Vanguards: Hip Hop At 50

Hip hop was born from ingenuity. Bronx block parties were a celebratory community event, and it was here that hip hop's DJs and MCs honed their craft.

Hip hop was born from ingenuity. Inhabitants of the Bronx, many of them Black or brown, were marginalized by systemic racism. Block parties, like the one DJ Kool Herc hosted as a “back to school jam” for his sister on August 11th, 1973, were a celebratory action for the community. Herc laid out the blueprint for hip hop that night, mixing the same James Brown record back and forth on twin turntables in what he later called the Merry-Go-Round technique, while MCs rhymed over the music.

DJ Kool Herc (2006) by Rock & Roll Hall of FameRock & Roll Hall of Fame

DJ Kool Herc

On August 11, 1973, DJ Kool Herc, a 16-year-old Jamaican immigrant, and his sister Cindy threw a “back to school jam” block party at 1520 Sedgwick  Avenue in the Bronx. This humble yet landmark event marked the beginning of hip hop culture.

“Rapper’s Delight” / “Apache” (1979) by The Sugarhill GangRock & Roll Hall of Fame

"Rapper's Delight" / "Here I Am"

Sylvia Robinson first heard rapping at her 43rd birthday party and knew she had to put it onto a record. In 1979, she founded Sugarhill Records with her husband, Joe, in order to fulfill her vision. Robinson was inducted into the Rock Hall in 2022.

The Sugarhill Gang recorded the vocals to "Rapper's Delight" in a single take while on a break from work – the song introduced hip hop to a global audience and was the genre's first mainstream hit, reaching Number 36 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Chip Shearin 1977 Fender Precision Bass Guitar (1977) by FenderRock & Roll Hall of Fame

Chip Shearin 1977 Fender Precision Bass guitar

In a recording session for "Rapper's Delight," producer and musician Chip Shearin used this bass guitar. He played the bass line from Chic’s “Good Times” for 15 minutes straight. The results of those sessions were infamously sampled to create the backing track of the song.

The skillful turntable manipulation of DJs like Grandmaster Flash, Grandmaster Caz, and Afrika Bambaataa and clever rhythmic wordplay, or “rap,” of MCs like Roxanne Shante, MC Sha-Rock, Kurtis Blow, and Melle Mel defined this new mode of creation. It also blossomed in the work of aerosol artists and break-dancers. Hip hop culture became an essential outlet for self-expression, and the creative one-upmanship among the crews quickly pushed the limits of the sound, style, and message. 

"The Message" (1982) by Grandmaster Flash & the Furious FiveRock & Roll Hall of Fame

Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, "The Message"

Hip hop started as party music, but the 1982 release of “The Message,” with its vivid depictions of street life, was the advent of hip hop music as social commentary. Chuck D said the song was “really the culmination of the last 25 years that was thrust upon Black folks."

Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five perform (2007) by Rock & Roll Hall of FameRock & Roll Hall of Fame

Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five perform

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five perform at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductions.

MC and DJ Awards Ceremony Handbill (February 26, 1982)Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

MC and DJ Awards Ceremony Handbill

The Hoe Avenue Boys Club was a popular venue for early rap shows.  DJ Grand Wizzard Theodore is credited with inventing the record scratching technique. MC Busy Bee Starski was involved in one of the first major “rap battles” against Kool Moe Dee in 1981. 

Blondie (1977) by Photographer Henry DiltzRock & Roll Hall of Fame


NYC band Blondie was instrumental in popularizing punk and New Wave but were also inspired by hip hop culture. Their hit “Rapture” (1981) was the first song containing rap music to top the Billboard pop charts. 

"Rapture" by Written by Debbie Harry and Chris Stein and Performed by BlondieRock & Roll Hall of Fame


After seeing MCs perform in the Bronx, Blondie guitarist Chris Stein suggested, "We should do a rap song and call it ‘Rapture’. It was an obvious wordplay on rap.” The lyrics reference DJ Grandmaster Flash as well as Fab 5 Freddy, a hip hop pioneer and former graffiti artist.

Blondie performs "Rapture" (2006) by Rock & Roll Hall of FameRock & Roll Hall of Fame

Blondie performs "Rapture"

Blondie performs "Rapture" at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.

Roxanne Shante Jacket (1989) by Artwork by David GreeneRock & Roll Hall of Fame

Roxanne Shante jacket

Roxanne Shante played a pivotal role in breaking barriers as one of the first prominent female rappers. At a time when hip hop was primarily male-dominated, she proved that women could excel in the genre, challenging gender stereotypes and paving the way for future generations.

Roxanne Shante interview (2023) by Rock & Roll Hall of FameRock & Roll Hall of Fame

Roxanne Shante interview

Roxanne Shante speaks on her custom jean jacket.

In the mid-1980s, the sound of hip hop shifted away from the funk and soul break beats of the vanguards and embraced electronic beats, drum machines, and complex sampling.

Rock Hall EDU is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's online portal and resource guide for teachers and parents offering free lesson plans, artifact images, and materials, videos,  playlists, and writing prompts all designed by Rock Hall Education staff.

Rock Hall EDU celebrates the sound and experience of youth culture across generations with Hip Hop's 50th Anniversary Collection. Use this collection to explore some of the top hip hop names over the style's first 50 years, and then go beyond Inductees and seek the newer sounds of artists like Kendrick Lamar and Lizzo. Kick back and keep things old-school, and investigate how scratching, playing a song's break, dynamic lyrics, and keen business sense contributed to hip hop's unique sound.

Credits: Story

The Hip Hop At 50: Holla If Ya Hear Me exhibit opened at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on June 30, 2023.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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