FEATURE: Foundation, Top 10 Hip-Hop Discoveries
Today might be Columbus Day, but XXLMag.com is flipping the script on this often-overlooked holiday. Rather than commemorate European explorer Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of America, we decided to compile the Top 10 Hip-Hop Discoveries. It’s your official list of people, places and things hip-hop heads created, popularized or just co-opted to make flyer. If it weren’t for these historic “discoveries,” hip-hop would never be the same again. —Anslem Samuel
10) BLING BLING
Technically, jewelry has been around since the caveman era and hip-hop heads have been rockin’ gold fronts, dookie rope chains and four-finger rings forever, but in 1999 New Orleans rapper B.G. and his Cash Money brothers christened the time of shine with two unique words and one undeniable hit, “Bling Bling.” The discovery of this term upped the ante on the hip-hop jewelry game as everyone became consumed with diamond-encrusted pendants, chains, bracelets and grills. By 2003, bling had become so popular that it was recognized in the Oxford English Dictionary as an official word (and became the bane of Yung Berg’s existence).
Developed in 1997, Auto-Tune was just another computer program singers occasionally used to tweak their vocal pitch until R&B singer T-Pain “discovered” it around 2005. Using the technology to distort his voice, the hip-hop hook man created a new sound that rocketed him to the top of the pop charts. It wasn’t long before rappers like Lil Wayne and Kanye West, whose all Auto-Tune album 808s & Heartbreak went platinum, caught on to the new trend. Although Jay-Z’s 2009 street single “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)” would declare the program played out, it still plays a vital part in pop music today—for better or for worse.
8) VIDEO VIXENS
When rap videos started in the ’80s, they were lighthearted affairs where the female lead was usually a fully dressed cutie with big hair. By time the oversexed ’90s rolled in, hip-hop clips started featuring bikini-clad beauties with big booties. For the most part, these women were just pretty faces in the crowd until video vixens like Gloria Velez, Karrine “Super Head” Steffans, Melyssa Ford and Liris Crosse, were discovered and made the transition to being legitimate models, actresses, authors and businesswomen. Demand for these video vixens resulted in XXL’s popular Eye Candy section and changed the way hip-hop heads viewed videos and the women in the spotlight.
7) THE SUMMER JAM STAGE
When it comes to memorable hip-hop events, no stage is an infamous as the one at Hot 97’s Summer Jam. Held in New Jersey, the annual event is legendary for its powerful performances and off-the-hook surprises. In 2001 alone there were several key moments as headliner Jay-Z brought the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, on stage, put up an embarrassing picture of Mobb Deep’s Prodigy in a childhood dance pose, and debuted a portion of his scathing Nas dis, “Takeover.” Everyone from The Game to 50 Cent would use the event to get at rap rivals in subsequent years, making Summer Jam hip-hop’s biggest and most important stage.
6) THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G.
Before becoming Sean “Puffy” Combs’ original Bad Boy, Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace was a young aspiring rapper in the streets of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn until DJ Mister Cee discovered him around 1992. Connected to the industry through his work with Big Daddy Kane, Cee shopped Big’s homemade demo around and got the upstart MC some of his first major press. Although Biggie’s talent is undeniable, had Cee not discovered him there might not have ever been a Bad Boy Records, Diddy or ’90s resurgence of East Coast hip-hop. The game just wouldn’t have been the same without one of the greatest rappers of all time.
5) THE INTERNET
There was a time when you couldn’t find a rapper on a computer, let alone online, but now being tech savvy is just as important to an MC’s arsenal as rhymes. While the roots of the Internet began years earlier, it wasn’t until the late ’80s that the technology began to catch on with the public and about another decade before hip-hop heads logged on. With the introduction of 2-way pagers and eventually Blackberries, email became the main mode of communication for the music industry. Now blogs, Twitter and free downloads are all part of the game. While social networking sites like MySpace provided artists with new ways to get their music out to the masses, it wasn’t long before people like 50 Cent started their own online destinations and rappers like Joe Budden made the Internet their second home. There was a time we couldn’t live without our radio, now most of us would say the same about the Internet.
4) THE SCRATCH
It might seem like a simple technique today, but before Grand Wizard Theodore discovered the scratch in the summer of 1975 records were merely played. Sure, there were subtle blends and transitions, but the turntables (and the party) didn’t really get rockin’ until the introduction of this innovative record skip. Now an integral part of a DJ’s repertoire, scratchin’ is as much hip-hop as the culture’s four elements.
3) THE MIXTAPE
In hip-hop’s formative years, the culture existed only in the moment—the streets, the parks, the clubs, etc. If you weren’t there to witness it live, you had to rely on word of mouth to find out what songs were played and what the MC on the mic said. In the early ’80s, DJs started recording their sets and distributing them to fans as mixtapes. With no radio play for rap music at the time, these tapes made legends out of mix masters like Brucie B, Doo Wop, and Ron G, among others. As the culture evolved, mixtapes went from party sets to blends to exclusive freestyles to being a vital promotional tool for budding and established artists to show and prove.
2) JAMES BROWN
Sampling is an integral part of hip-hop and one man that’ll probably go down as the most sampled artist of all time is the incomparable James Brown. Dating as far back as 1986, the Godfather of Soul’s music has been at the root of some of the culture’s biggest hits. From Boogie Down Productions’ (“South Bronx”) and Big Daddy Kane (“Raw”) to Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock (“It Takes Two”) and Brand Nubian (“All For One”) to Notorious B.I.G. (“Dreams”) and Jay-Z (“U Don’t Know”), Brown’s musical influence on the culture is unmatched. He made it funky more than one time.
Hip-hop’s greatest discovery is actually the art form itself. In 1973, Jamaican-born DJ Kool Herc pioneered the use of break beats at parties and is credited as the Father of Hip-Hop. Those body rockin’ jams in the Bronx, spawned a culture comprised of millions of B-boys, DJs, graf writers, beat boxers and rappers the world over and provided the youth with their own style, lingo, art form and soundtrack. Over the past three decades, hip-hop has grown into a worldwide phenomenon and billion-dollar industry that influences almost every facet of pop culture today. If not for the discovery of hip-hop most of us wouldn’t even be here and life as we know it would cease to exist.