On Hip Hop’s 50th Birthday, More Or Less, There Are Lots Of Ways To Celebrate

Figuring out what counts as the alpha moment, the big bang explosion, that led to an entire, massive musical genre such as hip hop and rap is, at best, a speculative affair. Mostly, it’s a really good excuse to celebrate decades of great music, artists, fashion and culture across a mid-summer weekend and beyond.

Thus, a neighborhood flier posted by DJ Kool Herc and his sister Cindy Campbell for a house party in the Bronx 50 years ago today has become the ur document. the founding declaration, affixing hip hop’s demi-centennial to a specific night.

Kool Herc, the nom de stage of Jamaican-American DJ Clive Campbell, is now credited as the father of the sprawling, globe-girdling genre known as hip hop (Gil Scott-Heron, James Brown, and George Clinton surely qualify as the genre’s godfathers). Back when Herc was getting going, the music mostly comprised a couple of turntables, a few huge speakers, and a DJ or other performer “toasting” over the tracks in rhyme. Things have evolved since then, popping up across the planet, and across genres as diverse as country, Reggaeton, Latin trap, Afropop, jazz, and hard rock.

This week and, really, this whole summer, hip hop 50th events have popped up all over the country. The biggest, and most location-appropriate, is an era-spanning concert at Yankee Stadium on Friday night organized by Mass Appeal with Live Nation.

Hip Hop 50 Live will feature Herc, as part of a set of pioneers as as the Sugar Hill Gang, Kurtis Blow and Melle Mell. But plenty of other huge names are scheduled too: Eve, Lil Kim, T.I. A$AP Ferg, Fat Joe, Common, Ghostface Killah, and Lupe Fiasco.

New York is hosting plenty of other hip hop anniversary events, including a block party in the Bronx and Guru reviving his influential 1990s Jazzmatazz albums, which fused jazz giants such as Donald Byrd with hip hop.

Vevo, the streaming service built around music videos and related content, is taking an expansive approach to noting hip hop through the ages, with its linear channels devoted to specific genres and decades, said Jordan Glickson, the company’s VP of Music & Talent. Despite years of controversy and industry resistance, hip hop as expanded into culture, film, TV, fashion, street art, and much else.

“Hip hop is touching everything, ” Glickson said. “It wasn’t necessarily what the labels were saying, ‘This is what we’re going to push.’ It wasn’t what the industry pushed; it pushed the industry. You’re talking about a culture where people are passionate beyond just the song.”

A new linear channel devoted to features is loaded with rap songs from across genres, regional scenes and eras. Staff picks will spotlight favorite cuts, like Fight The Power, Glickson said.

On some videos, Vevo will overlay bits of documentary and historic detail on-screen, much as VH-1 was once known for doing. The service also interviewed a string of prominent musicians about making some of their most famous tracks, including Public Enemy mastermind Chuck D on the making of Fight The Power, plus T.I., Salt-n-Pepa, and Cypress Hill.

“Hip hop has always been about reaching back to the music that got you into it,” Glickson said. “You hear it now where artists are sampling music from the 1990s, which to me sounds like (just) yesterday.”

And the hip hop influences aren’t just showcased on hip hop-related channels, Glickson said. On the rock channel you might see the scorching 2004 mashup between Jay-Z and Linkin Park, Encore/Numb, from Collision Course. Or on the country channel, Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus’ record-setting Old Town Road, which spent most of four months at No. 1. Bad Bunny and other Latin American stars who mix hip hop, Latin trap and reggaeton will be lots of places, given Bunny’s global success on sales charts and concert ticket sales.

Along the way, hip hop has indeed insinuated itself just about everywhere you can imagine. Punjabi superstar Karan Aujla, whose latest album Making Memories debuts Aug. 18, incorporates rap into his hugely popular Indian pop music. So even museums and brands are marking the anniversary.

The Hammer Museum in Los Angeles organized a Summer Nights Series of films honoring hip hop’s 50 years. The series culminates Tuesday with Planet Rocker, Show Stopper, Flow Dropper, Beat Scholar: Women in Hip Hop, a documentary from Oscar winner Ava DuVernay and Grammy winner Missy Elliott, the pioneering singer dubbed the Queen of Hip Hop.

Ad Age looked at hip hop’s influence in advertising and culture, while the New York Times
took a deep dive over the weekend, including pieces talking to 50 rap stars from across the genre’s eras and styles, a look at the genre’s female-forward future, and the evolution of bling, with pendants and rings sported over the decades by everyone from Biz Markie to Flavor Flav to LL Cool J to Tyler the Creator.

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