It’s hard to quantify the importance of Yo! MTV Raps and its affect on hip-hop culture. The show, which ran in its original iteration from 1988 to 1995 on MTV—which was then watched mostly by suburban white kids—introduced the mainstream world to some of the most important hip-hop acts of the Golden Era, from Eric B. & Rakim to Slick Rick to Brand Nubian and Public Enemy. With hosts Doctor Dre, Ed Lover and Fab Five Freddy, Yo! MTV Raps embraced the fact that hip-hop was in many ways still an outsider, and worked hard to not only represent but also define the subculture that started out in the South Bronx.
In order to celebrate its 25-year anniversary, iconic street wear brand Stüssy decided to commemorate the show’s history by releasing a collaborative collection of tees, hoodies and crewneck sweaters that feature images of some of the biggest artists from the Yo! MTV era. The collaboration also led to a two-part documentary, which was released earlier this week, that tells the story of Yo! MTV‘s beginnings and the importance of fashion in the Golden Era.
To find out a bit more about the collection and its accompanying documentary, XXL got in touch with Stüssy’s Art Director Adam Jay Weissman, who made the collab happen. We shot him some questions via email about Yo!‘s legacy, how Stüssy parallels the message of Yo! and what it was like working on the documentary. Here’s what he had to say.
XXL: What was your exposure to Yo! MTV Raps growing up? Were you a kid when it came out or did you sort of catch up to it later?
Yo! MTV Raps was a huge part of my childhood. I don’t remember it debuting, it was just on-air, part of the programming on MTV. I’d come home from school and watch Ed [Lover] & [Doctor] Dre at 4 p.m., then Saturday nights with Fab Five Freddy. I’d see a video, and if I liked the song, I’d go call every record store in the neighborhood trying to find a copy. I was a big rap nerd at a young age.
What was the importance of the show in those early days of MTV, and how do you think it captured what was actually going on in hip-hop?
I think it gave exposure to a lot of underground acts, which was important for the genre to evolve. If you look at other “underground” music genres that were around back then, college radio was the only real outlet for that stuff, but Yo! gave rap music national exposure. It brought it into millions of homes. I didn’t really know this before doing the documentary, but back in 1988 when Yo! started, MTV was mostly in the suburbs. Cable TV was mainly in the suburbs, not the big cities. The early adopters of Yo! were suburban kids.
What do you think the legacy of Yo! MTV is, and how did it affect the culture in a positive way?
It showed that there was more to the music, that there was a whole culture behind it that Yo! MTV brought to light. or everyone, seeing the whole picture is a big part of discovering new styles of music. It’s a connection, when something catches your attention and, you know, “I want to be like that.” For some it was seeing Kurt Cobain in the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video, for others it was Rakim in the “Ain’t No Joke” video. Having Yo! around was a bigger deal than people realized at the time. I think it probably did a lot for race relations for my generation, in a weird way.
Do you see any downside to the mainstreaming of hip-hop culture via shows like Yo! MTV? Do you think it became commercialized in a way?
Rap music became the music of choice at a certain point. Bad Boy and Death Row were big and a lot of the underground artists that were on major labels were dropped. The focus was put on rap music becoming commercial. That’s when I checked out. The music stopped speaking to me in the same way. I still listen to what’s out there, and there are still artists making good rap records, but it’s not like it was in Yo!‘s heyday.