After 35 years, ‘Yo! MTV Raps’ is still the best thing the network has ever done
Mtv turns 35 today. (Confirmed: you're old af.) What was your fave Mtv show?
— Complex Pop Culture (@ComplexPop) August 1, 2016
With MTV turning 35 years old today, Complex posed an interesting question on Twitter. Shockingly, the choices did not include Yo! MTV Raps, a program that ESPN’s Bomani Jones referred to as “the single most important show in the history of the network.” He’s not wrong. It’s nearly impossible to overstate the program’s importance to the culture. Debuting in 1988 with Fab 5 Freddy as the host, it had instant credibility and was vital in the global branding of hip-hop at a time when it was still considered a niche genre.
The show ended in 1995, meaning it effectively spanned what many people call the golden era of hip-hop, in no small part due to the show itself. It was rebooted and rebranded in different ways over the years, but the original program (the Ed Lover era definitely included) was a vehicle for the art form that has never been replicated on a large scale since. There were not only incredible guests and performances, but also genuine moments of candor from artists that we so rarely see in a studio setting these days.
Events that were legitimately important happened on the show: going to Compton, California, to meet N.W.A., the Rockstead Crew’s 18th anniversary, a wildly intoxicated Ol’ Dirty Bastard showing up on set to everyone’s bewilderment and walking through Chinatown in New York City with the Beastie Boys, just to name a few off the top of my head. The series finale was one long freestyle session and it was amazing.
At the most basic level, MTV had the vision to see that hip-hop was not only marketable, but would eventually become a vital pillar of the music world. Of course, that took longer than it should have, but the show’s co-creator Ted Demme was about that life. A lot of journalists, fans and others often look back on certain eras of artistry with rose-colored lenses, but Yo! MTV Raps really was that solid from a consistency standpoint. It became a global brand that influenced a generation. After school, you watched Ed Lover and Doctor Dre. Period.
You want more? Check out this Rock Doc that VH1, also a Viacom network, did a while back on how the program was created.
“To have a show that shows some love for rap like that?” TLC’s Chilli said in the film. “I just thought it was the greatest thing they’ve ever done on that network.”