Rap: A Working Hip-Hop Chronology
1920 - On August 10th, Mamie Smith records "Crazy Blues" (Okeh 4169), first blues recording and first commercial recording of an African-American musical tradition. BW
1921 - Dr. Harry Pace founds Black Swan, the first black-owned record label (bought out in 1924)
1920-1957 - Major record labels such as RCA, Columbia, Okeh, Brunswick, Paramount, and Vocalion decide to market blues (and later, jazz) records on segregated "race record" labels and catalog numbers; this practice continues through the late 1950's.
1926 - Columbia records the Rev. J.M. Gates's "Death's Black Train is Coming," initiating many years of commercial recordings of African-American sermons and church choirs, mixing music with message. RB
c. 1926 - The invention of electrical recording makes it possible to record a far wider range of instruments using microphones. The first "country blues" recordings of vocalists accompanied by guitar are produced around this time.
1927 - J. Mayo Williams founds Black Patti, another early black-owned label.
1927-30 - Columbia and other companies send mobile recording studios to Southern cities to record blues and "county" musicians.
1920's-30's - Comedy duos like Harris & Harris ("This is Not the Stove to Brown Your Bread") and Butterbeans and Susie ("Elevator Papa, Switchboard Mama") drop manic rhymes over blues accompaniment. Dirty or "Hokum" blues also become popular, with titles like Big Bill Broonzy's "Pussy Cat Blues" and Louise Bogan's x-rated "Shave "Em Dry." WMT, PW, RB2.
1931-35 - The Depression bankrupts many record companies, and rising prices put records out of the reach of many Black consumers.
1929-40 - Development of urban blues by artists such as Big Bill Broonzy, Memphis Minnie, and Tampa Red lays the ground for the later development of "Rhythm and Blues."
1937 - Robert Johnson records his brilliant blues sides, including "If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day," later sampled to good effect by Laquan on his cut "Swing Blue, Sweat Black.'
1939 - Calypso great The Lion records "Boo Boo La La," with its refrain of "Burn Down the London Theatre, Burn Down the Big Empire!" -- and you thought "Burn, Hollywood Burn" was the first rap of its kind. CC.
1944-54 - The American recording industry enjoys rapid postwar growth; top R&B artists such as Louis Jordan, Elmore James, and Chuck Berry perfect the double-time R&B later to be called "rock-n-roll."
1952 - Big Maybelle cuts "Gabbin' Blues" and sets off a sequence of payback-and-answer records.
1953 - Willie Dixon and the Big Three Trio record "Signifying Monkey," part of an ancient African tradition of trickster rhymes continued by hip hoppers such as Schoolly-D, whose 1987 track "Signifying Rapper" updates the traditional version.
1954-57 - Sun Records releases recordings by Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, all white performers who appropriated the African-American traditions of R&B (Sun also had at the time a large number of Black artists on its label). At the same time, Doo-Wop, like hip-hop a street phenomenon before it was a commercial success, hits big, including the first gangsta doo-woppers, the Prisonaires, who hit with "This Chick's Too Young to Fry."
1956 - James Brown cuts his first record, "Please Please Please" (Federal F12258) RR
1956 - Paul Winley founds Winley Records with a small group of doo-wop and R&B acts.
1960 - The Shadows, with Cliff Richard on bongos, record the original version of "Apache."
1963 - Jamaican record producer & artist Prince Buster cuts "Al Capone," a prototype gangsta narrative including the first use of screeching tire and gunfire noises as precussion. TTT
1967 - Otis Redding & Carla Thomas cut their cover of Lowell Fulsom's "Tramp," whose beat becomes one of the most sampled, and whose verbal exchanges inspire many other battles on the mic, ranging from Ice Cube & Yo Yo to Apache & Nikki D. SV
1968-70 - The Meters -- basically, the Neville Brothers + phunky drummer Ziggy Modeliste, cut dozens of tracks' worth of instrumental fatback New Orleans funk, including "Sophisticated Cissy," "Cissy Strut," "Funky Chicken," "A Message from the Meters," and "The Same Ol' Thing." Sound familiar? They are probably the most sampled band around. LEG.
1969 - James Brown records "Say It Loud -- I'm Black and Proud!" (King 6187), as well as "Funky Drummer" (King 6290), whose syncopated drumbeat (provided by Clyde Stubblefield) later becomes the most-sampled track in hip-hop history. ST
1970 - The Last Poets, pioneers of hip-hop, record their self-named LP on Douglas Records, using a mixture of spoken word and jazz drumming and instrumentations. LP
1971 - Sly & the Family Stone releases There's a Riot Goin' On -- of which Nelson George says, a "dark murky bitter [record which] presages minimalist hardcore rap both lyrically and socially."
1973 - Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City" becomes one of the first major soul hits to include both a political message and sampled sounds of the street (busses, traffic, voices, and sirens). IN
1973 - Jamaican group The Incredible Bongo Band records its cover version of "Apache," one of the most-sampled beats of all time.
