A (Selected) Timeline of Hip-Hop and Hype Men

APR 7, 2021

by Jessie Baxter

Socially-conscious spoken word group The Last Poets release the track “When the Revolution Comes,” which lays the groundwork for politically engaged Hip-Hop.

DJ Kool Herc invents a new technique that extends a song’s middle instrumental portion, or “break,” by cutting two records together. His technical experiments form the basis of Hip-Hop.

Grandmaster Flash begins “mixing,” a new DJ technique that connects two different songs during the breaks.

Record label owner Sylvia Robinson assembles the Sugar Hill Gang, who record the song “Rapper’s Delight” and introduce many Americans to Hip-Hop for the first time.

Wendy Clark, a.k.a. Lady B, one of Hip-Hop’s first prominent female artists, releases “To the Beat, Y’all.”

Pop group Blondie releases the song “Rapture,” featuring a rap verse by Debbie Harry. It becomes the first Billboard No.1 hit to prominently feature Hip-Hop, and is the first ever rap featured on MTV.

Flavor Flav comes to prominence as a founding member, and influential hype man, of the rap group Public Enemy.

Run-D.M.C.’s rap rendition of the Aerosmith song “Walk This Way” marks Hip-Hop’s crossover into mainstream media and MTV.

The Beastie Boys sign with fledgling label Def Jam and release their debut album Licensed to Ill, which breaks records to sell over 100,000 copies in the first week. The group would go on to be one of the most successful Hip-Hop acts of all time.

The group Cypress Hill begins performing, with Sen Dog serving as hype man to frontman B-Real.

White rapper Vanilla Ice’s single “Ice Ice Baby” is a hit, though his hard-knocks background was fabricated and the song samples a Queen/David Bowie song and a chant from Black fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha without credit.

The beating of Rodney King by four white Los Angeles police officers becomes national news and leads many Hip-Hop artists to speak out against police brutality.

Time Warner pulls the song “Cop Killa” from Body Count’s new album after protests from law enforcement officers.

West Coast gangsta rap—a subgenre of Hip-Hop with lyrics that boast about a life of violence, drugs, sex, and money—rises to prominence with Dr. Dre’s landmark album The Chronic.

Queen Latifah becomes the first Black woman in Hip-Hop to win a Grammy with her song “U.N.I.T.Y.,” which advocates for sexual empowerment and the autonomy and ownership of the female Black body.

Spliff Star begins performing as part of the Flipmode Squad with Busta Rhymes and becomes known as one of the best hype men of all time for his energy and intensity.

White rapper Eminem makes his commercial debut with the single “My Name Is” off The Slim Shady LP, released on Dr. Dre’s label Aftermath. He would eventually become the best-selling artist of the 2000s in the US.

Hip-Hop reaches mainstream saturation as stars such as Nelly, 50 Cent, Jay-Z, and Snoop Dogg become advertising reps for companies like Nike, Reebok, AOL, and more.

Hip-Hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis release their self-produced debut The Heist, which later goes on to dominate the charts and sweep the Grammy Awards rap category. The album’s third single, “Same Love,” helped propel the image of Macklemore as a socially conscious rapper after the song received widespread media coverage due to its lyrics supporting same-sex marriage and critiquing homophobia in Hip-Hop.

Michael Render aka “Killer Mike” from hip-hop duo Run the Jewels becomes a vocal surrogate of the Bernie Sanders campaign and raises awareness about issues that affect neglected communities of color.

With her song “Bodak Yellow,” Cardi B becomes the first solo female rapper to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart since Lauryn Hill in 1998.

Forbes magazine reports that, for the first time since Nielsen started measuring music consumption in the US, hip-hop surpassed rock to become the most popular musical genre in the country.


Hiphop Archive: “Hiphop and Politics Timeline” (2018)
Vulture: “White People in Rap: A History” (2009)
MTV: “A Condensed History of White Rappers” (2016)

Jessie Baxter is Company One’s Creative Producer and worked as the production dramaturg for their production of Hype Man.

This article was originally published by Company One.

Related Productions