By Karu F. Daniels, Brian Niemietz, Tim Balk and Amber Garrett, New York Daily News
While it’s impossible to distill a history as rich as hip-hop’s down to just 50 defining moments, here are many of the music’s game-changing artists and achievements over the past 50 years:
Aug. 11, 1973: 1520 Sedgwick Ave. in the Bronx earns its place in history as the birthplace of hip-hop when DJ Kool Herc (Clive Campbell) and his sister Cindy throw a back-to-school party in their building’s community room.
Nov. 12, 1976: Afrika Bambaataa makes his DJ debut at a party at the Bronx River Community Center, spinning vinyl on a sound system his mom gave him as a graduation present.
July 13, 1977: During a two-day New York City blackout, inner city youth reportedly break into local electronics stores across the city to scrap together turntables, microphones, mixers, speakers and other audio equipment to become deejays and emcees.
1979: Sugar Hill Records is co-founded by Joe and Sylvia Robinson. The Sugar Hill Gang’s single “Rapper’s Delight,” released later that year, becomes the first rap song to be played on the radio and the first to be a top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.
1980: Kurtis Blow is signed to Mercury Records, believed to be the first major record deal for a rapper.
Feb. 14, 1981: Funky 4 + 1, a Bronx-based group composed of Jazzy Jeff, Sha-Rock, D.J. Breakout, Guy Williams, Keith Keith, The Voice of K.K. and Rodney Stone, become the first rap act to perform live on national television as the musical guest on “Saturday Night Live.”
1981: Street art trailblazer Jean Michel Basquiat and graffiti artist Lee Quiñones appear in the music video for Blondie’s “Rapture,” which brings the genre to the pop music mainstream. The song spends two weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
1983: Herbie Hancock’s synth and drum machine-driven “Rockit” wins a Grammy Award for Best R&B Instrumental Performance in 1983.
1984: Def Jam Records is founded in Rick Rubin’s NYU dormitory room. The label, with Russell Simmons as its face, will go on to boast a roster that includes LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Foxy Brown, Method Man, Redman, Jay-Z, Ja Rule and Rihanna.
Oct. 25, 1985: “Krush Groove,” a movie loosely based on the backstories of Def Jam Records, is released. It features performances by Kurtis Blow, Run DMC, Beastie Boys, The Fat Boys and introduces the world to LL Cool J. Although panned by mainstream critics, the film is a box office success.
July 15, 1986: Run DMC’s third studio album “Raising Hell” achieves platinum status, becoming the first hip-hop album to sell 1 million units. It would go on to achieve triple platinum status the following year.
Nov. 15, 1986: The Beastie Boys release their debut studio album, “Licensed to Ill,” proving that white boys could rap, too. The trio, composed of Michael “Mike D” Diamond, Adam “MCA” Yauch and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, became the first rap group to have an album top the Billboard 200
Dec. 8, 1986: Salt-N-Pepa releases “Hot, Cool & Vicious.” The meteoric success of the sexually suggestive “Push It” propels the Queens-based group into superstardom as the first Grammy-nominated female rap group.
Dec. 4, 1986: Run DMC becomes the first rap group to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone.
March 29, 1988: DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, also known as Will Smith, release hip hop’s first double album, “He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper.” The album goes platinum and the duo win a 1989 Grammy for best rap performance” for their family-friendly hit “Parents Just Don’t Understand.”
August 1988:The Source magazine launches, becoming the first and last word on hip-hop music on newsstands. What started as a newsletter became the top-selling music magazine in the U.S. by 1999. A “5 Mic Rating” from The Source comes to designate an album as an instant classic.
Aug. 6, 1988: MTV debuts “Yo! MTV Raps,” hosted by Fab 5 Freddy, featuring Ed Lover and Doctor Dré. The network had been famously called out for neglecting Black artists during a 1983 interview with MTV host Mark Goodman who said, “We have to play the music we think an entire country is going to like.”
Aug. 8, 1988: West Coast band N.W.A. (short for Niggaz With Attitude) release “Straight Outta Compton.” Assisted by DJ Yella, rappers Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube and Arabian Prince bring gangsta rap out of the hood and onto Main Street with controversial hits including the title track, “F–k the Police” and “Express Yourself.”
