Muscle — And A Different Strain Of Hip-Hop 

Crenshaw resident NANA contrasted the polished, funk-soul of Uraelb’s activation with a squeaky-clean spitting session. And while the storyteller’s quick tongue and lyrical muscle translated to a well-practiced performance that would have made anyone in attendance think he rehearsed for days pre-show, NANA had only 24 hours’ notice.  

As host O’Neal told it during a brief Q&A at the event, his request for NANA to take the stage at the block party ("I need your energy there!" he recalled telling NANA) came while the rapper was in the middle of a studio session. About a day later, NANA was holding a microphone in the Clive Davis Theater. 

NANA, who credited Nas, Jay-Z, Tupac, Kendrick Lamar, and Snoop Dogg among those on his "long list" of inspirations, is notably featured in the "Rap City Experience" section of the GRAMMY Museum’s "Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit," to which he contributed freestyles. 

Five Decades Of Hip-Hop Are On Display  

What’s better than a birthday cake? Try a 5,000-square-foot exhibit that traces hip-hop from its humble beginnings in the Bronx and New York City to the GRAMMY stage. On Oct. 7, 2023, the GRAMMY Museum opened "Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit," in honor of hip-hop’s 50th anniversary. Offering a focused, expansive (and tactile) look at the genre’s history and profound influence, the exhibit features a "sonic playground" complete with five interactive stations for DJing, rapping, and sampling.  

A retrospective educational journey, "Hip-Hop America" canvasses hip-hop scenes, sounds, and fashion across generations. Take, for example, the Notorious B.I.G.’s iconic red leather pea jacket, displayed in the same showcase as Migos’ embroidered blazers. The must-see exhibit exploring hip-hop’s long, rich, and still evolving history runs through Sept. 4. 

Learn more: Inside The GRAMMY Museum’s New Exhibit, "Hip-Hop America": From Dapper Dan To Tupac’s Notes

Hip-Hop Universal Provides A Formidable Finale 

Segar and Swoop, who worked with O’Neal to curate the evening’s dance performances, assembled what can only be described as a mic drop of a finale to the block party’s activations: Hip Hop Universal. The ensemble of five professional dancers and choreographers included Swoop, Robert "Rautu" Harris, Leon "No Realer" Spann, Marlyn Ortiz, and Ronnie "Futuristic Astaire" Willis.  

Some of their individual choreography and dance credits include an array of megastars, from Madonna, Taylor Swift, and Usher, to Britney Spears, Dr. Dre, and the Backstreet Boys. Over the course of their collaborative performance, which alternated between group dances and solos, Hip-Hop Universal made minutes feel like seconds — a testament to their rapturous synergy and individual expertise. 

Unity On The Dancefloor

At the heart of hip-hop — a genre in which artists pride themselves on representing their cities, perhaps more so than in any other genre of music — is community. That sense of community was apparent even through the schedule of programming. Activations occurred one at a time, in succession. This structure created a sense of togetherness; attendees collectively enjoyed a given activation and made their way to the next one together.  

The spirit of community imbued both the block party’s schedule and the content of its activations, but it was perhaps most visible on The Ray Charles Terrace. There, near the end of the evening, as the crowd awaited the final activation (and even afterwards), nearly all in attendance could be found dancing in the crisp, open air to beats spun by DJ R-Tistic. 

"This is our first time doing this, and I think we gotta keep doing this," O’Neal remarked on the mic. The crowd’s response — a resounding cacophony of affirmative cheers and applause — was answer enough.

"Everyone, from the talent to the staff to the hundreds of guests, [were] getting down together with the electric slide. That's what it was all about: bringing folks together for a good time," he concluded.

Inside The GRAMMY Museum’s New Exhibit, "Hip-Hop America": From Dapper Dan To Tupac’s Notes 

Rapper Warren G (Warren Griffin III) appears in a portrait taken on June 27, 1995 in Madison Square Park New York City.
Warren G

Photo: Al Pereira

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Warren G Revisits 'Regulate: The G-Funk Era': How The 1994 Album Paved The Way For West Coast Hip-Hop's Dominance

Long Beach's Warren G has consistently carried the flag of g-funk, from 1994 to present. The GRAMMY nominee revisits his classic album, which offered a different perspective on Southern California life.

