Hip-hop is one of the most commercially successful genres in the modern music world. The genre’s influence on culture is unrivaled, as evidenced by the power it has over other industries. It has revolutionized society, transcending trends and reshaping language, entertainment, politics, fashion and the list goes on.
With its huge global reach, hip-hop has continued to move the needle. As the genre turns 50 this year, celebrating five decades worth of history, relevance and influence, there’s something to be said about how this movement has continued to evolve for more than a quarter century. From the defining moments that have reshaped culture at large, to critical milestones that have chronicled rappers’ journeys to success in the multibillion-dollar juggernaut, hip-hop is a hotbed for innovation.
As time goes on, revealing new moments in a genre with the largest overall market share in the U.S., the legacy of hip-hop remains intact. The downturn in 2022 (which is marked by a 0.8 percent decline, according to research from Luminate early last year), compared to previous metrics, only tells half the story. History is still being made.
Megan Thee Stallion is the latest rap star to change the status quo of hip-hop again. Last year, the Grammy-winning rapper became the first Black woman to appear on the cover of Forbes’ annual 30 Under 30 issue. Not to mention, the Houston Hottie made more history-making news back in 2021, when she posed for Sports Illustrated’s coveted Swimsuit Issue, making headlines as the first MC to do so.
Over the years, a culmination of major accomplishments have fueled speculation that hip-hop has reached its apex. While the demand for instant success has increased significantly, notable influences like Kendrick Lamar, YoungBoy Never Broke Again and various others are thinking long-term–securing their own spot in the history books. Check out 30 signature “firsts” in hip-hop that have changed the game forever.—Derrius Edwards
First Rapper to Win Pulitzer Prize for Music
Not only is Kendrick Lamar a Grammy-winning rapper, he’s also the first MC to win a Pulitzer Prize for music. On April 16, 2018, the Compton native won the prize for his 2017 album, DAMN. The prestigious award is regarded as one of the highest honors for achievements in journalism, music, literature and drama. This moment in hip-hop was the first time the award had gone to a musical work outside the genres of classical music and jazz.—D.E.
First Black Woman on Forbes‘ 30 Under 30 Cover
Megan Thee Stallion
Megan Thee Stallion continues to make history on her own terms. Last year, thee artist-turned-cover girl became the first Black woman to be featured on the cover of Forbes’ annual 30 Under 30 issue. The 27-year-old Houston rapper spoke at the 2022 Forbes Under 30 Summit alongside Hailey Bieber where she discussed entrepreneurship, mental health advocacy with initiatives like Bad Bitches Have Bad Days Too and much more.—D.E.
First Rapper With a No. 1 Album in Three Consecutive Years
YoungBoy Never Broke Again
In 2021, Billboard revealed that YoungBoy Never Broke Again had made history. The unofficial King of YouTube completed the crowning achievement of becoming the first hip-hop artist to release a No. 1 album in three consecutive years: 2019’s AI YoungBoy 2, 2020’s 38 Baby 2 and Top, and 2021’s Sincerely, Kentrell. For context, the only other act with a similar stat is Taylor Swift.—D.E.
First Rapper to Mingle With a President
Eazy-E may have been a “n***a wit’ attitude,” but the rapping mogul put his best manners on display during his famous appearance at the White House in 1991. After being invited to a Republican fundraiser by Texas Senator Bill Graham, Eazy-E plunked down $1,250 to rub shoulders with the likes of President George H.W. Bush and other high-ranking Republicans at the luncheon. Eazy’s appearance, which was covered by CBS News, is noted as the first time a rapper was invited to the White House and remains a huge moment in hip-hop history.—Steven “Preezy” Brown
Hip-Hop’s First Billionaire
Jay-Z is the first rapper to achieve billionaire status. Beyond his musical prowess and all-around dominance in the hip-hop market, the rapper-turned-mogul made it clear that he has the blueprint for wealth, too. According to a report released by Forbes in 2019, Hov became the first rap act to amass a billion-dollar fortune through his lucrative investments across liquor, art, real estate and companies like Uber. He’s even participated in the leafy economic boom by investing in marijuana.—D.E.
