“You never thought that hip-hop would take it this far.” - Notorious B.I.G

Hip-hop has officially arrived at its golden anniversary and we’re taking this opportunity to send a love letter to a culture and a movement that has shaped, inspired, thrilled, and helped to define us for 50 years.

At Okayplayer, hip-hop is the very essence of our being. We eat, live, and breathe this culture every day. We're not just celebrating hip-hop's semi-centennial anniversary to check an arbitrary content box, this is what we do. As a music platform that has itself, grown alongside the genre, held space for the culture, and nurtured the community since its grassroots inception in 1987, WE ARE HIP-HOP.

As we embark on the next 50 years, we invite our audience, spanning hip-hop purists and curious newcomers, to explore our curated archives covering the history of hip-hop’s dynamic five decades. Here, you’ll find some of Okayplayer’s most impactful moments from our storied past and ever-evolving present — all captured through our unique, unfiltered lens.

Whether you’re a day one, a faithful reader, or just discovered us, thank you for rocking with Okayplayer. Stay tuned, we have so much more in store.
Geo Hagan
Editor in Chief
Given the common argument that hip-hop evolved from sounds and sensations that far predate August 11th, 1973, pinpointing the origins of the genre is complex. Hip-hop, like so many evolving arts, draws influence from jazz, funk, drumline, spoken word, and has ancestral roots spanning the diaspora. We would not have arrived were it not for forefathers like James Brown and Gil Scott-Heron or the influences of the African continent and the Caribbean.

But undoubtedly, and without question, we would not have hip-hop as we know it today — the bravado, the hype, the disruptive industry, the expansive culture, the musicalization of post-modern Black American life — were it not for that fateful day in August when DJ Kool Herc threw a party in The Bronx.
Hip-hop’s second decade was full of growth spurts and growing pains and like a curious adolescent, began to aspire beyond its fences. The 1980s was a decade that solidified, not only hip-hop’s name but the culture that was brewing and bubbling around it.

The founding groups and DJs that ideated in the 1970s gained steam and volume in the proceeding decade and began to solidify, play with and curate the freshly minted genre. Here we saw the emergence of the Golden Era, New School subgenres, and the fusion of electronics which gave way to acts like Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five at the turn of the decade and later, LL Cool J, Salt-N-Pepa, KRS-One, Public Enemy, and the first rap group to land a sneaker deal, Run-D.M.C. in 1986.
Dive Into Any Decade
The 90s era, which brought with it the expansion of cable television and the introduction of the digital music age, signified hip-hop’s legacy as a genre that would continue to disrupt uncomfortably white cultural norms.

Bringing the importance of regional interpretation to the forefront, we saw the infamous West-Coast vs. East-Coast rivalry as Los Angeles-based rappers like Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Warren G and Tupac Shakur came to collect their dues. This decade not only centered important regional acts, such as Atlanta’s Outkast, Houston’s DJ Screw, Miami’s Trick Daddy, Chicago’s Common, and the Bay Area’s Too $hort but saw a rush of female rappers bend the genre to their will. Without the contributions of Lil Kim, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte and Lady of Rage hip-hop would have remained stagnant in the changing waters of society. Not to mention, the musical diversity of women like Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliot who helped to usher in the fusion of hip-hop and R&B which propelled the cross-over success of the genre into the new millenium and beyond.
The decade brought forth a more playful and experimental epoch as hip-hop continued to merge and collaborate with other genres like pop and R&B. The rise of rap’s bling era and its explosive commercial success also brought hip-hop into mainstream club culture, inspiring artists to produce tracks that would gain heavy rotation in the early aught’s party scene. As creators continued to push the visual envelope, dance — one of the five pillars of hip-hop – was pulled back into center focus. From pop-locking to breakdancing and a spectrum of regional expressions, the movement took on significant importance in this era and brought streetwear and sneaker culture out from the underground and into the mainstream. In a decade that was punctuated by the concept of terrorism and polarized by political conflict, hip-hop, though always rooted in the concept of knowledge, became more vocal, more radical, and more conscious. Artists like Common, Mos Def, and Kanye West tugged on society’s preciousness and questioned everything from religion to economic equity. Continuing its complex evolution, the first decade of the millennium also birthed new iterations of hip-hop, including the Bay Area’s Hyphy movement, Southern trap music, and the rapid-fire stylings of Chicago’s chopper style.
Solidly in its digital age, hip-hop which had long since established its roots was now flowering and cross-pollinating thanks to the expansion of platforms like Spotify, YouTube, and SoundCloud. Artists found more freedom from traditional record deals as streaming platforms innovated and in some ways, devastatingly altered the music industry as it was previously known.

The social media era birthed the internet rap era, where artists created, released, and promoted their music exclusively online to a dedicated and loyal audience. Artists like Lil Uzi Vert, XXXTentacion and Playboi Carti are examples of artists who rose to fame while avoiding the clutch of industry gatekeepers. Also thanks to the insurgence of social media, women in rap — such as Meg the Stallion, Doja Cat, Princess Nokia, and Rico Nasty — found success they may not have been able to reach if it weren’t for the ability to deliver their music directly to the masses, without placating in a male-dominated space.  As the digital age continues to provide the technical tools and collaborative opportunities to deconstruct and remix the genre’s founding principals, we’ve been delivered into its fifth decade with the wisdom of a well-seasoned veteran and the curiosity of a wide-eyed newcomer.