GRAMMYs/Jun 7, 2024 - 02:03 pm

In the canon of West Coast hip-hop, Warren G’s debut album, Regulate: The G-Funk Era is considered one of the greatest.

Released on June 7, 1994, the album remains a perfect snapshot of the g-funk era, the popular subgenre of gangsta rap that was all the rage in the early- to mid '90s. "I created the genre, but I was introduced to it by Above the Law," Warren G tells GRAMMY.com. 

Headlining that album is of course, Warren G and Nate Dogg’s iconic track "Regulate," tapping that four-bar sample from Doobie Brother Michael McDonald’s "I Keep on Forgettin’." But the album features a number of other hits including "This D.J." and "So Many Ways," a remix version later appearing on the Bad Boys soundtrack.  

"Regulate" the single first arrived on the star-studded soundtrack for Above the Rim, released via Death Row Records in the spring of 1994, and sold over 2 million domestic copies in the year of its release. Then a few months later, Warren reintroduced "Regulate" on his inaugural album. The 12-track Regulate: The G-Funk Era provided a full vision of The Regulator's uber smooth brand of g-funk which rang out from the 213 all around the world.  

Thanks to pioneers like Above the Law, Dr. Dre, DJ Quik, and Warren G, g-funk (or gangsta funk) became the definitive sound of West Coast hip-hop. Regulate: The G-Funk Era was so impactful that it was even nominated for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group at the 1995 GRAMMYs.

Like Dre's The Chronic, many continue to be drawn to Regulate’s depiction of Southern California life, replete with endless sunshine and maxed-out cars blasting pioneer speakers. Regulate is also the story of Warren G, a personal album which gives love to the community and people he came up with ("I played ball through the halls of CIS / With Snoop Dogg's big brother, call him Dirty Left," he raps on "This D.J.", referencing College Intermediate School in Long Beach ).

With Regulate, self-described "outlaw" Warren G made a platform for himself and some of his disciples. Album features the Twinz, an LBC duo consisting of twin brothers Deon and Dewayne Williams, and the Dove Shack, whose summer anthem "This is the Shack" (later reprised on the group’s own album with the same title a year later),  took the West Coast hip-hop world by storm. Though the great crooner Nate Dogg died more than a decade ago, 213, the Long Beach collective of Warren G, Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg lives on. Warren and Snoop just released the single "Cali 2 Canada," in advance of an upcoming tour. 

Regulate was Warren G's first release after effectively being exiled from Death Row Records, where his halfbrother and mentor Dr. Dre, not to mention Long Beach pals Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg thrived. Warren signed with Def Jam Records in 1994,  and his debut release helped save the label from serious debt: Regulate: The G-Funk Era sold 3 million copies in the U.S. and debuted at No. 2 on the U.S. Billboard Top 200 albums chart.  

As we look back on 30 years since Regulate the G-Funk Era, GRAMMY.com connected with Warren G himself to look back on five ways the album paved the way for west coast hip-hop today.  

It Solidified Long Beach As A Hip-Hop Mecca 

Warren G isn’t the first Long Beach rapper who made waves during this era. There’s Snoop, of course, as well as Missouri-born, Long-Beach raised Domino. But Regulate: The G-Funk  Era feels like a whole album about place, giving love to the LBC on every track with people and places like 21 and Lewis, King’s Park, the Voltron Crew, and Cal State Long Beach as Warren shouts them out on tracks like "Regulate" and "This D.J."

Warren acknowledges that there were the realities of the streets, but also plenty of fun to be had growing up, too, including listening to old records for hours together with his father. "Coming up in Long Beach was fun. We had a lot of sports. Lot of neighborhood activities as far as King’s Park," Warren G tells GRAMMY.com. "It was fun. It was dangerous. It was cool. It was my home."

Voltron Crew is Warren’s group of friends he used to sell candy with while having rap battles. Warren impressed the crew by rapping the lyrics to some of Dre's yet-to-be-released material, including "Cabbage Patch." "'Damn Warren, you’re harder than a motherf—a,'" he recalled his friends saying with a laugh.

And then there’s Warren’s beloved VIP Records on Pacific Coast Highway which Warren calls an LBC "landmark." He and his friends would walk down there after school to listen to music as one DJ after another queued up inside of the institution to spin. "It was just fun for us to be able to see that and listen to good music at the same time," Warren adds.