First High-Profile Hip-Hop Couple
Salt (of Salt-N-Pepa) & Herbie “Luv Bug” Azor
Many rap fans are familiar with pioneering female hip-hop group Salt-N-Pepa, but may be unaware of who Hurby “Luv Bug” Azor is. The mastermind behind Salt-N-Pepa’s rise to fame, the producer, songwriter and executive formed a relationship with Salt that would extend beyond music, with the two becoming a couple during the 1980s. While Hurby and Salt’s relationship would become fodder for classic Salt-N-Pepa songs like “Do You Want Me,” the two would call it quits in light of Hurby’s philandering ways. However, the two will forever be connected through their distinction of being the first high-profile couple in hip-hop.—S.P.B.
First Rapper To Launch a Clothing Line
Play (of Kid ‘n Play)
The late 1980s were exciting years for hip-hop and rap duo Kid ‘n Play were instrumental in making that era the cultural extravaganza that it was. After finding fame through their uptempo, carefree music and their House Party film franchise, Play, the more suave member of the group, decided to diversify his portfolio and step into the world of fashion. He launched his clothing boutique, IV Plai, in 1991, which sold custom-designed threads to the likes of Salt-N-Pepa and other famous clientele. While names like Russell Simmons and Diddy may be a few of the first to come to mind when thinking of hip-hop luminaries jumping into fashion, Play was the originator of the trend and deserves the just due.—S.P.B.
First Female Solo Rapper to Go Platinum
Hip-hop may be dominated by men, but there are more than a few ladies to have placed their imprint on hip-hop, from MC Lyte and Queen Latifah to Lil’ Kim and Nicki Minaj. However, the first female rapper to have a platinum-certified album is Da Brat, who achieved the feat after the release of her debut album, Funkdafied, in summer of 1994. Executive produced by Jermaine Dupri, the album launched the career of one of the nastiest female spitters to touch the mic and is a landmark album and one of many achievements that serve as a testament to the value of women in the fabric of hip-hop.—S.P.B.
Hip-Hop’s First Reality TV Star
It seems like you’re not really popping as a rapper these days if you’re not being approached to appear on a reality TV show, but 31 years ago, that was far from the case. That door would be cracked open by Heather B, a female rapper hailing from New York City with ties to KRS-One’s Boogie Down Productions outfit. Appearing on the MTV show The Real World‘s inaugural season in 1992, Heather B became a fan favorite among viewers, parlaying her newfound fame and rap skills to acquire a record deal with Pendulum Records in 1995. Releasing two studio albums before transitioning into a career in radio (she now serves as a host on Sway in the Morning), Heather B blazed the trail for the likes of Flavor Flav, The Game, Jim Jones and many other rappers that have graced the small screen and have had their lives documented for the world to see.—S.P.B.
First Mixtape DJ to Get a Record Deal
The evolution of the mixtape and the DJ in rap has long been discussed in the wake of names like Funkmaster Flex, DJ Clue, DJ Khaled, and a host of others transitioning from being disc jockeys playing the back to mainstream stars in their own right. But the path they’ve ventured down was first forged by Kid Capri, a legendary mixtape DJ that dominated the late 1980s and early 1990s while earning the title of the hottest maestro of the boards of his time. Taking his game from the street to retail, Kid Capri linked up with Cold Chillin’ Records, releasing his debut album, The Tape, in 1991. While the album failed to make a dent on the charts, it’s the first instance of a mixtape DJ stepping up to the big leagues and influenced his predecessors to take advantage of their influence on the vibe of the concrete and enterprise.—S.P.B.
Vocalists in hip-hop have helped elevate the artistry of their rapping counterparts, with Nate Dogg and T-Pain being a few voices that have tickled the fancies of rap enthusiasts who don’t mind a little harmony in between the lyrics. But prior to their arrival, T.J. Swan was the most famed around-the-way vocalist in the game and helped set the trend of melodic hooks. Originally a rapper, T.J. Swan would transition into crooning during the latter half of the 1980s before fading into obscurity, but is a name that students of the culture are well aware of and is an unsung contributor to the progression of how artists make rap music.—S.P.B.
