hip hop pioneers

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George Rodriguez/all images courtesy of Hat & Beard Press

George Rodriguez, now 80, still doesn’t go anywhere without taking pictures.

“People don’t recognize me without my camera,” he tells NPR’s Mandalit Del Barco. “I like to document everything that’s goin’ on.”

For nearly six decades, the photographer has chronicled Los Angeles: Hollywood, the Chicano movement, hip-hop pioneers and beyond. His work is now being celebrated with his first retrospective, at the Lodge Gallery in Los Angeles, and a book called Double Vision: The Photography of George Rodriguez.

Check out Mandalit’s profile of him here.

– Petra

“I only write about what I go through, or things I’ve learned along the way.”

MC Lyte was one of the first female rappers to point out the sexism and misogyny that often runs rampant in hip-hop, often taking the subject head on lyrically in her songs and helping open the door for such future artists as Queen Latifah and Missy Elliott. Rapper MC Lyte forged the way for other female MCs to find their way in the often-sexist, male-dominated world of hip hop. Lyte became the first female rap artist to achieve gold certification for her single “Ruffneck.” In six albums, she produced four Number One rap singles.

Lyte was born Lana Moorer, in Queens and raised in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn, New York.She began rapping when she was 12, learning from her brothers Milk and Gizmo of the rap group Audio Two. Her father, Nat Robinson, started the First Priority record label in 1987, and her brothers appeared on her first three albums. Her first single, “I Cram to Understand U (Sam),” became an instant cult classic. The song is about a woman who has to compete for her man’s attentions, but her competition isn’t another woman, it’s crack cocaine. The single, released when Lyte was still a teen, set a standard for adult, hard-core rap that has rarely been equaled since.

Her first album, Lyte as a Rock, was released on First Priority in 1988 and produced by her brothers. The album contained samples from Ray Charles, Helen Reddy, and the Four Seasons. It’s notable for its narrative songs, like “10% Dis” and “Paper Thin,”that tell fleshed-out stories featuring doomed but interesting characters. Despite the assertive, in-your-face persona Lyte shows in her music and onstage, the artist is known for her soft-spoken demeanor behind the scenes. Lyte’s follow up to Lyte as a Rock, Eyes on This, was released a year after her debut, when she was just 19. The album “maintained her reputation as an insult-hurling tough talker who rapped to hard, simple beats,” People critic Michael Small wrote. It featured production by Grand Puba and the hit single “Cha Cha Cha,” which reached number one on the rap charts. Lyte took a courageous stand against violence in the haunting song “Cappuccino.”

She became an anti-violence spokesperson, namely for the Stop the Violence campaign, which took her into schools to speak to kids. She also appeared in public service announcements for the Rock the Vote
campaign, which featured her song “I’m Not Having It.” She appeared in PSAs for Musicians for Life and supported various AIDS charities. Lyte became the first rapper to perform at Carnegie Hall at a 1990 AIDS benefit.Lyte hired R&B producers Wolf and Epic, of Bel Biv Devoe fame, to produce her third release, Act Like You Know,which came out in 1991. The result was a smoother, more soulful turn for the artist. Despite the commercial success of the singles “When In Love,” “Poor Georgie,” and “Eyes Are the Soul,” Lyte’s fans despaired that their aggressive, street-smart diva had softened her style.

On her fourth release, 1993’s Ain’t No Other, Lyte returned to her harder-edged rhymes, much to the relief of her fans. “Back to basics,” she said in a Billboard interview at the time, “that’s what’s happening to rap music now. I worked with some young, hungry… rappers. Being around them gave me a whole different feel.” KRS-ONE from Boogie Down Productions contributed a few lines at the album’s start to introduce it, and Lyte laid out an aggressive affront to disrespecting rapper Roxanne Shanté on “Steady F. King.” Lyte intentionally avoided moral or message songs on this album, she
later said, to avoid sounding too much like she was preaching.

Though Lyte enjoys listening to message-driven rap, she told Billboard, ” evidently core hip-hop fans don’t want to hear that. They want to party, so I gave them fat beats and fat lyrics about me.” The single “Ruffneck” was produced by Wreckx ‘N’Effect, and was nominated for a Grammy award for Best Rap Single, and earned the first-ever gold certification for record sales by a female rap artist. She spent the summer of 1994 on a sold-out tour, opening forJanet Jackson. She also made an appearance on Jackson’s song “You Want This.” She teamed up with fellow female rappers Yo Yo and Queen Latifah to create the hit remix of singer Brandy’s “I Wanna Be Down.”Lyte’s fifth album, Bad as I Wanna B,found her on a new record label, Elektra/Asylum. It also found her with a heightened sense of responsibility for the music she made, and the impact it had on her fans. It once was considered “cool” to curse on rap records, to “prove you were the baddest,” Lyte admitted in an Essence interview, according to a 1996 People review. “Now I feel responsible for what comes out of my mouth.”

