A brief and curated history of hip-hop in the US. Please don’t email us if your favorite artist is not on this timeline. We probably like them too but we were only given four pages and the editor, no matter how many times we tried to play her favorite song, was pretty strict on page count and the whole deadline thing this time around. If we had it our way, this timeline would end up as a whole book. So maybe you should email the editor.
Anyway, a look into the music that started in the Bronx and exploded to become one of the biggest genres today.
Founding Father of hip-hop DJ Kool Herc and his sister hosted “Back to School Jam” at their apartment complex in the Bronx, NYC. A party for the books, considering this is what launched the hip-hop movement into full swing.
With hip-hop came the birth of break dancing. The name comes from audience members who would wait for the break—the mixed part of two discs where the DJ extends the percussion portion of the music, opening up the dance floor—and whip out their best dance moves. And thus, break dancing was born. It all adds up. Photo by Jamel Shabazz
We said-a hip, hop, the hippie, the hippie
To the hip hip-hop-a you don’t stop the rock
It to the bang-bang boogie, say up jump the boogie
To the rhythm of the boogie, the beat.
We can thank The Sugarhill Gang for this banger and for officially coining the term “hip-hop”.
You might recall the baggy jeans, but do you recall Lee Jeans with a permanent crease? A staple in any break dancer’s wardrobe at the time. Along with Adidas tennis shoes with flat ironed laces and the occasional artfully and intentionally graffitied denim Lee jacket. We would love to get our hands on one of those. Photo by Jamel Shabazz
The beginning of the golden age of hip-hop. The genre exploded across the US, with record labels starting to put money into the genre, the emergence of sampling (Copyright Law wasn’t a thing yet), and an increasing demand for the music. Photo by Jamel Shabazz
Salt-N-Pepa. The first female rap group enters the hip-hop scene and goes on to sell millions of copies of their work including their international success of “Push It.” Although the lyrics were deemed controversial, the group didn’t seem to care, especially with their release of “Let’s Talk About Sex,” only four years later.
Run-D.M.C. releases “My Adidas,” touching on the street style of hip-hop during this decade, with a nice little ode to denim, “And I walk down the street, and bop to the beat, with Lee on my legs and Adidas on my feet.”
Hip-hop became the top-selling music genre at the end of the decade. Different styles of hip-hop began to emerge along with quite an influential group of artists including Snoop Dogg, The Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, Tupac and Dr. Dre
Singer-songwriter Lauryn Hill wins big at the Grammy Awards for her solo album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. With 11 nominations and five wins, she is the first hip-hop artist to win Album of the Year.
Early 2000s hip-hop and rap continued to explode with artists adding different stylistic features, like the smooth sounds of Nelly, to the hard-hitting Missy Elliott, to the speed poet Eminem, the nostalgic 50 Cent and the ever-clever Lil Wayne
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five becomes the first hip-hop group to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. As they should, considering their song “The Message” helped further establish rap as a genre.
Nicki Minaj enters stage left with a powerhouse ability of rapping and being a bad bitch. Flying to the top of the charts, she officially became known as the Queen of Rap.
Lin-Manuel Miranda takes the nation by storm, merging hip-hop and United States history on the stage of Broadway with his musical Hamilton.
It all started as a joke. Run the Jewels releases their album Meow the Jewels, a remix album of, you guessed it, cat sounds. Yes, this is actually a real thing. But the best part is, they donated all of the proceeds to charity.
With a myriad of old and emerging artists, hip-hop becomes the most popular genre of music in the United States.
Photo by Jamel Shabazz