First Rapper to Pose for Playgirl
Big Daddy Kane
Rap legend Big Daddy Kane may have established himself as one of the top MCs in hip-hop by the early ’90s, but felt the need to take advantage of his appeal as a sex symbol and spice things up. The Brooklyn native decided to accomplish this by posing for Playgirl magazine in 1991. “I think that this will increase my popularity and make a closer relationship with me and female fans,” Kane said in reference to his decision to leap from the rap pages to the nudies. The move, which received a mixed reaction from the hip-hop community, would be borrowed by other rap stars down the line, most recently Azealia Banks, who posed for Playboy in 2015.—S.P.B.
First Rapper to Mysteriously Jump Out of a Window
Erick Sermon made dollars alongside rhyme partner Parrish Smith during his days as one-half of rap group EPMD, but the Green-Eyed Bandit made headlines in 2001, after being injured in a mysterious tumble out of a third-story window. Initially claiming that he received his injuries from being involved in a car accident, it was later discovered that he had actually sustained the injuries while visiting the home of a New Jersey woman whom he was allegedly romantically involved with. While some initially speculated that Sermon’s plunge was a suicide attempt, which all parties have vehemently denied, what is known is that it’s one of the most high-profile incidents involving a rapper and a window to date and serves as one of the more bizarre moments in hip-hop history.—S.P.B.
First Rappers to Have the Feds Come Knocking
N.W.A shocked the world with their 1988 album, Straight Outta Compton, courting millions of rap fans—and the F.B.I.—in the process. The bureau, which took offense to their song “Fuck tha Police,” an incendiary salvo against the LAPD and police brutality, clapped backed with a few words of their own in the form of a letter that was sent to the group in 1989. The F.B.I.’s acknowledgment of a mere rap group did little to deter N.W.A from making politically incorrect songs, and played a part in Straight Outta Compton selling more than 3 million copies. The Feds would continue to keep a watchful eye on hip-hop and it’s major players for decades to come, but N.W.A can be credited with first grabbing the government’s undivided attention.—S.P.B.
First Rapper to Be Suspended From Twitter
Azealia Banks looked to be a breakout star in the making when her single, “212,” received praise from critics and tastemakers, but it’s been far from smooth sailing for the Harlem native since then. Known for her polarizing commentary on race, sexuality and a myriad of other topics, which she shared constantly on social media, Banks caught the ire of fans in 2016 after dissing pop star Zayn Malik. It seems as if the singer’s fan base called for the rapper’s removal from Twitter. The powers that be seemingly obliged fans’ request when Banks was booted from the social media platform—even though Twitter cannot reveal why her account was suspended—a first in the history of potty-mouthed rap stars.—S.P.B.
First Rapper to Crash the Stage at an Awards Show
Ol’ Dirty Bastard
Ol’ Dirty Bastard‘s charm was evident from his earliest appearances on wax and was bolstered by his unforgettable appearance on Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy Remix,” but his most indelible moment came at the 1998 Grammy Awards. After Wu-Tang Forever was beat by Puff Daddy and The Family’s blockbuster album, No Way Out, ODB decided to crash the stage during Shawn Colvin’s acceptance speech following her win in the Song of the Year category and give all in attendance a peace of his mind. Reminding the public that “Wu-Tang is for the children,” ODB started a trend that would be picked up by Kanye West and other rappers in future years.—S.P.B.
First Immigrant Rapper to Become a Legendary One
Slick Rick is one of the most beloved and influential MCs to ever enter the rap game and regarded as one of the best to ever spit a rhyme. Hip-hop may be a global affair these days, but it was Slick Rick who was the first to foreigner to succeed on a widespread scale as rap artist. Born and raised in London, MC Ricky D would move to the U.S. in 1976, where he would achieve acclaim after the release of his 1988 debut, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, and go on to have a legendary career. After years of fighting the legal system, he finally became a U.S. citizen in 2016.—S.P.B.