1973 - Lightnin' Rod of the Last Poets releases Hustler's Convention -- as Nelson George puts it, "a moralistic blaxploitation film on record," featuring boasting raps over the cool beats of Eric Gale and Kool & the Gang. HC
1974 - Gil Scott-Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" sets the tone for the future of rap with its funky bass and rhythm and uncompromising political message. GSH
1975 - Parliament's Chocolate City blends message raps with funk, a music pioneered by (former James Brown bassist) Bootsy Collins and eternal entrepreneur/band member George Clinton. PGH
1974-80 - Jamaican reggae, with its talking 'boasts' and 'toasts,' establishes itself in the New York area.
1974-80 - "Disco" -- essentially a homogenized and watered-down funk, is embraced by the entertainment industry, and dominates both the airwaves and the club scene.
1976 - Afrika Bambaataa DJ's his first party at the Bronx River Community Center.
1977 - German spacerock band Kraftwerk releases "Trans-Europe Express," a trancelike synth anthem that rules the club scene and becomes the primary source for Electro-Funk artists like Bamabaataa, Planet Patrol, Jonzun Crew, and Newcleus. TEE, SJ/EF 1, 2, and 3.
1977-79 - Street parties featuring not only dance music but rapping DJ's become increasingly popular in the New York area; early pioneers include Grandmaster Flash and Kool DJ Herc.
1978-79 - Manu Dibango's Afro Quelque Chose style hits disco, infusing a fresh African influence.
1979 - The Sugarhill Gang (a pre-fab group assembled by record mogul Sylvia Roberts) records "Rapper's Delight," the first commercial rap record. The Fatback Band hires radio DJ King Tim III to provide a rap for one of their b-sides (controversy continues over which is the "first" rap on record, but neither one reflects the ongoing hip-hop scene on the streets). SJ/HH 1, OSR
1979 - Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five finally hit wax with "Superrappin" on the Enjoy label.
1980 - Members of the High Times Crew are arrested for breakdancing at a Washington Heights subway -- photos of the incident in the New York Post are, according to Nelson George, the first known photos of breakdancing.
1980 - "Mr. Magic's Rap Attack" begins its run on WHBI from 2 to 5 a.m. Saturday nights.
1980 - The all-women crew Sequence hits the charts, paving the way for women rappers to come, such as Roxanne Shante (1984), Salt-n-Pepa (1985), and MC Lyte (1987). HHG
1981 - Grandmaster Flash's "Adventures on the Wheels of Steel" is the first rap record to bring the real sounds of live DJ scratching onto vinyl. RM8
1981 - Disco Daddy and Captain Rapp's "Gigolo Rap" (Rappers Rapp #1989) is the first west-coast rap to hit wax. WCR 1
1982 - Flash records "The Message," one of the first "message" raps. SJ/HH 1
1982 - Afrika Bambaataa and the Sould Sonic Force record "Planet Rock," the first big techno-funk hit. SJ: EF 1
1983 - Herbie Hancock and Grandmaster D.ST. cut "Rockit," the first hip-hop/jazz synthesis. SJ/EF 1
1983 - Run D.M.C.'s "Sucka MC's" marks the beginning of the end for old school style, along with the beginning of a major rap-rock crossover audience. RGH
1983 - Afrika Bambaataa records "Looking for the Perfect Beat" (Tommy Boy single #831), which features the first recorded use of digital sampling, and secures Tommy Boy's place as *the* hip-hop/dance label. SJ/EF 3
1984 - The rap group UFTO records "Roxanne, Roxanne," a diss on a fictional woman named "Roxanne." Over 100 "response" records are made, including "Roxanne" Shante's recording debut, originally recorded in Marley Marl's living room. SJ/HH 1
1984 - The Fresh Fest concert tour, featuring Run-D.M.C., Kurtis Blow, Whodini, the Fat Boys, and Newcleus, is hip-hop's first big moneymaking tour (3.5 million on 27 dates).
1984 - Los Angeles's KDAY becomes the country's first rap-only radio station.
1984 - Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons meet for the first time at the Danceteria, and go on to found Def Jam records. On the runaway success of the Beastie Boys and LL Cool J, Def Jam becomes a powerful label, eventually making a distribution deal with CBS records.
1985 - Salt 'n' Pepa make their first appearance on wax on Super Nature's "The Show Stopper (Is Stupid Fresh)" SJ/ HH 4
1985-6 - The Juice Crew's "The Bridge" and Boogie Down Productions' "The Bridge is Over" start one of the longest-running payback battles in hip-hop history, which starts all over again in 1993 when MC Lyte samples "The Bridge is Over"'s refrain, "Roxanne Shante is only good for steady fuckin'."
1986 - Run-D.M.C. releases a hip-hop version of Aerosmith's "Walk This Way," and hip-hop breaks into the pop charts, MTV, and mass media all at once. RGH
1986 - Boogie Down Productions' "Criminal Minded" tears the roof off what's left of old-school rap.
1987 - DJ Scott LaRock killed in the South Bronx; KRS-One carries on the BDP posse.
1988 - Def Jam founders Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin split up; Simmons opts for distribution through Columbia Records, while Rubin goes on to found Def American.