It Made Nate Dogg A Star 

The late great Nate Dogg was already on the rise on the West Coast with early vocals on Dre’s "Deeez Nuuuts," Mista Grimm ft. Warren G’s "Indo Smoke," and Snoop’s "Ain’t No Fun." But the titular track "Regulate" made him soar. While Nate is given a featured credit, he’s lockstep with Warren during the entire song, matching Warren’s lyricism with his own hybrid style of singing and rapping that had never been seen in hip-hop before and hasn’t been seen since. 

Back in those days, hip-hop often didn’t really promote its hookmen and women — much less feature them prominently in their music videos. (Consider Nate’s Bay Area contemporary Mike Marshall, who sings the hook on Luniz’s classic "I Got 5 On It," but unfortunately isn’t remembered beyond West Coast hip-hop diehards.) But Nate made himself seen and heard on "Regulate."

It’s no coincidence he went on to become the go-to hook singer in California and beyond, working with everyone from Tupac and Ludacris, to French hip-hop group Psy 4 de la Rime. Nate Dogg passed away in 2011 at age 41.

It Presented A Different Version Of West Coast Gangsta Rap 

When compared to some of his contemporaries, Regulate: The G-Funk Era focused less on hardcore themes in favor of keeping things light and smooth. Even "Regulate" itself — which is about Nate and Warren dealing with a carjacking on a cool and clear California night — the Mississippi-born crooner who grew up in a Gospel choir always had a way of keeping things mellow. 

Regulate: The G-Funk Era also speaks to the turbulent climate of ‘90s inner-city Los Angeles. While Dre’s The Chronic might be more overt about it, Warren goes there too on songs like on the album’s third single, "Do You See,"  whose beat mashes up Mtume’s "Juicy Fruit" and Junior’s "Mama Used to Say." Much of that song, Warren G says, is personal.

"I just talked about everything I was going through, ya know, Snoop being in jail," he recounts. "Mista Grimm is my dog. But he was doing things that just wasn’t cool…But I forgave him for all of that still. Even though I talked about it in the song. I forgave him 'cause that was my dog. He’s still my dog."  

"Do You See" speaks about realities beyond the LBC, too. It opens with a sample from Gil Scott-Heron’s 1976 fiery spoken word piece  "Bicentennial Blues": "The blues has always been totally American… as American as apple pie… the question is why?...Well, America provided the atmosphere."

"I had listened to that particular [song] and everything he said was what I was going through. It blew me away," Warren says. 

It Introduced Us The Dove Shack, Twinz & Jah Skillz 

After not being able to get footing in Death Row, Warren G struck out on his own. He built his own roster of lesser-known talent on G-Funk Music, under the parent label Def Jam Recordings, and brought in Dove Shack (C-Knight, Bo-Roc and 2Scoops), the Twinz, and Jah Skillz, part of the larger female group Da 5 Footaz —who all got the G-Child cosign. Each artist debuted on Regulate: The g-funk Era, with summertime anthem "This is The Shack," an album standout.

Many of Warren G's guest features went on to have their own careers. Dove Shack member C-Knight recently passed away and Bo-Roc, a crooner in his own right, went on to work with other West Coast legends like Richie Rich, Daz Dillinger, and Foesum. Twinz, meanwhile, turned bass-heavy feature "Recognize" into the full-fledged Conversation in 1995, a g-funk album that gave us one of Warren G’s greatest beats, "Journey Wit Me," featuring Bo-Roc. 

As for Jah Skillz, she’s front and center for the entirety of "Super Soul Sis," and wastes not a single word. Da 5 Footaz went on to appear on the Jason’s Lyric and Set It Off soundtracks. 

It Gave G-funk Its Timeless Credo 

A few people are credited for launching g-funk, but Warren G’s timeless credo: "g-funk, where rhythm is life and life is rhythm," in the waning moments of "Regulate" and "And Ya Don’t Stop"  remains a classic to this day.

On his 1997 sophomore album Take a Look Over Your Shoulder and 1999's I Want It All, Warren G always shouted out gangsta funk. He also stayed true to the sound that spread west coast hip-hop worldwide: By 2001, a couple of years after the g-funk era fully ended, Warren defiantly proclaimed that "g-funk is Here to Stay" on Return of the Regulator.  

