Black Music Milestones
Music plays an integral role in our lives, but, at times we take for granted the moments that uniquely changed the game. From the first time Michael Jackson moonwalked for the American public to the day five guys from Compton, Calif. got together to form the world’s most dangerous group, here are our top 20 black music milestones.
Rock Goes Rap
In 1986, DJ Jam Master Jay persuaded his partners in Run DMC to cover an old Aerosmith hit. ‘Walk This Way’ became hip-hop’s first Top 10 single and signified the moment when hip-hop crossed over into the pop world.
In the early ’90s, Uptown Records intern Sean Combs was put in charge of developing new R&B artist Mary J. Blige. By laying her smoky vocals over hard hip-hop beats, Puffy and his muse birthed the sound of hip-hop soul.
Mahalia Goes Gospel
In 1948, after her secular recordings had flopped, a Mahalia Jackson was enlisted by her producer to record a song called ‘Move On Up a Little Higher.’ Her bluesy vocals pushed the record over the 2 million sales mark and made her gospel’s first superstar.
The Birth of N.W.A.
The influential rap group burst onto the scene with their now-classic album ‘Straight Outta Compton.’ Its profanity-laced lyrics and violent imagery kickstarted the “gangsta rap” movement and inspired rappers for generations to come.
Jimi Rocks Woodstock
At the renowned 1969 festival, Jimi Hendrix played his electric guitar with his teeth, behind his back and even set it on fire during the climax of his set. He awed the audience and instantly upped the ante for every band that followed.
Released during the ’70s soul movement, Wonder’s ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ and Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’ laid the blueprint for conceptual, socially conscious R&B. The albums remain artistic benchmarks for the genre.
Jacko was already a star before ‘Thriller’ hit shelves in ’83. But after he glided across the stage during the ‘Motown 25′ special, his album became one of the biggest of all time.
The Rise of Motown
In the 1960s, Motown Records broke the Top 10 charts more than 100 times. With its intense focus on artist development, the house that Berry Gordy built changed pop music by introducing soul to black and white listeners alike.
In 2005, after years of warring on wax, the two Kings of New York declared a truce before thousands of fans in New Jersey. Nas eventually signed with his former rival’s label, proving that solidarity does indeed exist in hip-hop.
The Birth of Def Jam
This pre-eminent hip-hop label, started by Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin in 1984, spawned the careers of rap heavyweights such as the Beastie Boys and LL Cool J, and helped make Simmons the prototype of a modern mogul.
Ray Charles Finds a ‘Woman’
At the height of his fame in the mid-’50s, Ray Charles soulfully melded the sounds of gospel, pop and blues, shaping the sound of modern R&B with his 1955 hit ‘I Got a Woman.’
Lauryn Sweeps the Grammys
In 1998, Lauryn Hill released her ‘Miseducation …’ album, which effortlessly blended rap, R&B and reggae. The album redefined the boundaries of hip-hop and earned the former Fugee five Grammys.
Salt-N-Pepa Grab a Mic
First recorded for a school project, Salt-N-Pepa’s ‘The Show Stopper’ brought girl power to the testosterone-filled world of hip-hop and paved the way for female MCs everywhere.
‘Rapper’s Delight’ Hits the Streets
In 1979, Sugarhill Records founder Sylvia Robinson signed three amateur MCs she dubbed the Sugarhill Gang and took hip-hop music beyond New York City to a world of fans.
The Apollo Starts ‘Amateur Night’
Since its inception in 1934, this outlet for rookie performers has launched the careers of James Brown, Ella Fitzgerald, Luther Vandross and more, truly living up to its reputation as “the place where stars are born and legends are made.”
Blues legend Muddy Waters led a young Chuck Berry to his first label deal. With signature riffs and catchy melodies, Berry’s demo ‘Maybelline’ became an instant smash, marking the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll.
Prince Drops ‘Purple Rain’
‘Purple Rain’ the movie was already a hit in 1984 when Prince released its soundtrack, which unleashed his eclectic mix of rock, soul, funk and pop and christened him as bona fide rock royalty.
Aretha Earns Her Crown
When she joined Atlantic Records in the ’60s, Aretha Franklin grew from a once unsuccessful singer into the Queen of Soul. More than 40 years later, there isn’t a modern songstress whose vocal wails don’t pay homage to her majesty.
Bob Marley Starts a ‘Fire’
Released in 1973, Bob Marley & the Wailers‘ ‘Catch a Fire’ introduced reggae music to a global audience and catapulted the Jamaican musician to international superstardom.
Not only did their deaths alter the way hip-hop beefs were handled, but the shootings — which occurred within six months of each other — cemented Pac and Biggie’s positions as two of the most influential MCs ever.