In our brand new issue of Music Week, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop in style with a bumper 25-page cover feature that brings together over 100 names - from Chuck D, to Kanya King, to a range of leading executives, producers, DJs, journalists and more - to talk about some of their favourite rap albums of all time.
As well as providing a treasure trove of the genre’s greatest works, we sit down with YouTube’s Lyor Cohen as he reflects on his part in the early days of Def Jam, while DJ Premier guides us through five of his classic beats and Lady Leshurr reveals her favourite female MCs. Plus, Sony Music UK and Capital Xtra’s DJ Semtex looks back at the evolution of UK hip-hop.
Here, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, Music Week head of content George Garner reflects on the talent that paved the way for the genre’s global success…
In the immortal words of Naughty By Nature: hip-hop hooray!
The new issue of Music Week started off with a conundrum. Namely, how the hell do you celebrate something as monumental as the 50th anniversary of hip-hop? What began with us fielding various ideas from across the industry soon snowballed into this, one of the biggest – if not the biggest – features in Music Week’s 60-plus-year history. So, a huge, huge thank you to everyone who took time out to wax lyrical about, er, lyricists.
My own journey as a hip-hop fan started with a cassette single in 1995. I’m looking at it now as I type: its purple cardboard case bearing the image of a chain link fence is crumpled yet intact nearly 30 years later, the iconic Tommy Boy Records logo on the spine creased, but still instantly identifiable. It was Coolio’s classic Gangsta’s Paradise – that oh-so ubiquitous song which, in the strange course of becoming a staple of cheesy ’90s-themed karaoke nights in the UK, also, sadly, overshadowed his prodigious talents as a socially conscious lyricist, storyteller and humorist. He altered my taste in music forever.
Coolio’s tragic death in 2022 provoked a long overdue reappraisal of his work, particularly his two classic West Coast albums, It Takes A Thief and Gangsta’s Paradise. Yet it was hard to square away the mass tributes with the reality of what I had witnessed just a few years prior when I saw the Grammy-winning, multi-platinum star in the intimate confines of Camden Underworld in 2019. That small show was nowhere close to being sold out. It was a stark reminder that a lot of hip-hop stars have not always been given the sustained respect and support they deserve.
I still regularly think about the footage of Black Rob posted on social media in 2021. Across two videos, one recorded while in hospital, the star – who delivered one of Bad Boy Records’ finest releases with 2000’s platinum-selling Life Story – confided that he was homeless and living in unbearable pain after multiple strokes. An emergency GoFundMe was set up. He died of cardiac arrest just a few days later.
In this light, what’s been so beautiful about the 50 Years Of Hip-Hop celebrations so far – from the brilliant reissues to all the podcasts (shout out to Nas and Miss Info’s Spotify original series The Bridge) – is that we’re not waiting for something tragic to happen before we give some of these artists their flowers. It’s worth noting that, while a lot of albums passionately celebrated in this issue are from yesteryear, their creators’ talents have no expiration date. Busta Rhymes released one of the strongest records of his storied career in 2020.
Likewise, a lot of veteran artists are still out there playing brilliant shows. The UK has been over-delivering to this end – from The Lox at the IndigO2 to Camden Jazz Cafe bringing Mobb Deep’s Havoc over, plus AZ, Souls Of Mischief and Three 6 Mafia’s DJ Paul.
It’s time to celebrate. Not just a few artists, but all of the ones that paved the way.