Do you remember where you were when Hip Hop took hold of your life? Were you at a block party and heard the Funky 4 perform? Maybe you were given a copy of the infamous recording where Kool Moe Dee established himself as the newest voice in Hip Hop when he took out Busy Bee. Maybe you were lucky enough to be at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue on August 11, 1973 to hear Clive Campbell bring it all to life. If any of this is true, you are one of the few.
Most of America was introduced to Hip Hop through what I like to call, “Gateway Artists.” Gateway artists were the more easily accessible acts for areas that weren’t called New York or Compton. These were the groups that would show up on your television screens no matter where you lived. They are responsible for planting the seed of Hip Hop in the hearts and minds of middle-America, and we owe them a great debt of gratitude.
MC Hammer “Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em”
While not necessarily Hammer’s greatest work, this was the record that brought him into America’s living rooms. As many in the community have bashed Hammer (“my old gym teacher ain’t supposed to rap”), they should rather have thanked him for his contribution. With radio and Yo! MTV Raps hits such as (the Rick James sampled) “U Can’t Touch This” to “Pray” (which samples Prince’s “When Doves Cry”), MC Hammer became a household name. He was so well known that he got his own Saturday morning cartoon; “Hammerman”.
Run DMC “Raising Hell”
The Kings from Queens may seem like a strange addition to this list, but we are talking 1986 here. The previous summer, Run DMC performed two songs at Live Aid. Then, with this album, they teamed up with Aerosmith to create the first rap and rock collaboration with “Walk This Way.” They were the first rap group to make the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine, and with “Walk This Way” receiving air play on rock and Top 40 stations, they reached a whole new audience.
Beastie Boys “Licensed to Ill”
Of course you would believe that three white, Jewish boys would be welcome in everyone’s home, right? The Beasties looked like a trio of ex-frat boys on a two week bender. Their music sounded like it, too. The first rap record to reach the top of the Billboard album chart, “Licensed to Ill” was a quick hit across the country. From the High School anthem “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” to “Paul Revere” to “Brass Monkey”, this record is a non-stop thrill ride. They were everything that High School kids were looking for, and they walked right in the front door.
Kid n Play “2 Hype”
“The Tramp” and “The Fella With the High Top Fade” were another group that people would allow to walk in their front door. They put out feel good, party music. They were movie stars (House Party(1-3), Class Act). They were another Saturday morning cartoon. They even had a comic book! Parents would have no problem buying this record for their kids. Songs like “Rollin’ With Kid n Play” and “Do the Kid n Play Kickstep to This” could be played with anyone around, with no fear of offending.
DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince “He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper”
Hands down, the biggest Gateway Artist on our list. The Prince had teen America wrapped around his finger the minute he said, “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” They identified with him. He understood them. When he and Jeff started showing up in America’s living rooms in 1990 on “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”, they became true royalty. Their music, like Kid n Play, was entertaining, humorous, and didn’t contain foul language. The fact that Jeff is one of the greatest DJs of all time, and The Prince had incredible story telling abilities, was a definite bonus for anyone who purchased this as a first Hip Hop record.
Any of these artists records could have easily grabbed someone who had not yet experienced Hip Hop. They were easy to listen to, easy to understand, and they easily created a bridge to other artists. The Gateway Artists deserve a great deal of thanks, because they opened the flood gates of Hip Hop for so many. Thirty years later, I would like to thank UTFO for releasing “Roxanne Roxanne” and bringing me in to the fold.
What was your “gateway” track? Hit us up in the comments!