First Rapper to Win a Grammy
Rap music and hip-hop culture in general were initially thought to be a fad by its detractors, but many mainstream institutions began to make attempts to embrace it as it became clear that it would not be dying out anytime soon. The Grammys were once of the first award shows to include hip-hop by introducing a category for Best Rap Performance in 1989, with the inaugural award going to DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (otherwise known as Will Smith) for their 1988 single, “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” Although the group would boycott the awards ceremony in light of the category not being televised, their win remains a highlight in hip-hop’s infiltration of the mainstream and is still cherished til this day.—S.P.B.
First Rap Act to Merge Hip-Hop and Rock and Roll
Thousands of rap groups have come and gone, but Run-D.M.C. remains the golden standard and are a cornerstone in the history of hip-hop. After wowing fans with their classic cut, “Rock Box,” which was the first rap video to ever be aired on MTV, the trio upped the ante and further aligned themselves with the rock aesthetic with their collaboration with Aerosmith, “Walk This Way.” A single from the group’s third album, Raising Hell, the track would be the first rap song to peak within the Top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart and knocked down the barriers between rap and rock that have yet to be rebuilt.—S.P.B.
First Latin Rapper to Go Platinum
Rap may be recognized as a predominantly Black genre, but Latinos have always been assisting in blazing trails for the culture. However, those contributions failed to translate into respect from the greater hip-hop community for rappers of Latin descent, resulting in a lack of superstars to rep for this Hispanic sect of rap fans. That changed in 1998, when Big Pun, a protege of fellow Latin rhymer Fat Joe, rose to prominence. His debut album, Capital Punishment, would be the first from a Latin rapper to achieve platinum status, and a big reason was the success of the single, “Still Not A Player” featuring Joe, which transformed Big Pun from respected lyricist to a budding superstar.—S.P.B.
First Major Rap Tour
Your favorite artists joining forces and going on a tour may be a formality these days and all but an afterthought, but 30 years ago, the event was a pretty big deal. So when it was announced that the likes of Kurtis Blow, Whodini, Run-D.M.C., Fat Boys, Sugar Hill Gang, Furious 5 and other iconic rap pioneers were embarking on the first major rap tour ever, the news was history in the making, as were the shows, which birthed an innumerable amount of memories for the artists and the fans alike. Setting the bar high and drafting a blueprint that the industry would use time and time again, Fresh Fest remains one of the most cited tours of all time.—S.P.B.
First Rap Act to Win an Oscar
Three 6 Mafia
Rap and Hollywood have had an extensive relationship dating back to the days of Beat Street and Krush Groove, but no rap act had ever scored big at the Academy Awards, the ceremony during which the movie industry elite are honored for their contributions to the film industry. Heavyweights like Queen Latifah and Will Smith may have been among those predicted to break through that threshold, but it would be rap group Three 6 Mafia that would pop hip-hop’s cherry when it comes to the Oscars. Bringing home a win in the Best Original Song category for their musical contribution to the Hustle & Flow, “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp,” Three 6 Mafia may have been unlikely winners, but the victory was a sweet one for rap fans worldwide and evidence of its impact on the world.—S.P.B.
First Female Rap Collaboration to Debut at No.1
Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion
Since the Billboard Hot 100 has been around, there has never been an instance where a women-led single (powered by two or more female rappers) has debuted at No. 1. This was the case until Cardi B recruited Megan Thee Stallion for their fiercely feminist collaborative hit, “WAP.” The song made headlines in 2020 upon its release on Aug. 7, 2020, and blazed its way through the charts almost immediately, reaching unprecedented heights as the song of the summer.—D.E.
