Hip-hop has always been a youthful genre: From the earliest days of parties in Bronx parks to the current era of YouTube videos and Tumblr posts, teenagers have been the ones driving the genre forward.

With their healthy disregard for tradition, brash confidence and wide-eyed excitement, teenagers tend to be at the forefront of the culture, often sparking its most exciting—and often most controversial—trends. Not only are they the ones consuming the culture, teenagers are often the ones making it.

Over the years, teen performers have been responsible for some of rap's biggest hits—almost every major rapper in the '80s, from Run DMC to Rakim, released their first songs as teenagers—as well as some of its greatest controversies. In some cases, age was a convenient marketing gimmick, in others it was merely incidental to a blossoming talent. Some former teenage sensations are now among the most well-loved names in rap, while others stopped making music before the age of 20.

There's always going to be a fair amount of hand-wringing about The Teens and the way they ruin everything, but, as these standout performances show, they've been all right all along.

Written by Kyle Kramer (@kylekramer)

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