July 4, 1989: Public Enemy releases the single “Fight the Power,” which goes on to become a rap anthem when filmmaker Spike Lee features the hard-hitting tune in his 1989 film “Do the Right Thing.” The song also makes celebrities out of Long Island rappers Chuck D and Flavor Flav.
1992: Following N.W.A.’s lead, producer Suge Knight forms Death Row Records, which featured rappers Snoop Doggy Dogg and Tupac Shakur. Dr. Dre leaves N.W.A. in 1992 to record his hit solo album “The Chronic” on Death Row, where he’s also a producer.
May 8, 1992: An appellate court overturns an obscenity ruling putting retailers at risk for selling 2 Live Crew’s sexually explicit album “As Nasty as They Wanna Be.” Three members of the band were arrested on obscenity charges following a 1990 performance in Florida. The band’s raunchy tunes include the 1989 hit “Me So Horny.”
Dec. 14, 1992: Staten Island group Wu-Tang Clan, featuring RZA and Ghostface Killa, releases the single “Protect Ya Neck” from their kung-fu flavored 1993 album “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).” The band eventually becomes a brand, selling music as well as apparel.
Jan. 30, 1993: New York’s Hot 97 changes its format from a mix of Top 40 and house music to officially become a hip-hop station.
April 19, 1994: A 20-year-old rapper from Queensbridge Houses who goes by Nas releases his debut album, “Illmatic.” The jazz-infused record’s lucid, narrative-driven lyrics about urban life change hip-hop with songs including “N.Y. State of Mind,” “The World is Yours” and “Life’s a Bitch.”
Sept. 13, 1994: Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, rapper Christopher Wallace, also known as the Notorious B.I.G. and Biggie Smalls, releases “Ready to Die,” which Rolling Stone calls “The Greatest Rap Album of All Time” and Pitchfork names the “Best Hip Hop Album of All Time.” It’s the only album Smalls ever released.
March 26, 1995: NWA rapper Eazy-E, born Eric Lynn Wright, dies of AIDS-related pneumonia, a week after he publicly announced he had been diagnosed with the disease.
Sept. 7, 1996: L.A.-based rapper Tupac Shakur, 25, is shot in Las Vegas and dies days later. His murder remains unsolved, though investigators are still on the case. One of Shakur’s best known songs is the 1996 diss’ track “Hit Em Up,” which takes aim at his rival Biggie Smalls.
March 9, 1997: Biggie Smalls is shot dead while sitting in a vehicle outside a party shortly after midnight. His second album “Life After Death” is released 16 days later. The L.A.. killing of the bigger than life “Who Shot Ya” rapper remains unsolved, though many believe his death was connected to the killing of Shakur.
Sept. 29, 1998: Jay-Z, a rapper raised in Brooklyn’s Marcy Houses releases his chart-topping third studio album, “Vol. 2 … Hard Knock Life.” The title track memorably mines lyrics from the stage show “Annie.”
Oct. 13, 1998: Unreleased lyrics by Tupac Shakur from years earlier are stitched into a newly released rap song, “Changes,” which samples “The Way It Is” by Bruce Hornsby and the Range. The posthumous release becomes one of the most referenced rap tracks of all time.
Feb. 13, 1999: Lauryn Hill’s “Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” dominates the 53rd annual Grammys. She becomes the first female artist to pick up five awards in one night and also the first rapper to win album of the year.
Feb. 15, 1999: Big L, a freestyle master from Harlem, is shot dead in a hail of nine bullets three blocks from his home. The neighborhood grieves the loss of the 24-year-old rapper; an NYPD detective calls him a “good kid.”
Dec. 27, 1999: A shooting at a Midtown nightclub leads to the arrests of Jennifer Lopez and two rappers — Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs and Shyne — who were at the club. Combs and Lopez, then his girlfriend, flee the scene after the shooting. A charge against Lopez is dropped, and Combs is acquitted in a 2001 trial. But Shyne, accused of wounding three people, is sentenced to a decade in prison.