1988 - N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton goes gold, initiating the 'gangsta' school of rap; the FBI sends letters to police chiefs nationwide singling out the cut "Fuck Tha Police" for criticism as an example of anti-law-enforcement agitation.1989 - Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" provides the soundtrack for the summer of rage in Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing, helping to establish both as widely-known artists. DRT
1989 - Controversy over Public Enemy member Professor Griff's anti-Semitic remarks causes a media furor. Griff eventually leaves the group and forms the Last Asiatic Disciples.
1990 - Controversy over 2 Live Crew's As Nasty as they Wanna Be escalates with the arrest of both a Florida record store owner and the group's leader, Luther Campbell (both trials eventually end with acquittals).
1990-present - Jamaican Dancehall music hits big and re-infuses hip-hop with the Caribbean connection; numerous dancehall artists collaborate with hip-hoppers or release solo albums, including Shabba Ranks, Cutty Ranks, Scringer Ranks, Patra, Tiger, Daddy Nitro, Daddy Freddy, Nardo Ranks, Snagga Puss, and Buju Banton.
1991 - Public Enemy and Anthrax record a slash-metal version of "Bring the Noise." The beating of Rodney King by the LAPD stirs national awareness of racism, and the cause is taken up by many rappers, including Chuck-D, Ice Cube, Ice-T, Eric B. and Rakim, Sister Souljah, and 2PAC.
1991 - KDAY is sold, and its all-rap format ends; the west coast goes into mourning.
1991 - The SoundScan point-of-sale monitoring system goes into widespread use, establishing once and for all that Ice Cube and other rap artists are far outselling geriatric rock groups.
1992 - The LA Uprising pits Black and Latino residents of Los Angeles against Daryl Gates's racist LAPD. Dozens of raps respond to the uprising and its aftermath, including Ice Cube's "We Had to Tear This Motherfucker Up," Da Lench Mob's "Guerillas in tha Mist," Tiger & Q-Tip's "Who Planned It?," and many others.
1992 - Controversy again erupts, this time when police organizations attack rapper Ice-T's heavy-metal anthem, "Cop Killer." Time-Warner (Ice-T's label) at first defends the song, but Ice-T later withdraws it from the album. Time Warner later cancels several forthcoming releases in order to avoid feared litigation.
1992 - The Disposable Heroes of Hip-Hoprisy record "Language of Violence," the first anti-gay-bashing rap.
1992- Rapper Sister Souljah's comments at the meeting of Jesse Jackson's National Rainbow Coalition stir Bill Clinton to criticize her position, resulting in another blast of media hype.
1993 - Dr. Dre's "The Chronic" goes multi-platinum and starts a gangsta bandwagon.
BW - Blues Masters Vol. 11: Classic Blues Women. Rhino Records R2 71134
CC = Calypso Carnival: 1936-1941. Rounder CD 1077.
DRT = Music from the movie Do The Right Thing
GSH = Gil Scott-Heron's Greatest Hits. (Arista)
HC = Lightnin' Rod, Hustler's Convention. Oceana 4107-2 (dist. by Celluloid) (CD).
HHG = Hip Hop Greats: Classic Raps. Rhino Records R2-70957
IN = Stevie Wonder's Innervisions. Motown MCD09052 (CD).
LEG = Legacy: A History of the Nevilles. (2 cd set) Charly Records CD NEV 1
LP = The Last Poets. The Last Poets Celluloid CEL 6101 (CD).
OSR = Old School Rap: The Roots of Rap. Southbound Records CDSEWD 048 (CD, U.K. only).
PGH = Parliament's Greatest Hits. Polydor 822637-2
PW = Please Warm my Weiner: Hokum Blues. Yazoo Records Yazoo 1043 (CD)
RB = Roots n Blues: The Collection. (4-cd set on Columbia/Legacy)
RB2 = Raunchy Business: Hot Nuts & Lollipops. Columbia/Legacy CK 46783 (CD).
RGH = Run-D.M.C. : Together Forever: Greatest Hits (Priority)
RM8 = Rapmasters 8: The Best of the Street Priority 4XL-7958 (cass.)
RR = James Brown, Roots of a Revolution (2 cd set) Polydor 817-304-2
SJ/EF = Street Jams: Electric Funk (vols. 1, 2 and 3) Rhino Records R2 70575, 70576, 71557
SJ/HH = Street Jams: Hip-Hop From the Top (parts 1, 2, 3, and 4), Rhino Records R2 70577, 70578, 71555, 71556.
ST = James Brown, Star Time (4 cd set) Polydor 849-109-2
SV = The Complete Stax/Volt Singles (9 cd set), Atlantic 7 82218-2.
TEE = Kraftwerk, Trans-Europe Express. CDP 7 46473-2 (CD)
TTT = Tough Than Tough: The Story of Jamaican Music (4 cd set) Mango/Island 162-539-9352STO3 (CD).
WCR = West Coast Rap: The First Dynasty (vols. 1, 2, 3) Rhino Records R2 70590, 70591, 70592
WMT = Blind Willie McTell, the Complete Recorded Works, Volume 1. Document Records CD.