In 2015, he even put out an EP, Regulate... G-Funk Era, Part II, featuring unreleased music with his longtime partner Nate. From 1994 through 2024, Warren has consistently carried the flag of g-funk, the original west coast sound that he helped cement with Regulate The g-funk Era, 30 years ago.

A Guide To Southern California Hip-Hop: Definitive Releases, Artists & Subgenres From L.A. & Beyond 

Hip-Hop 50
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.

2023 In Review: 5 Trends That Defined Hip-Hop

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The 10 Most Controversial Samples In Hip-Hop History

The use of samples has influenced artists and DJs for decades. It's also been fodder for lawsuits and ire — read on for 10 of the biggest sampling controversies in hip-hop, from 2 Live Crew and the "Amen Brother" break, to Young Nudy.

GRAMMYs/Aug 10, 2023 - 02:44 pm

Hip-hop would not exist without sampling. Over its 50 years of existence, rappers, producers, and DJs have taken old music and made it new again, remixing and reinterpreting the creativity of previous generations and folding it into the culture of today. 

But not everyone is flattered when a rapper samples their song. The history of hip-hop is rife with legal battles over unauthorized samples — from the genre’s early wild west days to the modern era. Some of these controversies have had lasting implications for the entire industry. 

Below, we take a look at some of the most controversial samples in hip-hop.

Sugarhill Gang – "Rapper’s Delight" (1979)

Before "Rapper’s Delight," hip-hop was predominantly a live art form. Rappers rarely recorded and preferred to perform for a live audience, improvising freestyle raps over funk and soul records spun by DJs. The use of samplers and drum machines was not yet widespread. Nevertheless, Sylvia Robinson, a singer and studio owner who wanted to take advantage of the trend. She assembled rap group the Sugarhill Gang and invited some studio musicians to record a sound-alike version of the instrumental from Chic’s "Good Times" for them to rap over. 

The song hadn’t even reached the charts yet — though it would become the first hip-hop song to breach the Billboard Top 40 — before Nile Rodgers of Chic heard an early version at a club in Manhattan. Ironically, several members of the Sugarhill Gang as well as Fab Five Freddy had joined the band onstage at a show weeks earlier to freestyle during "Good Times." Rogers didn’t take kindly to the song being knocked off, and he and Chic bassist Bernard Edwards immediately threatened legal action, with a settlement leading to them being credited as co-writers. 

The song broke hip-hop into the mainstream, but it also set the stage for many similar cases of producers asking for forgiveness rather than permission and facing the consequences. 

Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force - "Planet Rock" (1982)

Another example of "sampling without sampling," "Planet Rock" wasn’t a straight re-recording of an earlier song like "Rapper’s Delight." After witnessing the popularity of songs by Kraftwerk in New York’s nightclubs, producer Arthur Baker and DJ Afrika Bambaataa decided to fuse the German group’s electronic music with hip-hop. 

"Planet Rock" fuses the beat from "Numbers" with the melody from "Trans-Europe Express," with Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force rapping above, but Baker recreated both with his own instruments. They never asked permission from Kraftwerk, however, and when the band reached out to Tommy Boy Records, the label decided to give them a dollar for every copy sold, raising prices to recoup the cost. 

The song birthed a genre, electro, and influenced everything from Detroit techno to Miami bass. Years later, Kraftwerk sued another musician over unauthorized sampling, a case that went all the way to Germany’s highest court in 2016. 

The "Amen" Break (recorded 1969)

When Washington, D.C.-based soul band the Winstons recorded "Amen, Brother," they couldn’t have predicted the seven-second drum break played by Gregory Coleman would go on to become one of the most iconic, oft-replicated sounds in music. 

And yet that’s exactly what happened: After being included in drum break compilations such as Ultimate Breaks and Beats designed for DJs to loop and sample, the "Amen Break" made its way into iconic hip-hop songs from N.W.A. ("Straight Outta Compton"), Mantronix ("King of the Beats,"), 2 Live Crew ("Feel Alright Y’all"), and eventually even the "Futurama" theme song. But the break really exploded in the UK, where British dance music producers, who needed faster tracks for the exploding rave movement, sped the break up. They chopped it until "Amen Brother" was barely recognizable, with other famous breaks like "Funky Drummer" and "Think" getting similar treatment. 

