Hip-Hop’s Better Half

Welcome to our third annual Women in Hip-Hop Spectacular on DOPEfm. We’re an overnight hip-hop radio show and every year at this time, we dedicate all seven hours of our programming to the Women in Hip-Hop.

We do this to celebrate International Women’s Day and to shine a spotlight on the achievements of women in this culture that we hold so dear.

Download this hip-hop history show for free, stream it with the player below, continue reading, or do all three.

We have a lot of great content for you tonight including some dope mixsets, a roundtable discussion with some very special guests, artist interviews, an episode of Know Your History, and some special surprises.

But to get it all started, we are going to look at some notable women in hip-hop. Hi, my name is Chase March and welcome to Hip-Hop’s Better Half. For the next hour, we are going to explore the history of women in hip-hop culture.

And what better place to start than with what is genuinely acknowledged as the first event in hip-hop history. The historic concert at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in The Bronx. This was the groundbreaking event that introduced the world to Kool Herc, that brought forth the era of the deejay and the block party. This changed everything and sparked the culture of hip-hop.

But did you know, this was all started by a woman. It was Kool Herc’s sister, Cindy Campbell, that threw this party. She organized everything, including the music. Hip-hop historian and journalist Davey D interviewed her and you can hear what she had to say by pressing play. Just scroll down and find the media player at the bottom of this post.

Women in Hip-Hop

Kool Herc is heralded as the godfather of hip-hop culture. This is undisputed, but it’s really interesting to see that it was indeed his sister, Cindy Campbell who got the whole ball rolling back in 1973. In fact, she even continued to support his career after this historic concert.

They do say that behind every great man is a great woman. It’s a phrase that I’m not particularly fond of, as much as it speaks truth. Women are important and need to be celebrated for their achievements alone. That’s one of the reasons we do this show each and every International Women’s Day.

I like to celebrate the women’s voices that often get over-shadowed in this culture that we call hip-hop. Some of my favourite emcees are women and we’ll be hearing from them very shortly.

Ya know, hip-hop started with the deejay. It didn’t start with rappers. It started with deejays playing records. And we can trace that all the way back to 1912. That was the year that “The Little Hams Radio Program” got its start. It was the first regularly scheduled radio program and it became popular because of the world’s first female deejay, Sybil Herrold.

Radio's first female deejay

That is so cool to see that one of radio’s first on-air personalities was a woman. And this was just over one hundred years ago. Hip-hop, as a culture, is not that old, but like those first radio programs it was not recorded and distributed. Back when this culture got its start in 1973, it wasn’t part of the music business. You had to experience the music live.

A few recordings are available of those early days of hip-hop culture. They were done with portable cassette recorders so the quality isn’t that great, but it does give you an idea of what those live shows were like back in the day. I want to play a portion of one of those recordings for you in a moment by the first all female rap group, The Mercedes Ladies. They formed in 1976 and they were more than a just music group. They were a crew with deejays, breakdancers. emcees, and graffiti artists. They put on shows and played with some of the biggest acts of the day such as Afrika Bambaataa, Red Alert, Kool Herc, Busy B, Kevy Kev, The Cold Crush Brothers, The Furious Five, and more.

Here’s an old school tape from a performance they did in 1979. This is the Mercedes Ladies and we’ll be right back to continue celebrating International Women’s Day right here on DOPEfm.

all female hip-hop crew

That was an all female group called The Mercedes Ladies and pretty typical of what you’d hear at the live venues in the mid to late 1970s.

That was what hip-hop sounded like prior to the first commercial rap recordings. Back then, you had to experience the music live. Although, that would soon be changing. Several people saw that rap could in fact be recorded and distributed on record, just like any genre of music.

One of the most successful records of all time is also what many people consider to be the first rap record ever released. There’s a little bit of debate about that but there is no debating the popularity of this record. I’m talking about “Rapper’s Delight”

first commercially successful rap record

That record wouldn’t have seen the light of day without a woman. It’s true. Sylvia Robinson saw the power that hip-hop could have and took a bit of a gamble in assembling a rap group, recording, and distributing a single.

Here is a rare clip of her talking about it.

female hip-hop mogul

There is a lot of controversy about Sugar Hill Records and what Sylvia Robinson did with that label. Some people criticize her for manufacturing a rap group instead of signing one of the established groups of the time. It would have been nice to see the Mercedes Ladies get a deal. It would have been awesome for The Cold Crush Brothers to have recorded “Rapper’s Delight” instead of the Sugar Hill Gang. After all, some of the rhymes on that record were stolen from one of the pioneers of this culture, Grandmaster Caz. You can find out more about that in an episode of Know Your History. Go to chasemarch.com, click on Hip-Hop History and you can download the podcast and read the transcript of that show.

I don’t want to get into that controversial stuff today. I cover that often enough on the program, because it is important, but so is today.

We’re celebrating International Women’s Day all night long here on DOPEfm, focusing on the achievements of Women in Hip-Hop.

And if we think about it. Sylvia Robinson was the person who brought rap music to the masses. Rapper’s Delight was a huge success. At the peak of its popularity, it was selling 50,000 copies a day. That is an impressive number even in today’s market, thirty years later.

