Yo! MTV Raps brought hip-hop into America’s living rooms on this day in 1988
Back in the day, before the internet allowed us to take a video tour through a rapper’s shoe collection or wardrobe, our options for getting a glimpse into the lifestyles, and style styles, of the rich and the famous were limited.
But 32 years ago today, on August 6, 1988, all that changed when Yo! MTV Raps hit the airwaves. The program brought hip-hop out of regional strongholds like New York, Houston, Compton and Miami and into living rooms around America. The hip-hop revolution was televised.
The music videos, interviews and live performances on Yo! MTV Raps let the whole world see just how their favorite rappers were ‘fitted out, and what brands they were rocking on stage and on camera.
Yo! MTV Raps broke down some walls for the fledgling network, which had made its cable debut just seven years earlier in August of 1981. Part of the program’s genesis came from production assistant Ted Demme, who was pushing the higher-ups about the dearth of Black artists on MTV.
Once the European version of Yo! launched, almost as a test-run for the United States, Demme and producer Peter Dougherty were given the go-ahead to put together a pilot. They chose New York hip-hop legends Run-DMC to host, and Eric B. and Rakim’s “Follow The Leader” was the first video ever played on the U.S. version.
It also pushed MTV’s boundaries in the more literal sense. Once the show was picked up, and Fab 5 Freddy was given hosting duties, the graffiti and hip-hop pioneer didn’t want to be confined to a television studio.
So Freddy lit out, filming his first episode of the show with Salt-N-Pepa in their rehearsal studio. He kicked it in the park with Naughty By Nature, hung out on the block with Tupac, in front of prints of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe with the up-and-coming A Tribe Called Quest and the Compton Swap Meet with NWA. No stuffy studio interviews for this man.
And whether or not MTV execs loved the idea initially, it worked. “It was a pleasant surprise to learn that MTV got the highest ratings that it had ever received and they wanted to check to see if the Neilsen ratings did something wrong,” Freddy told Billboard in 2018.
Freddy’s Saturday morning weekly edition gave way to a show that aired every weekday afternoon starting in 1989, hosted by Ed Lover, Doctor Dre and T-Money. Their first guest was an unlikely one in Carole King, but it certainly cemented the show’s clout.
While hip-hop videos were the bones of the show (it was on MTV, after all, when MTV still focused on music), Ed and Dre were entertainers and the show was lighthearted and comedic, which is probably why the former didn’t think it would last.
“I thought it would probably last a summer,” he told Billboard two years ago. “It was just a 30-minute show when we got on. I never thought it would mean anything to people 30 years later.”
With a legacy like Yo! MTV Raps has, more than three decades down the road, he didn’t have a thing to worry about.
Want to put a blast from the past into your summer wardrobe? Freshen up your rotation with the Champion x MTV collection, available at FinishLine.com.
How Yo! MTV Raps Changed Hip-Hop (Vulture)