Jungle, and its splinter genres drum and bass, and breakcore, resulted, and the breakbeat revolution it unleashed now influences modern pop acts such as PinkPantheress and NewJeans. According to WhoSampled, "Amen, Brother" has been sampled in 6,174 songs, which may be a low estimate. 

As the saying goes, however, revolution eats its children. Gregory Coleman, the Winstons drummer who originated the break, never saw a cent of royalties from any of it. He was homeless at the time of his death in 2006, and according to Winstons bandleader Richard Lewis Spencer he had no idea the break had made such an impact. Spencer himself has run hot and cold on the break’s impact, sometimes calling its use plagiarism, but he at least was able to make some money from it: As the last living member of the Winstons, he received $37,000 from a 2015 GoFundMe campaign aimed at repaying some of the lost royalties before he died in 2020. 

Biz Markie - "Alone Again" (1991)

In the late '70s and throughout the 1980s, hip-hop flourished creatively as a result of creative sampling. Producers such as Public Enemy’s Bomb Squad created records filled with dozens of samples — a collage-like approach that would influence artists like DJ Shadow and the Avalanches. And yet in 1991, a lawsuit over an uncleared sample threatened to snuff out the entire art form. 

Biz Markie, famous for comedic songs such as "Just A Friend," had been dragged into federal court along with Warner Bros. Records for using a portion of "Alone Again (Naturally)," a nearly-forgotten pop song from the ‘70s by Gilbert O’Sullivan. The case was a disaster for Markie and for creativity in general. The court ruled that because the label had reached out to the sample copyright holders, who withheld permission to use the song, and then released it anyway, they were guilty of blatant and willful copyright infringement. 

The defense’s argument that unauthorized sampling was widespread in the music industry was rebuffed by Judge Kevin Duffy. In his ruling — which opens by quoting the biblical commandment "Thou Shalt Not Steal" — Duffy wrote that: "The defendants...would have this court believe that stealing is rampant in the music business and, for that reason, their conduct here should be excused."  

Markie was ordered to pay $250,000 in damages and referred to (but never charged by) a criminal court on grounds of theft, reeking of racist paternalism. Yet the primary upshot of the decision — that any unapproved sample constitutes copyright infringement — was even more damaging, creating a chilling effect across hip-hop that prevented artists from making full use of the practice’s creative potential. Warner Bros. took the song off Markie’s album, and the rapper famously titled his next record All Samples Cleared! 

2 Live Crew - "Pretty Woman" (1989)

Is Luther Campbell, the don dada of Miami bass maestros 2 Live Crew, smarter than the entire Warner Bros. legal team that bungled the "Alone Again" case? Judging by the fact that he managed to drag an uncleared sample case from a much more famous artist than Gilbert O’Sullivan all the way to the Supreme Court — and win — the answer is yes. 

Like Biz Markie, 2 Live Crew had asked permission to use a sample – in this case "Oh! Pretty Woman" by Roy Orbison – and was rejected. Perhaps this came as a result of their less-than-family-friendly reputation, as the group had been in and out of the headlines fighting obscenity charges over best-selling album As Nasty As They Wanna Be. Nevertheless, they released the song anyway, and when Orbison’s label eventually sued, Campbell came up with a clever defense: fair use. 

Campbell declared the 2 Live Crew song, "Pretty Woman," was a parody of Orbison’s original, and therefore the sample constituted a legal fair use. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which reversed an earlier appeals court ruling that said the song couldn’t have been a fair use because of its commercial nature. They also agreed with the initial federal district court ruling that said the 2 Live Crew song was not similar enough to Orbison’s to constitute wholesale infringement. 

Ironically, Campbell himself later sued 50 Cent for using "It’s Your Birthday" in his hit single "In Da Club," while 50 later sued Rick Ross for using that song’s beat on a freestyle. 

Jay-Z feat. UGK - "Big Pimpin" (2000)

Hov ended up regretting some of the sexist lyrics on this collab with Houston’s Bun B and Pimp C, but the reason he and Timbaland ended up in court over "Big Pimpin" was a contentious sample. The producer had already forked over $100,000 to sample "Khosara Khosara" by Egyptian composer Baligh Hamdi, but this wasn’t enough for Osama Ahmed Fahmy, Hamdi’s nephew. 

