I thought it was cool. Fun. I also loved “The Breaks,” “The Message,” “Planet Rock,” “It’s Like That,” and “Jail House Rap” when I first heard them. Though the first rap album I ever bought was Whodini’s Escape on cassette. I picked it up at Tower Records when I went to replace my copy of the Purple Rain soundtrack that I’d played until the tape had popped.
But it wasn’t until 1985, when the indelible opening phrase “OK. Party people in the house” hopped out of my radio’s speakers that my ears were glued, my mind was blown, and my heart opened to what we call Hip-Hop. Once I heard “La Di Da Di,” I was hooked. Over the next two years, all I listened to was LL Cool J, The Beastie Boys, and Run-DMC. And soon after, I discovered Eric B. & Rakim, BDP, Public Enemy, and Big Daddy Kane. I was living near the beach with my father then, but I spent most of my time rapping in front of the mirror in my room. I was blasting P.E.’s “You’re Gonna Get Yours” when my pops came in telling me to “turn that s**t down!” He caught himself and laughed when he realized that he’d sounded like a grumpy old man. He asked me to play him something I thought he’d like, so I put on LL’s “I Need Love.” He enjoyed it and then asked me who put these records out. I told him it was Def Jam and a guy named Russell Simmons. My father found out they had a mutual friend in Jellybean Benitez, who arranged for them to meet in New York. Russell and my father hit it off. I finally met Russell when he came out to L.A. and I guess I impressed him with my knowledge of his label’s catalog and the fact that I knew damn near every record Def Jam had released, word for word.
In the summer of 1990, my father and Russell partnered as producers on a syndicated television show called New Music Report, which was to be hosted by MC Serch and comedian Doug E. Doug. They were going to be shooting 26 episodes at The Apollo Theater. No one who worked for my father knew anything about Hip-Hop, so, at the age of 17, I was hired as the show’s executive in charge of production and stayed with Russell in New York for a couple of months. Mostly my job was to report back whether or not an episode was completed on time and on budget. The best part for me was getting to hear tracks from Mama Said Knock You Out before the album dropped.
The show didn’t get picked up, and I went off to college. Two years later, I got a call from Russell asking me if I wanted to work for him in the A&R department! Um . . . Yes!
In 1992, I moved to the Bronx to live with my grandmother and began my daily commute to Def Jam. I was thrown right in the deep end and, to be honest, mostly treaded water at first. At the time, my mentality was to not make waves. Though my mother had been a recording artist in the ’70s, so I had a natural tendency to see things from that perspective, which, early on, got me into trouble with the label more than a few times. The next year, I had an opportunity to sign The Roots. When I didn’t get the green light to pursue them, I became . . . disgruntled. So I created a situation where it was best for both sides if I bounced. And I did.
A decade-and-a-half later, I’m back in the mix and extremely proud, along with my pops and partner in publishing, Jeff Wald, to present to you Hip-Hop: A Cultural Odyssey.
Now let’s break it down: 420 pages with more than 300 photos and 70 essays—30 of which explore the evolution of Hip-Hop from its roots and humble origins to its present-day pop cultural and global dominance. Then there are 40 essays profiling Hip-Hop icons that literally changed the game with their impact, influence, and legacy. Who’s among them and who isn’t, I expect, will be the subject of some debate. That’s good. One thing needs to be made clear though: We didn’t include the founders and pioneers under this banner, because they invented the game. And as far as other game changers, like Marley Marl or Luke, who weren’t singled out among the 40 lauded herein . . . they are most definitely recognized and honored in one (and sometimes in more than one) of the “topic” essays, not to mention the interviews. So respect has been paid.
Speaking of the interviews . . . More than 150 were conducted with artists who were asked questions based on our 30 essay topics. You’ll find excerpts from these first-person testimonials at the end of each essay spread.
There are also four pairs of lists naming “100 HOT” albums and singles. With the exception of the first duo, which is 100 albums that influenced Hip-Hop culture and 100 breakbeats, respectively, the others are all straight-up Hip-Hop and divided by decade. Also noteworthy: none of the singles listed are from any of the albums listed. So, in the ’80s section, the reason you won’t find “Eric B. Is President/My Melody” under Hot Singles is because we have Paid In Full in Hot Albums.
Oh, something else you should know before digging in: No corporation, label, or executive had any say regarding the content of this book. The only variables that affected what’s in the book were cost, scheduling, and levels of cooperation. Though many individuals were extremely helpful and they’re thanked in the credits.
Our goal was to create a comprehensive, credible, and celebratory testament to a phenomenal culture that has educated and entertained people the world over. And we couldn’t have done it without you.
Jordan Sommers, Editor-In-Chief