If there’s one thing that the recently-released oral history I Want My MTV got across, it’s the newsflash that the network no longer really cares about music (or at least not the way it did in the 1980s). Their forward-thinking philosophy has theoretically given them shark-like memories, though there are occasional bits of nostalgia that manage to sneak in between airings of Teen Mom and whatever Chelsea Settles is.
They’ve already moved 120 Minutes from a monthly show to a weekly one (albeit in a singularly painful timeslot, Friday mornings between 6 and 8 a.m.), and they just announced that they’re going to bring back Yo! MTV Raps for one night only on December 4.
The original show was a watershed moment in TV history, and undeniably helped move hip-hop into the mainstream — Though apparently, the audience was already fiending for it; that same oral history notes that the first episode of Yo! MTV Raps in 1988 instantly became the most-watched show in the network’s history.
The special Yo! MTV Raps Classic Cuts will take a look back at the show’s origins (a number of different people have taken credit for it’s creation, though most agree it wouldn’t have existed without late film director Ted Demme, who was then a PA at the network), its hosts (Dr. Dre, Ed Lover, and Fab 5 Freddy), and its cultural reach (namely making cultishly-adored rappers like Rakim into household names).
The show also promises to deep dive into three legendary clips that ran in heavy rotation during the show’s golden era: A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario” (featuring the debut of a crazy young MC from New York named Busta Rhymes), Geto Boys’ “My Mind’s Playing Tricks on Me,” and Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day.” While all of those are indeed classics in their own way, what other hip-hop videos from the show’s original run (1988-1995) qualify as the greatest?
It’s no mystery that Yo! MTV Raps launched in 1988, which may have been the single greatest year hip-hop ever saw. Seemingly everything that hit that year was a game changer, from N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton to Public Enemy’s It Take a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back to Eric B. & Rakim’s Follow the Leader to DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper. Not coincidentally, all of those artists churned out excellent videos, most notably Jazz & Fresh’s quirky “Parents Just Don’t Understand” and Public Enemy’s hypnotic “Night of the Living Baseheads.”
Once you move out of that opening year, there are a number of hip-hop video innovations: Dr. Dre’s “Nuthin’ But a G Thang” might be the greatest “lifestyle” clip ever constructed (with “Summertime” serving as the squeaky-clean mirror version of that clip). The first wave of Wu-Tang Clan clips (especially “Method Man”), meanwhile, introduced a new mutation of cinema verité that continued to evolve throughout the ’90s.
But any discussion of great hip-hop clips has to hit on Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big Poppa,” perhaps the greatest introductory video an artist ever released. Everybody who saw that clip immediately understood what Biggie Smalls was about, and it also set the precedent for Diddy’s never-ending mugging that, for better or worse, helped define that decade in hip-hop.
So we turn to you, Music Mix fans: What hip-hop clips from the Yo! MTV Raps era are your favorites? Leave your votes in the comments, though not before putting down your cardboard and whipping off a headspin or two.
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