From Run-DMC and Queen Latifah to Biggie, Jay-Z, and Drake, let’s salute the first 50 years of rap with the milestones that tell the story of the sound.
On Aug. 11, 1973, Clive Campbell threw a back-to-school party at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, an apartment building in the South Bronx neighborhood of Morris Heights. This was not literally the first time that the man better known to local devotees as DJ Kool Herc, inspired by the Jamaican sound systems that were his musical heritage, busted out two turntables and a microphone and wove together drum breaks into a non-stop dance party. But 50 years later, it’s regarded as the most iconic.
Sure, it’s probably impossible to pin down a single day that marks the birth of hip-hop. You may consider it a trivial exercise. An oversimplification that obscures the communal, revolutionary nature of the art form.
But if you did want to nail down one day, you could do a hell of a lot worse than this one.
We’re celebrating 50 years of hip-hop all year long, but to put a Roland 808 kick-drum exclamation point on the proceedings, Boardroom is here to celebrate its ongoing journey with 50 drastic rap facts that tell the story of the sound from day one.
50 Facts for 50 Years of Hip-hop
1. The first record deal in hip-hop? In 1979, Sugar Hill Records signed a New Jersey trio that would be dubbed The Sugarhill Gang.
2. That same year, the Sugarhill Gang’s now-iconic “Rapper’s Delight” became rap music’s first-ever Top 40 hit. In 1980, they would release hip-hop’s first official studio album.
3. The first rapper to join a major label, meanwhile, is Kurtis Blow. He signed with Mercury, also in ’79.
4. “Mr. Magic’s Disco Showcase,” hosted by Queensbridge legend Mr. Magic of Juice Crew, is widely credited as the first hip-hop radio show. It debuted on New York’s WHBI in 1979.
5. Kurtis Blow is credited with rap’s first nationally-televised performance via his 1980 appearance on Soul Train.
6. The first rap act to perform on live national TV? The Funky 4 Plus One, who were musical guests on NBC’s Saturday Night Live in 1981.
7. The first rap-themed feature film was Charlie Ahearn’s Wild Style (1983).
8. In 1983, KDAY in Los Angeles launched the first rap-format radio station.
9. Run-DMC’s eponymous 1984 debut became the first rap LP to go Gold.
10. “Rock Box,” the third single from the Queens trio’s self-titled record, became the first hip-hop music video to air on MTV in 1984.
11. Run-DMC’s third studio release, Raising Hell (1986) was the first hip-hop album to receive a Platinum certification from the RIAA. Later that year, they would be the first rap artists featured on the cover of Rolling Stone.
12. In 1987, Salt-N-Pepa’s Hot, Cool & Vicious became the first Gold and Platinum album by a female hip-hop act.
13. The Beastie Boys’ 1987 debut, License to Ill, was hip-hop’s first No. 1 entry on the Billboard 200 albums chart.
14. In 1988, Tone Loc scored rap’s first Platinum single with “Wild Thing.”
15. DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, the latter of whom is better known as Will Smith, won rap’s first-ever Grammy Award when they took inaugural Best Rap Performance honors in 1989 for “Parents Just Don’t Understand.”
16. A Tribe Called Quest’s People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990) was the first rap album to receive the vaunted “Five Mics” rating from The Source.
17. Blondie’s 1981 track “Rapture” notably included rapped lyrics, but the first true hip-hop song to go No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 was none other than Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” (1990).
18. A rap record finally achieved RIAA Diamond (10x Platinum) certification status via MC Hammer’s Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em in 1991.
19. Da Brat was the first female rapper to go Platinum with a solo album with 1994’s Funkdafied.
20. The first Grammy Award for Best Rap Album was handed out in 1996 to Naughty by Nature’s Poverty’s Paradise.
21. Christoper Rios, better known as South Bronx icon Big Pun, was the first Latino rapper to go Platinum thanks to Capital Punishment in 1998.
22. Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1999) was rap’s first to win Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards
23. In 2003, Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” from the film 8 Mile became the first hip-hop track to win Best Original Song at the Academy Awards.
24. The first album by a female artist to earn a Five Mics rating from The Source was Lil’ Kim’s The Naked Truth (2005).
25. Three 6 Mafia became the genre’s first group to win the Oscar for Best Original Song with “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from Hustle & Flow in 2006.
26. That same year, Queen Latifah earned the hip-hop world’s first star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
27. In 2007, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five became the first hip-hop inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
28. Kendrick Lamar is the first rapper to receive a Pulitzer Prize for Music, winning for DAMN. in 2018.
29. The first hip-hop billionaire is the one and only Jay-Z, whom Forbes first acknowledged as such in 2019.
Sales, Streams & Charts
30. The best-selling rap album of all time based on certified sales? Eminem’s 2002 LP The Eminem Show at 19.1 million units, including a 12x Platinum certification from the RIAA. Slim Shady also holds the No. 2 spot with The Marshall Mathers LP (2000) at 17.5 million units.
31. Drake has the most No. 1 singles in Billboard Hot 100 history with 11 and is tied for No. 8 all-time regardless of genre. He also has the most top-10 singles overall with 69.
32. Drake’s 431 consecutive weeks on the Hot 100 between 2009 and 2017 are also the most all-time regardless of genre, with Lil Wayne a distant No. 2.
33. Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” (2019) owns the record for most weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100 with 19 — not just for hip-hop, but all of music.
34. Drake is No. 1 among MCs when it comes to No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 with 12. Eminem and Kanye West are behind him with 10 each.
35. With 11 consecutive No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200, Jay-Z leads the way among rappers. Once again, Shady and Ye are both tied for second place (nine each).
36. MC Hammer’s Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em (1990) is first among hip-hop albums with 21 total (not necessarily consecutive) weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart.
37. Drake is the most-streamed rapper in Spotify history.
38. In 2004, Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” became the first song to exceed one million legal downloads.
39. The artist with the most individual songs on Spotify with over one billion streams? XXXTentacion has nine, edging out Drake’s eight.
40. Among rappers who crossed over into Hollywood, Will Smith is No. 1 at the box office — his films have grossed an incredible $9.54 billion. Mark Wahlberg is a distant second at $6.8 billion.
41. Jay-Z and Kanye West are tied for the most Grammy Awards in hip-hop with 24 each.
42. Mr. Carter also leads all rap artists in career Grammy nominations with 88 (which actually ties him with his wife, Beyoncé).
43. Snoop Dogg’s 17 Grammy Award nominations are the most for a hip-hop artist without a win.
44. With six wins — including two different back-to-backs — Eminem has received the most Grammy Awards for Best Rap Album.
45. Jay-Z’s 11 nominations for Best Rap Album are the most all-time.
46. In 2016, NWA’s Straight Outta Compton (1989) became the first hip-hop album inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
47. No rapper has more MTV Video Music Awards than Eminem’s 13. Lil Nas X and Kendrick Lamar are next up with eight each.
48. The most expensive rap music video in both contemporaneous ($2.5 million) and inflation-adjusted ($5.37 million) dollars is MC Hammer’s “2 Legit 2 Quit” from 1991.
49. In 2022, Rolling Stone released its list of the 200 Greatest Rap Albums of All Time, with The Notorious BIG’s Ready to Die (1995) besting Outkast’s Stankonia (2000) for the No. 1 spot.
50. In 2023, Billboard anointed Jay-Z No. 1 on its 50 Greatest Rappers of All Time list.
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