Sylvia Robinson even signed one of the founding fathers of the culture, Grand Master Flash. However, she wasn’t the only woman working behind the scenes in the earliest commercial rap recordings.

Monica Lynch was the president of Tommy Boy Records and she signed Afrika Bambaataa to the label in 1982. It’s great to see that two of the founding fathers of hip-hop were able to land spots on major labels and achieve some success there. And it truly is a crime that Kool Herc did not get a recording contract or reap the benefits of starting this culture of hip-hop.

Def Jam, one of the most successful hip-hop labels ever also had a woman at the helm, Carmen Ashurst-Watson was the president of the company.

So far, we’ve seen that women have been actively involved in hip-hop since its very inception. We might not know all of their names since many of them were working behind the scenes. And some of those early female rappers, breakdancers, deejays, and crews were doing their thing before rap music became part of the record business.

Some of the earliest hip-hop records were by female artists. The first rap releases came out in 1979 and this is one of them. This is Lady B “To the Beat Y’all”

First female solo rapper

Welcome back to Hip-Hop’s Better Half. My name is Chase March and we are exploring the history of women in hip-hop to celebrate International Women’s Day. We just heard the very first solo female rap artist to release a record. That was Lady B ‘To The Beat Y’all”

She is still actively involved in hip-hop. She did a radio show on Power 99 called “The Street Beat” for many years and she can now be heard on Sirrius Satellite Radio and WRNB in Philadelphia.

Do you know who the first rap group to perform on a national television show was? It’s probably not who you’d expect it to be. But it is notable for several reasons. First, it happened back in 1981 on season six of Saturday Night Live. Secondly the group had a female member as its undisputed star. The group was called The Funky Four Plus One More and the one more was Sha Rock.

This is one of their best songs, “That’s the Joint.” Village Voice even rated it as the best song of the 1980s.

That was The Funky Four Plus One. It’s interesting that this group decided to highlight the female member of their group with their name. It was calling attention to something that really didn’t need attention called to it. Women had been rocking mics since hip-hop’s very humble beginnings and they would continue to put out great music for many years.

But for some reason, hip-hop became a male-dominated genre of music over the years. Women have had to fight to be heard in a genre of music that often demeans them through obscene lyrics, and objectification through imagery on album covers and music videos.

That’s never stopped women from being involved in this culture, whether it is behind the scenes at record labels, behind the turntables as deejays, or on the mic as emcees.

We just heard Sha Rock on that last record and she was one of the most talented and respected emcees in the early days of hip-hop culture. She started as a breakdancer in 1976 and one year later she was part of the legendary group The Funky 4 + 1. They got signed in 1979 and were one of the first groups to have a record deal. They were the first group to appear on national television. And Sha Rock was in the classic cult hip-hop film “Beat Street” in 1984.

She’s widely celebrated as the pioneer of female hip-hop, just with the level of attention she was able to command. Her appeal was something else, on camera and on stage. And we have quite a few records in which to play and celebrate this important voice in hip-hop music and culture.

This is Hip-Hop’s Better Half, part of our annual celebration of Women in Hip-Hop here on DOPEfm. We’re celebrating International Women’s Day, which happens every March 8th. We do so by focusing all seven hours of our programming to the women in hip-hop.

In this hour of the show, we are looking at hip-hop brightest moments with women at the helm. We’ve already discussed how women have been actively involved in hip-hop since it’s very humble beginnings, how they’ve helped propel it to the mainstream audience, and how they continue to champion for the culture to this day.

So far, we’ve worked our way from the first female radio deejay ever back in 1912 all the way up to the first rap records being released in 1979.

The next biggest moment in the history of female hip-hop happened almost by accident. It was 1984 and a hip-hop group cancelled a show. This might not seem like an impetus for a huge record that pretty much redefined what hip-hop was all about. A record that birthed the culture of response records. A record that propelled another fierce emcee to stardom. But it was.

Here’s a quick run down of the story. UTFO was a huge group in early 1980s and Marley Marl was one of the promoters bringing them to town. He was talking about how disappointed he was about them canceling the show. A young lady overheard his conversation and being the quick thinker and battle rhymer that she was, she offered to help the promoter get a little revenge.

You see, U.T.F.O’s biggest hit was a song called “Roxanne, Roxanne” and it was about a lady refusing their advances. It really had nothing to do with Roxanne Shante but she adopted the persona and spit fire on the mic. This is a powerful record and it sparked what is known as the Roxanne Wars.

This is Roxanne Shante “Roxanne’s Revenge”

That record made Roxanne Shanté a bonafide hip-hop star and also established the tradition of the answer record. Tons of people tried to follow in her footsteps by releasing their own response songs to the original U.T.F.O record. It got so convoluted that there were over one hundred such songs. I haven’t heard them all, and quite frankly, I don’t have any desire to. Roxanne Shanté did it first and she made a memorable record, and made her mark on the industry.

We started out hip-hop history lesson today in 1912 and have made our way up to 1984.

Please come back on Saturday as we will cover the important moments in the history of hip-hop where women were at the forefront.

Download Hip-Hop’s Better Half for free or stream it with the player below. Celebrating the female voices within hip-hop for our 3rd Annual Women in Hip-Hop radio special.

Thanks for listening.

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