Apr 23 2020

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Groundbreaking and pivotal events in the creation and early years of Rap and Hip-Hop music 1970-1989

Rap Hip-Hop Timeline 1970-1989

Criteria: The history of Rap/Hip-Hop year by year from it’s beginnings at the block parties in New York City, through it’s diversification of styles and genres to the present day. This page covers the first two decades from 1970 to the end of 1989.


  • The Last Poets release their eponymous debut album. It’s combination of spare funk and aggressive, socially-conscious spoken word will be an early brick in the foundation of what would come to be hip-hop.

James Brown releases ‘The Big Payback’, an early funk gem that emphasizes the groove rather than melody over his aggressively spoken vocals.

A young immigrant from Kingston, Jamaica named Clive Campbell begins deejaying at local parties. As DJ Kool Herc, he invents a new technique of deejaying that would cut two of the same records and extend the middle instrumental, or ‘break,’ of the popular funk and disco songs of the day.


    A former gang member-turned-DJ named Afrika Bambaataa meets a young graffiti artist named Fab 5 Freddy; a regular on the burgeoning hip-hop scene. Soon after, Bambaataa forms the Zulu Nation and categorizes what he calls the ‘Four Elements’ of hip-hop: DJing, Breaking, Graf Artists and MCing

    Grandmaster Flash begins working on a new, revolutionary technique of DJing: In addition to extending the break of a song, he begins mixing bits of two different songs together. Using headphones, he’s able to get the songs to overlap and connect. His new ‘mixing’ technique would be adopted by every hip-hop DJ to follow.

    Flash’s partner, Mean Gene, has a thirteen-year-old-brother named Theodore that is also beginning to DJ at local parties. After accidently sliding the record under the needle; a young Grand Wizard Theodore takes DJing a step forward by pushing the record back and forth lightly under the needle during breaks. He calls his new technique ‘scratching.’

    The Crash Crew, one of the first recorded MC crews, forms in Harlem.

    Russell “Rush” Simmons moves the Force to Queens and convinces Kool DJ Kurt to begin rapping. Simmons decides to change Kurt’s name to Kurtis Blow and enlists his kid brother, Joey, to be Kurt’s DJ. Joey changes his name to ‘DJ Run.’

    Wendy Clark aka ‘Lady B’ begins spinning hip-hop records on WHAT 1340 AM in Philadelphia;furthering hip-hop’s expansion outside of New York. Later that year, she also becomes one of hip-hop’s first female artists when she releases “To the Beat Y’all.”

    The Funky Four+One is forms with one of hip-hop’s first female MCs, Sha Rock.

    The funk band Fatback releases ‘King Tim III (Personality Jock).’ Though it doesn’t gain much attention, it is the first mainstream rap single.

    Under manager Russell Simmons, Kurtis Blow becomes the first rapper to sign a record deal with a major label.

    Sylvia Robinson founds Sugarhill Records and, after hearing a bootleg of The Cold Crush Brothers, decides to put together a rap group called ‘The Sugarhill Gang.’

    The Sugarhill Gang releases ‘Rapper’s Delight.’ Built on a sample of Chic’s disco hit ‘Good Times’ and written by Grandmaster Caz of the Cold Crush Brothers, it goes on to become hip-hop’s first hit and mainstream America’s first exposure to rap music.

    In order to capitalize on the growth of MCing in hip-hop, Grandmaster Flash recruits three of his friends, Keith “Cowboy” Wiggins, Melvin “Melle Mel” and Nathaniel “Kid Creole” Glover, who perform as The 3 MCs. Soon, they add Guy “Raheim” Williams and Eddie “Scorpio” Morris and change their name to Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.

    With “Rapper’s Delight” still riding the charts, Kurtis Blow releases his first single, “Christmas Rappin'”. Blow’s second single, “The Breaks,” is a hit; and becomes hip-hop’s first gold single. In his shows, Blow now sometimes allows DJ Run to rhyme with him.