Citing the Egyptian legal concept of "moral rights," Fahmy claimed in a 2005 lawsuit that the song was unlicensed because Jay-Z and Timbaland had failed to ask permission from Hamdi’s heirs. The suit was left in legal limbo for years before a California judge finally let Fahmy proceed, by which point Linkin Park had also been pulled in due to a mashup of "Big Pimpin" with their single "Papercut." During his testimony four years later, Jay-Z declared he had been unaware that there was even a sample in the song, saying "Timbaland presented me with a track. I didn’t even think about there being a sample." 

The case was finally settled in 2018 when an appeals court upheld the original summary judgment in favor of Jay-Z, by which point the song was nearly 20 years old. 

Kanye West - "Blood On The Leaves" (2013)

Quite a few of the samples used on Yeezus, Kanye’s incendiary, famously-rushed 2013 album, ended up being unauthorized. West fielded lawsuits from Hungarian prog rock band Omega (sampled on "New Slaves") and the Ponderosa Twins Plus One (sampled on "Bound 2") for using their music without permission. But it was "Blood on the Leaves" which attracted the most attention for its brazen (and fully authorized) appropriation of Nina Simone’s cover of "Strange Fruit," originally made famous by Billie Holiday

That a famous anti-lynching anthem was used by a mega-famous rapper to decry the materialism and excess rife within hip-hop might have ruffled a few feathers — some conservative critics even argued it was an anti-abortion song — but the song received almost universal praise. 

Robin Thicke ft. T.I. and Pharrell - "Blurred Lines" (2013)

True, "Blurred Lines" is not exactly a hip-hop track, but it does feature two rappers, and while not exactly a sample, Robin Thicke and Pharrell’s much-too-liberal "borrowing" of Marvin Gaye’s "Got to Give it Up" changed the music industry irreparably. Certainly, the song was hugely controversial, opening up a pre-#MeToo discourse over its objectification of women and glorification of rape culture that ultimately led to bans. But it was the similarities to Gaye’s song, flaunted by Willams and Thicke in the press, as well as a preemptive legal action against the Marvin Gaye estate, that had a more lasting, damaging impact. 

Williams had argued in his initial complaint against the Gaye family that their claim was not based on specific musical elements, but on the face value similarity of the two songs. However, a jury ruled unanimously in favor of the family. The case essentially rewrote the legal precedents of musical copyright law overnight, broadening the scope by which a song might be considered infringement. Thanks to the "Blurred Lines" suit, a musician may live in fear of legal predation simply because their new song sounds vaguely similar to one from 30 or 40 years ago. 

Meanwhile, massive investments are being made into older music, partially to make up for this creative chilling effect.

Juice WRLD - "Lucid Dreams" (2017)

There’s nothing particularly incendiary about the plaintive guitar sample from Sting’s "Shape of My Heart" that forms the backbone of Juice WRLD’s emo rap hit. When producer Nick Mira revealed that Sting had taken 85 percent of the rights for the song, however, it became a demonstration of how sampling has become a way for established artists to exploit newer talent. 

It also attracted a lawsuit from pop-punk band Yellowcard, who cited similarities to their track "Holly Wood Died." Juice WRLD himself downplayed the situation, saying "There’s always more money to be made." The suit was later dropped after the 21-year-old rapper’s tragic early death in December 2019. 

Young Nudy feat. Playboi Carti - "Pissy Pamper" (aka "Kid Cudi") (2019)

One of the most successful unreleased songs in recent memory is also a cautionary tale for keeping leaks under control. The song originally entitled "Pissy Pamper" was a Pi’erre Bourne-produced track originally meant for Sli’merre, his collaborative mixtape with Young Nudy. 

With its prominent use of a loop from "Tasogare" by Japanese singer Mai Yamane (best known to anime fans for "Cowboy Bebop" ending theme), the track regretfully never made the record due to sample clearance issue. But somehow, a leaked file made its way onto Spotify, where its killer component, an evocative "baby voice" verse from Playboi Carti at the peak of pre-Whole Lotta Red hysteria. 

The rest is history: internet memes, reuploads with Nudy’s parts removed, and so on. Thanks to social media, the song is a generational touchstone that shouldn’t legally exist. 

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