The Criteria: Hip Hop Turning Points
Okay, I realize that the title to this article is rather lofty. I’m not aware of any song, regardless of the musical category that would even come close to truly fulfilling that status. Still. there are many songs that did make a difference; these five hip-hop songs represented a turning point in urban culture and helped usher in a new way of thinking for those of us who consider ourselves members of the hip-hop generation. Each song represents a different stage in our cultural development; so in that way you can say it “changed the world.” Many of us can recall the different scenes and seasons of our lives based on the music we listened to at that moment. If you were like me, that soundtrack would contain a substantial amount of hip-hop music. So let’s take a trip back in time as we celebrate the five hip-hop songs that changed the world.
Five Hip Hop Songs That Changed The World
5. Rapper’s Delight by The Sugarhill Gang (1979)
Rapper’s Delight is generally considered to be the song that helped to birth the rise of rap music. It would be hard for many young people today to comprehend, but there once was a time when Hip Hop music was completely underground. There were few radio stations that played hip-hop, and unless you were residing in a large Northeastern inner city, there was a good chance that you had never even heard of rap music. That would change beginning with the release of the Sugarhill Gangs “Rapper’s Delight”. Interestingly, this would be the only real hit produced by the Sugarhill Gang, who were considered pioneers in the industry even though some of the lyrics were not original. The song is ranked #248 on the Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and #2 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs. This song marked a turning point in our culture; it marked the birth of rap music.
4. Tennessee by Arrested Development (1992)
Released by the afro-centric southern rap group Arrested Development, “Tennessee” topped the US R&B chart for one week and peaked at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also charted in Britain remaining on the charts for 7 weeks. The song was released a second time in 1993, where it peaked at #18. During its second stint, it was on the charts for another six weeks. Winning the Grammy Award for Best Rap Group in 1993, this song is the pinnacle in the career of creative hip-hop group Arrested Development. This groundbreaking hip-hop classic marked another turning point; it introduced hip-hop culture to a more melodic, conscious-oriented rap music that held a distinctly rural, southern flavor. The current generation of melodic, dirty south rappers should thank Arrested Development for paving the way.
3. Walk This Way by Run DMC & Aerosmith (1986)
To some Hip Hop purists this would not rank as one of Run DMC’s most important works, as it lacks the street credibility that some of their other songs did. Ironically, it is that very quality that sets this song apart, helping it to secure its place on this list. The song, a collaborative cover of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way,” helped to propel Run DMC to super-stardom and to also secure rap music’s place on the national stage as a musical genre to be taken seriously. As the first rap song to hit the Top 5 in The Billboard Hot 100, it marked another turning point in our culture; rap music was no longer considered a passing fad. Rap music was officially a force to be reckoned with. The rest is history.
2. The Message by Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five (1982)
“The Message” was recorded by the legendary rap group Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and released by Sugar Hill Records as a single in 1982. It took less than a month for the song to go platinum. A song that has influenced the genre of rap music more than any other recording, it skillfully paints the picture of inner-city life in early-1980’s New York City. With vivid descriptions, intense delivery, and a prophetic soul, “The Message” is still as relevant today as it was 28 years ago. For young men like myself, the “Message” served as more than a song; it was a mantra; “Don’t push me cuz I’m close to the edge…” It is the first Hip-Hop record to be added to the US National Archive of Historic Recordings. This classic rap song remains the most intelligent depiction of street life in rap music history. It set the bar, and in doing so it defined the culture.
1. Fight The Power by Public Enemy (1989)
Simply put, “Fight The Power” became the national anthem for an entire generation of inner-city kids and hip-hop enthusiasts. The theme song for “Do the Right Thing”, director Spike Lee’s important film on racial tension, this song was part protest, part social commentary, and part sermon. The genius of Chuck D and Public Enemy was their ability to use music to promote a message that transcended the actual art form. Years before America elected its first African American President in Barack Obama, the inner-cities were festering with frustration and violence as crack cocaine dominated the urban landscape. Public Enemy gave us an outlet for our frustrations, and at the same time they framed our struggle in their lyrics and persona. All of this was accomplished while calling us to higher forms of protest. That by itself is quite an accomplishment; a cultural turning point that helped change our world.