With MTV officially celebrating its 30th birthday today, music nostalgia is in the air. But for each music fan, the initial introduction to MTV’s music programming was unique and personal, and likely rouses up flashbulb memories to this very day. Speaking only for myself, that initiation process started with YO! MTV Raps.
After being on the air for almost seven years, MTV first aired YO! in April of 1988. While other television outlets like BET were showcasing African-American culture at the time, MTV, quite frankly, wasn’t really in the business of having black artists’ videos on the channel. And hip hop, specifically, was certainly not yet used as a vehicle of pop culture; if it wasn’t an indisputable, mainstream force like Michael Jackson, you probably wouldn’t see African-American artists on-air besides an occasional crossover video from Run DMC and Jazzy Jeff. Unless you witnessed hip hop music and culture bubbling within New York City’s five boroughs or other domestic regional pockets first hand (or watched Video Music Box), the genre probably hadn’t really made its way into your world yet.
From it’s inception, YO! MTV Raps curated an balance of hip hop via in-the-moment self-exploration. Since hosts Fab 5 Freddy, Doctor Dr? and Ed Lover didn’t have quite enough content to populate the show’s segments at first, videos from other genres like reggae, funk, R&B and soul were peppered-in to help hip hop’s still-developing definition expand its scope. From that fundamental, harmonious and educational coexistence came more of the same, and soon light-hearted videos like Digital Underground’s “Doowutchalike” and “Humpty Dance” were seamlessly airing beside Public Enemy’s political anthem “Fight The Power” and sonically dynamic “Passin’ Me By” from The Pharcyde, and the South’s sexually-charged posse 2 Live Crew were showcased just as much as funky artists from Queens like A Tribe Called Quest. Additionally, lyrically savvy Juice Crew member Big Daddy Kane would spin alongside the West Coast’s gangster juggernaut N.W.A., and strong female voices like Queen Latifah, MC Lyte and Roxanne Shant?: all women who didn’t need to sell sex to survive.