Helen’s brief history of Hip Hop

‘All of a sudden they came out and it was like party records but doing it with a conscience’ – Mike D (Beastie Boys)

You would never guess it from looking at me but one of my great loves in life, other than my friends and family and The Backstreet Boys is 80s and 90s rap music. I can only guess that my passion for pop music with a slightly urban edge was down to a Now That’s What I Call Music type compilation. In fact my first conscious memory of loving a rap song (or at least a song with a rap in it) was Buffalo Stance by Neneh Cherry which was on my Now 14 VHS video in 1988 when I was 6.


Swiftly after that Salt N Pepa came out with their anthem Push It, which, going to a predominantly American Elementary school seemed to me what all the cool kids were listening to and I was obsessed with it. Inbetween my love for Bananarama and Madonna’s True Blue album in there were cracks in my musical taste that needed filling. We lived on an army base so access to any kind of new music was limited to Cliff Richard-tastic BFBS radio and Top of The Pops once a week. So thank god my parents realised that we needed more entertainment that BBC1 and the Super Channel (which was Belgian) and finally got Sky TV. With Sky TV came the greatest acronym in the world: MTV.

This of course was when MTV actually just played music videos all day but one of the few shows they did have on was Yo! MTV Raps. It was always on late at night but repeated an edited version at 7am on a Sunday morning which I would watch before Inspector Gadget. Bearing in mind I couldn’t have been more than 8 years old at the time I’m not trying to make up I was some rap and hip hop prodigy, I’m not saying I was into KRS One or NWA – most of the show would be of very little interest to me but one thing I was really drawn to was the happier, poppier, more positive rap like De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest and The Pharcyde.

A lot of my wardrobe pays homage to my love of all things 80s hip hop!

I loved the way they dressed (a precursor to geek chic if ever there was one) with their flat tops and brightly coloured shirts and music videos full of colour and silliness. The style of the songs were almost nursery rhyme like but with a way more positive message than just how much money they had or how many women they’d doinked.

I’ve clearly been a lyrics person since a young age as I quickly became really interested in the flow and learning how to sing along as best I could. I have vivid memories of a family holiday to Blankenberg where rain stopped play for the afternoon so I sat in my room with my walkman memorising the verses to Let’s Talk About Sex by Salt N Pepa and being proper chuffed with myself when I finally nailed it. Once those lyrics are in your head they never leave! I’ve always had an aptitude for retaining lyrics, in fact my mum always said if my times tables had been set to music  may not have had to resit my maths GCSE.

In more recent times my love for happy poppy rap has been reignited with Childish Gambino’s 2012 album Camp and Sway’s 2015 record Deliverence. So much so that it’s made me nostalgic for all the old stuff I used to listen to as a kid and remember a happier time when people weren’t trying to out do each other by being controversial, fornicating with their wives on motorbikes or shooting each other! I’m sure that true rap fans would probably think I’m just a little poptart who likes all the cheesy playschool stuff. But that’s fine. I can still recite Left Eyes’s rap from Waterfalls word perfectly. And that makes me cool.

My all time top 20 favourite rap songs (in no particular order):

Childish Gambino – Not Going Back

De La  Soul – Me, Myself and I

The Pharcyde – Drop

Will Smith – I Loved You

Run DMC – It’s Tricky

Kriss Kross – Jump

MC Lyte – Cold Rock Party

Tribe Called Quest – Can I Kick It

Salt n Pepa – None of Your Business

Sway – Saturday Night Hustle

Outkast – So Fresh, So Clean

Young MC – Principals Office

Tinie Tempah – Illusion

Rizzle Kicks – I Love You More Than You Think

Kanye West – Diamonds are Forever (Jay-Z Remix)

Eminem – Superman

Beastie Boys – Intergalatic

Notorious BIG – Hypnotize

Ludacris – Roll Out

Jungle Brothers – Black is Black

Leave a Reply