That said, she practically began the album with an expletive, but toned
it down as the album played out. She earned her second gold record for “Keep On Keepin’ On,” which appeared on Bad As I Wanna B. She teamed up with the female R&B group X-Scape on the song, which won a Soul Train Award and was featured on the Sunset Park soundtrack. That album also contained Lyte’s hit single “Cold Rock A Party,” which featured Lyte teamed up for a duet with hip-hop diva Missy Elliot. Elliot was featured again on Lyte’s 1998 release, Seven & Seven, on three tracks, “In My Business,” “Too Fly,” and “Want What I Got.” Artists Giovanni and L.L Cool J. who produced the track “Play Girls Play,” also lent a hand. She hired producers the Neptunes to handle and co-write “Closer,” “I Can’t Make a Mistake,” and “It’s All Yours,” which also featured vocals by singer Gina Thompson.

“Some of my best work has been when I’m vibing with others.”Beyond recording records and releasing increasingly popular singles, many female MCs began to diversify in the late 1990s. Some started record companies, some went into acting. Lyte went to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. She has appeared in such television sitcoms as Moesha and In the House, and on the drama New York Undercover, and plays a recurring role as Lana on the show For Your Love. She also appeared in the independent film A Luv Tale. “I know I can do both,” Lyte said of acting and hip hop in her bio located online at MCLyte.com. “but hip hop is my first love.”

After the success of the “Cold Rock A Party,”Lyte began doing voice-overs. Hers was the voice behind a national advertising campaign for Wherehouse Music. She was the voice little girls heard after Christmas of 2000 from the African-American “Chat Doll,” named Tia, manufactured by Mattel. She founded her own management company, Duke Da Moon Productions, which handled the groups Isisand Born In Hell, a Brooklyn rap unit. She also signed a three-year deal with Sirius Satellite Radio. who hired her to host a musical show that airs three time daily. She also hosted a talk show for Sirius,
interviewing black celebrities and entertainers such as Whoopi Goldberg,
Vivica Fox, and Tisha Campbell.Looking back on a career that started when she was just a teenager, Lyte is able to find pride and a valuable lesson in her experiences. “I’m proud of how long I’ve been in the business,” she said in the Artist Direct interview. “Ofcourse when I started I never imagined some of the things you have to go through. But anything you do in life is about meeting the challenges.What I tell any young people who want to get into this business is you have to be prepared to never give up.” Rhino Records released a collection of MC Lyte’s work in 2001 called The Very Best of MC Lyte.

MC Lyte has spoken at colleges and universities, for organizations around the globe, and with notable people like Iyanla Vanzant, Russell Simmons, and Soledad O'Brien bringing a message of empowerment from her book Unstoppable: Igniting the Power Within to Achieve Your Greatest Potential. She also partnered with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund on the iLEAD international tour  in South Africa to empower the continent’s youth and up and coming leaders. MC Lyte served as the President of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Recording Academy (the Grammy organization) from 2011 to 2013. She is the first African American to serve in this role and she is also the CEO of Sunni Gyrl, Inc., an entertainment and production firm, and the founder of Hip Hop Sisters Foundation, which has presented two $100,000 scholarships to college students each year since its inception,and she is an honorary member of Sigma Gamma Rho sorority.

In October 2006, MC Lyte was one of the honored artists on VH1’s annual award show Hip Hop Honors.[ She was joined by fellow female MC’s Da Brat, Remy Ma, and Lil’ Kim as they performed some of her tracks, such as “Cha Cha Cha,” “Lyte as a Rock,” “Paper-Thin,” and “Ruffneck.” In 2013, MC Lyte received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2013 Hip Hop Inaugural Ball, and she also received the BET “I Am Hip Hop” Icon Lifetime Achievement Award, making her the first female solo hip hop artist to receive the honor from the network.

