Know Your History: Episode 6 – Rap Gets Popular

Welcome to the sixth installment of Know Your History.

This is the show where we explore the rich culture that is hip-hop.

You can download this show for free, stream it with the player at the bottom of the post, or read it here on the blog. Whatever you choose to do, thanks for tuning in.

One of my goals with this series is to trace the roots of hip-hop, to talk about where it came from and how it got to where it is today. Of course, today, hip-hop is a huge, global phenomenon. Almost everyone is familiar with rap music. It has stretched to all points on the globe, and people are familiar with its pioneers.

Rap wasn’t always this widespread.

The music started in one specific community at one point in time. As we discussed in a previous episode, the elements that comprise hip-hop all came together and solidified into a culture in 1973.

So how did rap music get popular? 

Hip-hop as a culture started from just building, from pretty much nothing. Building from two turntables and being able to deejay a party with two records playing the breaks. We added to that an emcee who would hype up the crowd. That built up to an MC would would actually deliver full-length songs, which led to the first rap recordings.

And then something amazing happened. Hip-hop shifted from the party-type rhymes to a more street, hardcore sound. Up until that time, there was no such thing as old-school rap. We take it for granted now that there is old school and that we have pioneers of the form. But the rappers back then didn’t call it old school. A lot of them still won’t refer to their sound as old-school.

Run-DMC have a lyric that says, “It’s all brand new, never ever old-school!”

Run-DMC signaled a new era.

Their music appealed to a very wide audience. In 1983 they put out a 12″ record. Prior to that singles were usually put out on 45s. Rap artists quickly embraced the 12″ single and this became the standard for all hip-hop singles.

12-inch records had an A-side which contained the lead single and a B-side which would contain a bonus song.

Run-DMC’s record contained the song “It’s Like That” on the A-side and “Sucker MCs” on the B-side. It was the B-side track that really showed what rap was capable of. The song had a harder, street sound to it. It was a battle record, where Run just ripped through any would-be MC. It’s a great record and has a edge to it like nothing else that had come before it.

A year later, Run-DMC came out with their self-titled album in 1984.

Run-DMC put out a trio of albums that really changed the game.

There was 1984’s self-titled record,

1985’s King of Rock,

and then in 1986 came the ground-breaking Raising Hell.

Let’s go back to 1984 for a moment.

1984 was a big year for hip-hop. 

It was a year that saw quite a few artists break out of New York city and get heard nationally. There were urban and R&B radio stations playing the songs. The 12″ records started to be passed around as well. Hip-hop was no longer relegated to New York City.

The Fresh Fest was a tour that hit 27 cities with some of the biggest acts of the time, including Whodini, Kurtis Blow, The Fat Boys, and of course, Run-DMC.

Whodini were one of the first acts to create a high-profile national following. They got lots of radio play. They were on Jive Records, which was a London-based label. That just goes to show you that already in the 1980’s, hip-hop was worldwide. We had labels in the UK putting out New York based music that was getting played everywhere.

This tour was so successful that six months later, the “2nd Annual Fresh Fest” tour

Whodini’s first 12″ was “The Haunted House of Rock” in 1983. It came out on coloured vinyl. It was florescent green. I’m proud to say I have it! It’s pretty cool. It was the first single from their self-titled debut album.

In 1984, they came out with an album called Escape and that’s when they started to come out with their hits that you are probably more familiar with. This is “Friends.”

Make sure you come back tomorrow as we continue our coverage of how rap became popular.

Remember that you can download this show for free or stream it with the player below. Thanks for tuning in!
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