May 20, 2000: Curtis Jackson, 24, is shot nine times in South Jamaica, Queens. The rapper will later become known nationally as 50 Cent, and the incident serves as inspiration for memorable lines on his smash debut studio album, “Get Rich or Die Tryin’,” released in 2003.
May 24, 2000: Eminem releases the explosive “The Marshall Mathers LP,” a controversial, dark and much-revered album that rocks hip-hop with furious, unvarnished lyrics and rapid-fire internal rhymes. The Detroit rapper’s second major-label album includes the “Stan,” “The Real Slim Shady,” and “The Way I Am.”
2001: In a vicious East Coast rap beef, Jay-Z and Nas exchange insults over a pair of muscular diss tracks. In “Takeover,” Jay-Z says that Nas’ music has become “garbage” since “Illmatic.” Nas responds with the inventive and profane “Ether.” The two later end their feud on friendly terms.
Oct. 30, 2002: Jam Master Jay, a Brooklyn-born member of Run-DMC, is shot dead at 37. The DJ, whose real name was Jason Mizell, is killed at close-range at a studio in Jamaica, Queens. Prosecutors have said that his assailants wanted revenge on him for cutting them out of a drug deal.
March 23, 2003: Eminem and co-writers Jeff Bass and Luis Resto win an Oscar for best new song at the Academy Awards, marking the first time a rap song took the honor. Eminem, who won for “Lose Yourself,” did not attend the ceremony because he was certain they wouldn’t win.
Feb. 8, 2004: Outkast’s “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” dominates the Grammy, winning best rap album and best album of the year. The album from the Atlanta rappers, which includes buoyant songs “Hey Ya!” and “Roses,” is the first rap album to win both awards, a feat not matched for more than a decade afterward.
Feb. 10, 2004: Kanye West, a rapper from Chicago, releases his debut studio album, “The College Dropout.” The introspective record, speckled with stories and clever lines, dominates the pop charts. It includes “Through the Wire,” “We Don’t Care” and “Family Business.”
Sept. 2, 2005: During a Hurricane Katrina relief benefit concert, West goes off script and enters the political fray by declaring, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.”
Oct. 20, 2009: Jay-Z and the Hell’s Kitchen-raised Alicia Keys release “Empire State of Mind,” a rollicking ode to their hometown. “I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can,” Jay-Z raps.
Nov. 22, 2010: Trinidadian-born, Bronx-raised rapper Nicki Minaj releases her first studio album “Pink Friday.” With eight singles including “Super Bass,” the release catapults her to worldwide fame.
May 9, 2011: Michelle Obama hosts a poetry reading at the White House and invites rapper Common, much to the consternation of conservative media.
May 28, 2014: Dr. Dre sells his Beats brand to Apple for $3.2 billion. His 25% stake in the company netted him only around $800 million in cash and Apple shares, yet the sale briefly earned him the unofficial title of hip-hop’s first billionaire.
2014: Critically acclaimed Philadelphia act The Roots become the house band for “The Tonight Show.”
July 13, 2015: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip hop musical “Hamilton” premieres on Broadway in previews after a smash Off-Broadway run at The Public Theater. The rap-heavy biography of Alexander Hamilton swiftly becomes the hottest ticket in town, a distinction it will hold onto for years.
Nov. 12, 2019: Kendrick Lamar becomes the first rapper to win the Pulitzer Prize for music for his album “DAMN!”
March 31, 2019: L.A. rapper, entrepreneur and activist Airmiess Joseph Asghedom, better known as Nipsey Hussle, is gunned down in the parking lot of his Marathon Clothing store.
June 2019: Forbes names Jay-Z the first hip hop billionaire due to his combined net worth from masters, album sales and various business ventures. Many would later argue that Dr. Dre beat him to the billionaire’s circle but, as of 2023, Jay-Z remains the richest in the game with an estimated $2.5 billion net worth.
June 30, 2019: Lil Nas X, born Montero Lamar Hill, comes out as gay after a performance at Glastonbury Festival, becoming the most prominent Black male figure in hip-hop to openly identify as LGBTQ.
May 6, 2022: Puerto Rican rapper and reggaeton artist Bad Bunny releases the widely acclaimed album “Un Verano Sin Ti,” cementing reggaeton’s place in the mainstream.
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