A Brief History of the Erasure of Hip-Hop, Rock N Roll and Black Music Through Anti-Blackness

This is a response to an Anonymous comment. I’m glad to see other black people noticing that we are losing Hip Hop music and culture to non-black people just like we did with Rock & Roll. For those who don’t know, when black people started Rock & Roll, white people did everything they can to block it’s radio play and success to ruin black artists and the music genre as a whole. They used to also categorize the music as negative and uncivilized, sounds familiar doesn’t it? That’s what plenty of them say about Hip Hop as well. The thing is, deep down a lot of white people enjoyed the music and it actually played a part in the civil rights movement because black people along with some white people were rallying for it to play on the radio and for the concerts to not be racially segregated (See Ray Charles, James Brown). But here’s some other deep things to know about it: 1) As a way to appease white listeners who wanted to hear Rock & Roll on the radio, music companies would use white singers to sing over the original songs by black artists and that would be the version played on the radio (See Little Richard’s Tutti Frutti, + his thoughts on Pat Boone doing it over w/ success). 2) Black artists had no say over white people doing over their songs. 3) White artists got paid way more than these black artists, even when most of them played a key role in writing and producing their own music. 4) This led to white artists getting the acclaim, praise, attention and credit for a genre that wasn’t even there’s. Keep in mind that Elvis Presley is regarded as “The King of Rock N Roll” when he himself was inspired by black music/artists and plenty before him made the genre what is today. All of this led to black people losing Rock & Roll and many white people will claim older white rockers as the “innovators and pioneers” of a genre created by black people. Many today also don’t know it was created by black people (Which says A LOT). But over time black artists themselves gave up on the genre which is just sad; they allowed white artists to knock them out under the guise of “it’s just music”. This is why Jimi Hendrix got the praise he did, because he was literally one of the last black rockers and made such an impact in a short mainstream career that lasted for only 4 years. Well today the same is happening with Hip-Hop. Too many black people are welcoming non-black people with open arms to a genre that has been inspired by our pain and struggle. Today many non-black people have no problem stripping and re-telling the history of Hip Hop, and they do it by stripping it’s blackness. (See Ben Baller, See “We Real Cool?: On Hip Hop, Asian-Americans, Black Folks, and Appropriation” By Kenyon Farrow c.2004) <— a piece of this was reblogged here btw*. Also never forget how when Eminem stepped on the scene, white people went out of their way to claim Eminem as “the Greatest Rapper Alive” even when a lot of them didn’t even care to listen to the majority of rappers, whom are black, simply because they are black. They also like to claim we only rap about sex, drugs and violence (to discredit us) when many non-black rappers do the same (See anti-black K-Pop/K-Hip Hop fans :) … The reason why this is so important to me and SHOULD be important to ALL of us who are BLACK (even if you don’t like Hip Hop) is for the fact that everything we do, own, and create is never respected. Everything we have never belong to us, and white people AND non-black POC have no problem reiterating that to us. Everything we create is hit with “It’s for everyone.” Our culture has become a universal grab all. That’s why the appropriation of black culture is treated as a joke while appropriation of other cultures is taken much more seriously. To make matters worse, these are the same people who hate us and do all they can to maintain a false sense of superiority over black people all while taking from us. It’s to push this idea that Non-black people can do everything we do and “better”… With that being said other groups are starting to claim they either “Created”, “Innovated” or “Pioneered” Hip Hop & Rap. (See Ben Baller, again). It’s at the point where I feel like they can actually go and claim such ignorance because many will co-sign the erasure of black peoples’ creations… Including cooning ass black people.. For the love of God I wish they wouldn’t speak. For example, I Saw a Greek dude on YT try to claim Greeks created rap… Got in an argument with a Mexican dude who tried to claim that Mexicans did rap before black people and we “stole” the credit because we speak English… Got into an argument with an Asian dude over black appropriation, our naturally kinky or “nappy” hair and the N word… I am begging my fellow black people to wake up! I am a 21 year old woman who loves my culture and blackness and I REFUSE to allow this nonsense! Stop begging for the acceptance of non-black people by way of erasing your own! Know your history, don’t allow them to rewrite it for you.

