10 ’90s TV Shows That Embraced Hip-Hop
Hip-hop may have started out in the park, but has blossomed into a cultural force worldwide, with people from all walks of life claiming it as their own.
However, for many years, hip-hop was relegated to the inner-city, with middle America and even members of the urban community shunning the culture and writing off its music as a fad, until acts like Run-D.M.C., LL Cool J, Beastie Boys and other crossover acts helped usher rap into the mainstream during the late '80s.
Radio may have played a big part in introducing listeners to new rap acts and music, but it was TV programs like Video Music Box, Yo! MTV Raps, Rap City and others that would truly spread the word and get the country familiar with rap music. With hip-hop now beginning to account for millions in sales and many of its artists becoming as influential as the biggest acts in all of music, the television and film industries took notice and began implementing the hip-hop aesthetic and vibe into their work.
The early '90s marked the beginning of this trend, with a number of breakout shows using rap music, creating plots surrounding the culture, and even going as far as casting rap stars in roles and tapping them for cameos. This all resulted in a renaissance of sorts, where hip-hop emerged from the shadows and proved itself to be worthy of a slot on prime-time TV.
The Boombox looks back at 10 influential shows from the '90s that were among the first to embrace hip-hop and put on for the culture.
Making its premier on July 12, 1997, Oz, HBO's first one-hour dramatic television series would quickly gain the favor of the hip-hop community, with rappers like LL Cool J, Method Man, Treach, Pepa, Lord Jamar and Master P all making appearances on the show throughout its six seasons.
As far as sitcoms go, comedian Martin Lawrence's legendary Fox TV show was among the first to embrace hip-hop in a big way when it debuted in 1992. From the lingo, fashion, and cameos from The Notorious B.I.G., Snoop Dogg, Outkast, Coolio, Christopher "Kid" Reid and Bushwick Bill, Martin would go down as a staple within the culture.
In Living Color made its debut on April 15, 1990 on Fox, and comedy and hip-hop would never be the same as a result. A sketch variety show with a list of alums that include Jamie Foxx, Jim Carey, and Damon Wayans, in addition to a slew of rap-inspired material, In Living Color showcased rap's biggest acts throughout its five seasons, with a who's who from all coasts with various styles making the stage their own.
When Uptown Records founder Andre Harrell and veteran show-runner Dick Wolf joined forces for the creation of New York Undercover, the move was revolutionary, as the show would be the first to cast two minorities in lead roles. Naturally, it also had a huge impact on the hip-hop community. Airing its first episode on September 8, 1994, New York Undercover cast rapper Ice-T in the role of Danny Court, and included cameos from The Notorious B.I.G. and Sticky Fingaz, as well as the occasional performance from the likes of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony at the tail-end of the show, helping it become one of the more beloved TV shows by rap fans spanning generations.
R&B star Brandy first flexed her acting chops on the BET show Thea, but truly brroke out on the tube with her '90s sitcom, Moesha. First airing on January 23, 1996, aside from her boyfriend Q (played by rapper Fredro Starr), Moesha linked up with DMX, Snoop Dogg, Da Brat, Big Pun, Jermaine Dupri, MC Lyte, Lil Kim and Bow Wow over the course of the show's six seasons.
Believe it or not, Nickelodeon's All That played a big part in introducing rap acts to the youth of middle America. Over the course of ten seasons, LL Cool J, Run-D.M.C., A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, Naught By Nature, Coolio, Da Brat and an array of other acts appeared on the show, making it one of the more prolific series in terms of opening its stage to rap talent new and old.
Despite making its debut in the '80s, A Different World slowly began to embrace hip-hop culture in the 90s. From Heavy D to Kriss Kross and Tupac Shakur, rap artists helped establish the show as culturally significant and relevant to the times.
On August 29, 1996, The Steve Harvey Show aired its first episode and by the end of its six-season run, would become one of the more popular sitcoms of its era. Aside from hilarious roles played by the likes of Cedric The Entertainer (Cedric Robinson), Merlin Santana (Romeo Santana, William Lee Scott (Bullethead) and Terri. J. Vaughn (Lovita), The Steve Harvey Show kept viewers engaged by bringing rap artists like Diddy, Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes, Lady of Rage, Bow Wow, and Jermaine Dupri in on the fun, making for some of its more memorable moments.
When Will Smith's first appearance on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air on September 10, 1990, it was a groundbreaking moment for hip-hop, and evidence of the culture's infiltration of the mainstream. Aside from starring The Fresh Prince himself, other rappers that popped up throughout the show's six seasons were Queen Latifah, Heavy D and Yo! MTV Raps host Doctor Dre, a testament to the sitcom being adjacent to hip-hop.
When rap stars began to make their presence known on television throughout the '90s, one of the big stars to land a starring role was LL Cool J, who starred as retired football player Marion Hill on the UPN sitcom In The House. First airing on April 10, 1995, In The House wasn't as rap-centric as other shows from the era, however, MC Lyte and Fredro Starr still made cameos during its five season run.