Last night, VH1 debuted part one of the four-part series (adapted from the book), The Tanning of America: How Hip Hop Created a Culture That Rewrote the New Rules of the Economy, which chronicles the movement of hip-hop culture into the mainstream. The special finds Steve Stoute, music critics and luminaries dropping plenty of knowledge and food for thought. So here are 5 things you should’ve learned from Part I. —Andrew Asare
1. The “tanning” of America dates back to 1970s Blaxploitation films and groundbreaking sitcoms.
Despite the civil rights movement coming to end, there was a seismic shift in how African-Americans were viewed. Enter television producer Norman Lear and filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles. Considered “the early archetype of hip-hop entrepreneurship,” Peebles curated a movement of art—blaxploitation films—that told the story of urban heroes with films like Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss, Shaft, and The Mack. On the television side, Norman Lear developed classic shows like All In the Family, Sanford and Son, and Good Times that chronicled the real problems and concerns: race, economy and health issues.
2. Run-D.M.C: the three musketeers of breaking barriers.
Sure, Reverend Run knew his job was to “impress black people,” and he had no idea “that white people would care,” but they did. Run, along with DMC Daniels and Jam Master went on to do a couple of things: sell out the first massive hip-hop concert, The Fresh Fest in 1985, becoming the first rap group to get music video spins on MTV partnering with Aerosmith on “Walk This Way,” and inked a major endorsement deal with Adidas–$1 million to be exact.
3. Hip-hop started becoming known as a business when The Wall Street Journal profiled Russell Simmons.
Times were changing and there was a new business model forming. A major tanning moment was The Wall Street Journal profile on Russell Simmons. The article headlined: “If Folks are Clapping and Things Start To Happen, the Man Is Rappin,’” catapulted the legendary mogul to the magnifying glasses of mainstream media and businesses. “In retrospect I would say, that for Russell to pop and the music to pop, it was going to take a really white-bred person like me and a really mainstream stodgy publication like The Wall Street Journal to make that leap,” said Meg Cox, former writer for The Wall Street Journal.
4. Ralph McDaniels: The Inventor Video Music Box and The Shoutout
Refusing to crossover and assimilate their style into the mainstream format of MTV, hip-hop artists fledged over to Video Music Box. Curated by Ralph “Uncle Ralph” McDaniels in 1984, the show not only provided a segue for hip-hop music videos to gain exposure, but also gave a closer glimpse into the behind-the scenes action of a rising, domineering genre. Also, the show created a new slang, that’s still toted out over 30 years later: the shoutout.
5. Debbie Harry (Blondie) was the original white rapper
The hip-hop crowd and the punk crowd were outcasts, but it was Debbie Harry of Blondie that brought these two to the forefront. Before Macklemore, Eminem or even Vanilla Ice for that matter, rap music blurred the thin lines between the mainstream and underground with the success of “Rapture.” Though the preceding anthemic record “Rappers Delight” was a major hit across the board (and still is today), “Rapture” carried the genre as agents into the mainstream.