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On this day in music history: March 28, 1981 - “Rapture” by Blondie hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 2 weeks, also topping the Club Play chart for 4 weeks on February 28, 1981, and peaking at #33 on the R&B singles chart on March 14, 1981. Written by Deborah Harry and Chris Stein, it is the fourth and final chart topping single for the New York based New Wave/Rock band fronted by lead vocalist Debbie Harry. Harry and Stein are inspired to write the song after attending Hip Hop parties in the South Bronx. Making references to hip-hop pioneers Fab Five Freddy and Grandmaster Flash in its lyrics, the song quickly makes its mark. It becomes the first mainstream pop record to feature rapping to hit number one on the pop charts, introducing the underground art form to a wide mainstream audience. The single’s music video also features cameo appearances from Fab Five Freddy and graffiti and pop artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Released as the second single from their fifth album “Autoamerican” in mid January of 1981, it follows its predecessor “The Tide Is High” to the top of the chart. Entering the Hot 100 at #61 on January 31, 1981 on the same date that “Tide” hits number one, it climbs to the top of the chart eight weeks later. The single is also released overseas with an extended 12" dance mix of the track clocking in at almost ten minutes, with US club DJ’s and radio being serviced with a promotional only 12" single with the six and a half minute long album track on one side, and an edited version on the flip side running four minutes and fifty seconds, that becomes a heavily sought after collector’s item. A third version clocking in at just over five and a half minutes is released on the compilation “The Best Of Blondie” in 1981, with the same intro as the 12" mix and an extra verse. “Rapture” also turns up on Grandmaster Flash’s landmark single “The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel” later in 1981, featuring the iconic DJ cutting and scratching the Blondie record. “Rapture” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.

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On this day in music history: July 1, 1982 - “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five is released. Written by Ed Fletcher, Melvin Glover, Clifton “Jiggs” Chase and Sylvia Robinson, it is the tenth single release for the hip hop group from the South Bronx, NY. Revered as Hip Hop pioneers, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five are among the first to move from the underground into mainstream popularity. They record several classics including “Superrappin’”, “Freedom” and “The Birthday Party”. Those party anthems are a great contrast from the reality of New York City, and many other major cities. With crime and economic inequality at an all time high in the early 80’s, it inspires many to comment on it. Among them is Ed “Duke Bootee” Fletcher who writes and records a demo titled “The Jungle”. Sugarhill Records co-founder Sylvia Robinson hears it, and suggests that Flash & The Furious Five record it. The group don’t like the song, but Robinson persuades them to reconsider. Melvin “Melle Mel” Glover relents, and agrees to write more lyrics and rap on it. Now re-titled “The Message” and featuring only vocals from Mel and Duke Bootee, it paints a stark visual of inner city life. Musician Reggie Griffin is featured playing the instantly distinctive synthesizer line. It’s also made memorable by the mind imprinting refrain “It’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder how I keep from going under…”. Released only a couple of weeks into the Summer of 1982, the songs impact is immediately felt from the street. Released as a 12" single, the seven minute long plus track sells an astounding 500,000 copies in less than a month, jumping on the Billboard R&B singles chart at #85 on July 24, 1982, ascends quickly. Peaking at #4 on the R&B singles chart on September 25, 1982, it also crosses over and hits the Hot 100, peaking at #62 on November 6, 1982. It spins off the sequel follow ups “Message II (Survival)” and “New York, New York”. It’s also is the beginning of the end of the group, with Flash leaving for a solo career, eventually dissolving altogether. Regarded as one of the most important and influential songs of the era, it takes rap from being party music to also being a vehicle for social commentary. Groups like Public Enemy and X-Clan take “conscious rap” to another level during the late 80’s and 90’s, but owe a debt to “The Message”. The song is also widely sampled over the years, including on Puff Daddy’s “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” and the remix version of Ice Cube’s “Check Yo’ Self”. Thanks in part to the lasting impact of “The Message”, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five are the first rap group to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 2007. “The Message” is also selected for inclusion into the National Recording Registry by The Library Of Congress in 2002, and is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 2011. “The Message” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.

To The Tick Tock, Ya Don't Stop: 44 Years Of Hip-Hop And Counting

The Google Doodle for today is celebrating the 44th anniversary of Hip-Hop from its start in the Bronx and it is dope as HELL! It’s actually the anniversary of the creation of the break by DJ Kool Herc- a move that changed the game and created a culture all its own.

You get to spin records on turntables, and hit goals using skills utilized by DJs to learn little facts about several hip-hop pioneers and legends, all while guided by an animation of the iconic Fab 5 Freddy.

This is one of the best interactive and informative Doodles that I’ve ever seen. It is so fun and it touches my heart to see Hip-Hop be allowed to shine in such a way after all the disrespect it gets as a musical genre considering how influential it has been to the world- especially to the arts.

Music, dance, literature, fashion, drawing, painting, etc. have all been changed because of its creation- hell, even speech patterns, dialects, and language have shifted to accommodate Hip-Hop’s influence- so it deserves to have a Google Doodle that honors it in such a way.

Happy Birthday, Hip-Hop.

Stay 🔥🔥🔥 as always.