    At a DJ battle in Two-Fifths Park in Hollis, Queens; DJ Run and his friend, Darryl “Easy Dee” McDaniels, meet a young DJ named Jason “Jazzy Jase” Mizell.

    Treacherous Three release “The New Rap Language” as a single. It incorporates a new style of rapping, dubbed “speed-rapping.”

    Russell Simmons helps his little brother, Run, record a song called “Street Kid.” It goes nowhere, but Run still wants to record. After hearing Run’s friend, Darryl (now calling himself “D”), Russell begrudgingly makes Run and D a duo.

    Whodini becomes the first rap group to shoot an official video for their song “Magic’s Wand.”

    After Run and D graduate from high school, they enlist Jazzy Jase, their DJ friend from Hollis; who now calls himself ‘Jam Master Jay’. Russell Simmons decides to change the group’s name to Run-D.M.C. and begins work on a single. Simmons also lands the group a deal with Profile Records.

    Run-D.M.C. release their first single, “Sucker MCs/It’s Like That.” With it’s spare beats and hard, aggressive rhymes, it signals the beginning of the end for “Old School” hip-hop artists.

    A New York post-punk band called the Beastie Boys decides to switch their sound from punk to rap after attending a party thrown by Fab 5 Freddy.

    Run-D.M.C. release their eponymous debut on Profile Records. It becomes a hit and introduces the ‘new school’ approach to hip-hop music: Hardcore, aggressive street rhymes over spare, funky beats with a heavy metal twist. Run-D.M.C. also become the first rap group to get consistent airplay on MTV and Top 40 rock radio.

    Russell Simmons meets a young college kid named Rick Rubin, an avid fan of rap music. Together, Simmons and Rubin found a small record label and run it out of Rubin’s college dorm room at NYU. They name their new label Def Jam.

    U.T.F.O.; (formerly the backup dancers for Whodini), release “Roxanne, Roxanne.” It goes on to become one of the most popular rap songs of all-time and spawns more than two dozen ‘response’ songs, including “Roxanne, You’re Through,” “The Real Roxanne,” “Roxanne’s Mother,” and most notably, “Roxanne’s Revenge” by 13-year-old Roxanne Shante.

    After hearing an underground single called “Public Enemy #1” by a college radio DJ named Chuck D.; Rick Rubin tries to recruit the reluctant rapper for his new label.

    Def Jam issues it’s first single, “It’s Yours,” by T La Rock and Jazzy Jay.

    Doug E. Fresh records his classic single, “The Show,” with the Get Fresh Crew and his new partner, MC Ricky D (aka Slick Rick.)

    Run-D.M.C. release their second album, ‘King of Rock.’ Like their debut, it is a hit; and furthers the combination of rap and hard rock.

    A 16-year-old LL Cool J releases his debut album, “Radio.” It is the first album to be released by up-and-coming rap label, Def Jam.

    Def Jam finances and releases it’s own rap movie, “Krush Groove”. Based on Russell Simmons life and starring Blair Underwood (as Russell), Run DMC, Kurtis Blow, the Fat Boys and the newly-signed Beastie Boys; the film becomes a hit.

    Run-D.M.C. release their third album, “Raising Hell.” Sparked by the Aerosmith collaboration, “Walk This Way,” it is an instant hit. It is a cultural milestone for hip-hop, spawning four hit singles and becoming the first multi-platinum rap album. “Raising Hell” cements Run-D.M.C.’s place as the kings of the rap world, and kick-starts hip-hop’s ‘Golden Age,’ bringing the final curtain down on the ‘Old School.’

    Hip-hop’s first White rap group, the Beastie Boys, release their debut album, “Licensed to Ill,” on Def Jam Records. It goes on to become the best-selling rap album of the decade.

    LL Cool J’s debut, “Radio,” becomes certified platinum as Def Jam Records becomes the premiere label in hip-hop.

    A new hip-hop duo named Eric B. & Rakim release their first single, “Eric B. Is President.” It is another benchmark moment in hip-hop; as Rakim’s clever wordplay and complex rhyme schemes usher in a new era of MCing as an art form.