First Rap Album to Carry Parental Advisory Sticker
Ice-T’s debut LP, Rhyme Pays, is the original gangsta rap album. Before N.W.A was coming “Straight Outta Compton,” the New Jersey-bred, L.A.-raised rapper was credited as a forerunner of the controversial hip-hop subgenre, and heralded as the first MC to carry the Parental Advisory sticker on an album. On July 28, 1987, Rhyme Pays arrived with a sticker including the words “Explicit Lyrics Parental Advisory” on the top left corner of the album’s cover, becoming the first rap project to incorporate a warning label.—D.E.
First Rapper to Perform at an Arena
On Sept. 19, 1980, Kurtis Blow performed to a completely sold-out crowd of hip-hop, R&B and reggae fans at Madison Square Garden. Blow was the first rapper to grace the stage in an arena as an opener for Bob Marley at the show. The rapper performed “The Breaks,” the first rap single to be certified gold, which was also released that same year. Seven years ago, he retold the legendary tale of that night at MSG during an episode of Ice T’s Final Level podcast, revealing a first for hip-hop as he officially introduced arena rap.—D.E.
First Rapper to Have a No. 1 Book
Four years ago, Logic started off the month of April in a historic fashion. The Grammy-nominated rapper did what no other rapper has been able to: land a New York Times No. 1 best-seller. His debut novel, Supermarket, became the first of its kind to top the Paperback Trade Fiction list in 2019. In a world where some artists struggle to write their own rhymes, Logic managed to write his way into uncharted territory.—D.E.
First Rapper on Hollywood Walk of Fame
After shattering hip-hop’s glass ceiling for women in the late 1980s, Queen Latifah is still defying the odds with a “ladies first” mindset years later. As one of the genre’s pioneering feminists, the rapper-actor earned her respect in Hollywood by receiving her own star on the Walk of Fame. On Jan 6, 2006, the Queen became the first rapper to receive this honor, joining a long list of industry greats in entertainment.—D.E.
First Non-Basketball Player on NBA 2K Game Cover
Since NBA 2K was introduced to the gaming community in 1999, the franchise has always led with a marquee player as their cover star—or at least that was the case. This time around, 2K sided with hip-hop and selected Grammy-winning rapper J. Cole as the cover athlete for NBA 2K23: Dreamer Edition, which marks the first time a celebrity that is not a basketball player has been granted this opportunity. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, however. After all, Jermaine Cole is committed to a certain level of lyrical athleticism, the same kind that made hip-hop a mainstream powerhouse. Plus, last year, he joined the Basketball Africa League to play for the Patriots Basketball Club in Rwanda.—D.E.
First Rapper to Pass 50 Billion Streams
There are plenty of firsts Drake has accomplished during his career like having seven simultaneous singles on Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 in 2018. He beat the Beatles previous record of five singles. But one of his biggest firsts is becoming the first rapper and artist overall to hit 50 billion streams on Spotify in 2021. Thanks to tracks like 2018’s “God’s Plan,” which earned nearly 1.675 billion streams alone, and many others, he was able to make the feat his. At the time of the announcement he surpassed the 50 billi streams, he posted an upside down smiling face emoji to recognize his big win.
First Love Triangle Among Rappers
Kurupt, Foxy Brown and DMX
Foxy Brown‘s stunning looks and sex appeal was a hit with male fans, but even fellow rap stars became enchanted with the Brooklyn beauty, one of them being bi-coastal spitter Kurupt. With Foxy and Kurupt becoming an item during the late ’90s, the two lovebirds looked to be building a happy home until rumors surfaced that Foxy was canoodling with then-rising rap superstar DMX. Clearly scorned and with no feelings to spare, Kurupt addressed the elephant in the room on the scathing diss track, “Calling Out Names,” from his 1999 album, Tha Streetz Iz a Mutha. Firing shots like “Mothafuck D, Mothafuck M/Only X I know is Xzibit or RBX/Extraordinary, trynna snatch my bitch/You can have the bitch, two bitches gettin’ rich,” Kurupt put all of the dirty laundry out to dry in the first all-rapper love triangle to grab the hip-hop world’s attention.—S.P.B.