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The Early Years


  • Grandmaster Flash formsone of the most influential rap groups ever, The Furious 5: Grandmaster Flash (Joseph Saddler), Melle Mel (Melvin Glover), Kidd Creole (Nathaniel Glover), Cowboy (Keith Wiggins), Raheim (Guy Williams), and Mr. Ness (Eddie Morris).

  • Around the same time, another great rap crew – The Cold Crush Four – was formed, comprising of Charlie Chase, Tony Tone, Grand Master Caz, Easy Ad, JDL, and Almighty KG.

  • The first rap record by a non-rap group “King Tim III” is recorded by the Fatback Band.

  • 1981:

  • Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper's Delight” would go on to become the first known rap hit, reaching #36 on Billboard.

  • Various obscure rap singles were also released: Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5’s “Super-rappin” and Spoonie Gee’s “Spoonin’ Rap” both on Enjoy Records, Kurtis Blow’s “Christmas Rappin” on Mercury Records, and Jimmy Spicer’s 13-minute long storytelling track “Adventures of Super Rhymes” on Dazz Records.

  • Mr. Magic’s ‘Rap Attack’ becomes the first hip-hop radio show on WHBI.

  • 1980:

  • Afrika Bambaata and the Zulu Nation release their first 12" called Zulu Nation Throwdown Pt. 1 on Paul Winley Records.

  • Kurtis Blow, the first rapper to appear on national television (Soul Train), releases "The Breaks" on Mercury Records. The record goes on to sell more than a million copies. Hip-hop gradually evolves into big business.

  • After meeting Fab 5 Freddy and others, Blonde releases "Rapture" featuring rap vocals by lead singer Debbie Harry.

  • Grandmaster Flash releases “The Adventures of Grand Master Flash on the Wheels of Steel," the first record to ultimately capture the sounds of live DJ scratching on wax.

  • On February 14th, The Funky 4 plus One More perform their classic hit, “That's The Joint” on NBC's Saturday Night Live becoming the first hip hop group to appear on national television.

  • The Beastie Boys are formed. The group consists of Adam Horovitz (King Ad-Rock), Adam Yauch (MCA), Michael Diamon (Mike D).

  • 1982:

  • Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force release the techno-heavy “Planet Rock” on Tommy Boy Records. The record samples portions of Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express."

  • Grandmaster Flash & the Furious 5 release “The Message” on Sugarhill Records.

  • Kool Moe Dee humiliates Busy Bee in a spontaneous rap battle. Since then, emcee battling has become an inseparable part of hip-hop.

  • Fab 5 Freddy and Charlie Ahearn co-produce Wild Style, a hip-hop film featuring Cold Crush Brothers, Grandmaster Flash, Grandwizard Theodore, DJ AJ, Grandmixer D.S.T, graf writers Lee, Zephyr, Fab 5 Freddy, Lady Pink, Crash, Daze, Dondi, and members of the Rock Steady Crew. Wild Style has since inspired several other hip-hop-themed movies.





  • Ice T helps pioneer gangsta rap in the west coast with his rapcore singles “Body Rock" and "Killers."

  • Grand Master Flash and Melle Mel (Furious 5) record the anti-cocaine single “White Lines (Don't Do It)," which becomes a rap hit.

  • Grandmaster Flash later sues Sugarhill Records for $5 million in royalties. The dispute causes the group to break up, signaling the looming danger of corporate control in hip-hop.

  • Run DMC releases “It's Like That" b/w "Sucker MC's."


  • Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin team up to launch one of the most important record labels ever, Def Jam Records. Def Jam releases its first record, “It’s Yours” by T La Rock, followed by LL Cool J’s “I Need A Beat."

  • Hip-hop discovers that touring is a great way to generate income, as the Fresh Fest concert featuring Whodini, Kurtis Blow, Fat Boys, and Run DMC, reels in $3.5 million for 27 dates.

  • Battle rap assumes the spotlight in hip-hop, as UTFO’s “Roxanne Roxanne” diss song attracts over 100 responses.

  • The most popular response came from a 14-year old female named Roxanne Shante. Shante’s “Roxanne’s Revenge” allegedly recorded in Marley Marl’s living room sold more than 250,000 copies.

  • Dougie Fresh (aka The Entertainer) releases The Original Human Beat Box\(Vindertainment Records).

  • Michael Jackson does 'the moonwalk' at the Grammys, borrowing b-boy dance elements from LA breakers.


  • Sugarhill Records goes into bankruptcy and is forced out of business.

  • Salt ‘n’ Pepa make their first appearance on Super Nature’s “The Show Stopper."



  • The Beastie Boys release Licensed To Ill on Def Jam (executive-produced by Rick Rubin).

  • James Smith, a native of Houston, Texas, assembles The Geto Boys. The original lineup consisted of MCs Raheim, Jukebox, DJ Ready Red, and Sir Rap-A-Lot.

  • The group also featured Little Billy, a dancing dwarf who later picked up the microphone as Bushwick Bill.

  • Following a short break-up in 1988, Smith invited local emcee Willie D and multi-instrumentalist Akshun (later known as Scarface) to complete the lineup.

  • The Geto Boys (now made up of Scarface, Willie D, and Bushwick Bill) was a driving force in the evolution of southern rap.


  • Following the release of Boogie Down Productions’ Criminal Minded LP, Scott LaRock is shot and killed in the South Bronx while attempting to settle a dispute.

  • Public Enemy stuns the world with their introductory album, Yo! Bum Rush The Show, signaling the genesis of politically-charged hip-hop.

  • The original members of the group include Chuck D (Carlton Ridenhour), Flavor Flav (William Drayton), Professor Griff (Richard Griffin), and DJ Terminator X (Norman Rogers).


  • After years of being neglected by the mainstream media, hip-hop gets its own show on MTV, "Yo! MTV Raps."

  • N.W.A pioneers the gangsta rap movement with their gold album, Straight Outta Compton.

  • Def Jam founders Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin part ways; Simmons opts for distribution through CBS/Columbia Records, while Rubin goes on to found Def American.

  • Landmark album releases: Ultramagnetic MC’s – Critical Breakdown, and Big Daddy Kane


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