    Run-D.M.C. becomes the first rap group nominated for a Grammy; for best “R&B Vocal Performance.”

    Salt-N-Pepa; a new female rap group; release their debut album, “Hot, Cool & Vicious.” It becomes a moderate hit.

    Rick Rubin signs Chuck D. and his newly-formed group, Public Enemy, to Def Jam.

    Public Enemy release their debut album, “Yo! Bum Rush the Show,” on Def Jam. While it is praised by critics, it fails to make an impression on the charts.

    Cameron Paul, a San Francisco DJ; remixes ‘Push It,’ a tune from Salt-N-Pepa’s (year-old) album, “Hot, Cool & Vicious.” The single is released nationally and becomes a hit; hitting number 19 on the pop charts and is nominated for a Grammy.

    A former L.A. drug dealer named Eazy-E (born Eric Wright) uses his money to finance a small indie rap label called Ruthless Records. He signs a local group called H.B.O. as his first act. He also recruits Andre ‘Dr. Dre’ Young– a DJ/Producer from the R&B group World Class Wreckin’ Cru; and Oshea Jackson, an up-and-coming MC who calls himself Ice Cube.

    Eric B. & Rakim release their debut album, “Paid In Full,” kick-starting hip-hop’s love affair with James Brown samples. The emergence of Rakim, in particular, heralds the dawn of the modern MC.

    L.A. rapper, Ice-T, releases his debut album, “Rhyme Pays,” and becomes one of the first West Coast MCs to garner national attention. His single, ‘Six In the Morning,” is ground-breaking in it’s harsh and explicit depiction of street hustling and the criminal lifestyle.

    Philadelphia duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince debut with “Rock the House.” With their fun, good-natured rhymes and humorous videos; the twosome become a favorite on MTV and the album goes gold.

    After H.B.O. fails to make an impression on the L.A. rap scene; Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and DJ Yella, (also from the World Class Wreckin’ Cru), form a new group called N.W.A (Niggaz With Attitudes). They rush-release an EP for fledgling Ruthless Records called “N.W.A. and the Posse.” It goes nowhere. Eazy then recruits Lorenzo ‘M.C. Ren’ Wright, a young rapper from South Central, to join them as they go back into the studio to revamp their sound.

    MC Hammer, an Oakland-based dancer-turned-rapper releases his debut album, “Let’s Get It Started.” It generates a few moderate hits, and Hammer gains attention for his exuberant dance moves and simple party raps.

    After their show in Los Angeles ends in violence, Run-D.M.C. is blamed in the press for inciting the riot. The group calls a press conference to defend itself, and hip-hop is immediately thrust under a microscope by moral watchdogs and right-wing politicians.

    As Boogie Down Productions begins production on their second album; DJ Scott La Rock is gunned down following an altercation. Stunned by the sudden death of his partner, KRS-One soldiers on, and as ‘The Teacha,’ promotes a more educated and socially aware approach to hard-core hip-hop.

    MC Lyte; a brash, young ‘female’ MC, becomes the first female hard-core rapper signed to a major label and releases her debut album, “Lyte As A Rock.”

    Public Enemy release their second album, “It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.” With it’s use of dense, layered sampling, hard funk, and politically incendiary rhymes; it is hailed by rap and rock critics alike as a landmark recording. Public Enemy skyrockets toward the forefront of popular music.

    Ice-T’s second album, “Power,” becomes the first rap album to carry a Parental Advisory warning label.

    Afrika Bambaataa froms the Native Tongues crew and, (after hearing an underground single called ‘Wrath of My Madness’); recruits a young female MC from New Jersey named Queen Latifah.

    N.W.A releases their first full-fledged album, “Straight Outta Compton.” Taking the hard-core sonic attack of Public Enemy and merging it with brutally explicit tales of the crime-ridden streets of South Central Los Angeles; it becomes a watershed moment for ‘gangsta rap’ and fully opens the door for West Coast rappers to gain national attention.

    Run-D.M.C. finally release their follow-up to ‘Raising Hell;’ called ‘Tougher Than Leather,’ and star in a movie of the same name. The movie bombs at the box office and though the album goes platinum and is praised by critics; it is considered a commercial disappointment for the group.

    N.W.A.’s song, ‘Fuck the Police,’ incites controversy for it’s lyrics and leads the F.B.I. to issue a formal warning to the group, Ruthless Records, and it’s parent-label, Priority. This starts a long-standing battle between the powers-that-be and gangsta rap.

    A trio of friends from Harlem NY, the Jungle Brothers, release their debut album, ‘Straight Out The Jungle’ on the small Idler label. Though the album doesn’t gain much attention, it does provide a new slant on hip-hop that is neither ‘gangsta’ nor overtly political. Joining up with Afrika Bambaataa’s “Native Tongues’ crew, and incorporating elements of jazz and house music and using Afrocentric themes, the Jungles Brothers introduce a new subgenre that would later be dubbed ‘alternative’ rap.

    The Grammy committee announces that rap will be given it’s own official Grammy catagory. The news is bittersweet, however, after it is announced that the presentation will not be televised. As a result, many of the most prominent rappers, (including Salt-N-Pepa, Public Enemy, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, Ice-T and more), host a Boycott-The-Grammys Party on MTV the night of the broadcast. DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince go on to win the award.

    After a year of buzz surrounding her underground singles, Queen Latifah releases her debut album, “All Hail the Queen.” It is praised immensely by the hip-hop community for it’s positive outlook and strong feminist overtones.

    In an effort to quell the surge of Black-On-Black crime in New York (and as tribute to Scott La Rock); KRS-One organizes the Stop the Violence movement with several New York rappers. Soon, the Movement goes national as West Coast MCs get involved as well. The result is two public-service singles denouncing violence, ‘Self Destruction’ in New York, and ‘We’re All In the Same Gang’ in Los Angeles.

    Doug E. Fresh’s former partner, MC Ricky D (now calling himself ‘Slick Rick’) releases his solo debut, “The Great Adventures of Slick Rick” on Def Jam Records. With a gift for clever, laid-back rhymes and vivid storytelling, Rick is immediately elevated to the top-tier of MCs.

    After a controversial tour promoting ‘Straight Outta Compton’ with N.W.A, Ice Cube announces he’s leaving the group after a financial dispute with Eazy-E and manager, Jerry Heller.

    De La Soul, a young rap group from Long Island, New York (and also affiliated with the Native Tongues collective), release their debut, “3 Feet High & Rising” on Tommy Boy Records. Building on quirky samples from rock, funk, folk, country and soul and using wordplay that ranged from psychedelic musings to outright jibberish, the group is immediately hailed as the ‘future of hip-hop music.’

    MC Hammer releases his sophomore effort, “Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em.” The album is bashed by critics and scoffed at by hip-hop purists, but becomes a mammoth hit. Spurred by the wildly popular single, ‘U Can’t Touch This,’ and heavy video rotation on MTV, the album sells ten million copies- and with his flashy dancing and trademark baggy pants, MC Hammer becomes an international superstar.

    The Beastie Boys, after a long and bitter exit from Def Jam Records, finally release their second album, “Paul’s Boutique.” Trading the frat-boy humor of their debut in favor of dense samples, sprawling sound collages and abstract lyrical themes, the album flops as most fans and critics don’t know what to make of the record.

    2 Live Crew, a Florida-based party-rap group, releases their third album, “As Nasty As They Wanna Be.” It is an extremely explicit and sexually provocative (with the lyrics reaching near-pornographic proportions), and is banned from sale in the state of Florida. The group themselves are arrested for lewdness after performing a concert in Miami. After going to court for the right to perform and write music as they want to, the group is found not guilty in what becomes a heated debate over decency and the First Amendment.

    Rick Rubin leaves Def Jam and forms a new label, dubbed Def American.

  • Yo! MTV Raps makes it’s debut, with host Fab 5 Freddy. For the first time, the entire country has a platform to watch the latest music videos by all of the top rap artists.


Popular rap stars


USA News. American News.

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