Hip-Hop Media Pioneers

Whether it's radio turned TV personality Wendy Williams, or Stress magazine founder like Alan Ket, these pioneers shaped how we tell stories about hip-hop.

rap media pioneers complex
Complex Original

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rap media pioneers complex

Throughout this week, we have been honoring the current landscape of hip-hop media. We presented our Hip-Hop Media Power Ranking, which included 25  personalities ranging from podcasters to Twitch streamers, showing how much the rap media industry has boomed since the era when commentary was dominated by magazine writers and radio hosts.

We’ve honed in on some of today’s most relevant figures of new age rap media like Joe Budden, Caresha, and Taxstone, who is in jail but still key to the conversation.

But it’s always important to remember who paved the way and set the standard. Along with celebrating new hip-hop media, we wanted to make sure that we gave flowers to the numerous individuals who have been covering hip-hop and moving the conversation forward since the genre’s inception 50 years ago.

Check out our list of hip-hop media pioneers below.

Claim to fame: highly entertaining delivery of pop culture commentary and news

Known for: Wendy Williams radio show and talk show

Follow: @therealwendywilliamsonline

Wendy Williams is perhaps one of the most polarizing media personalities, but she quickly rose to prominence in the New York area as the fiery on-air radio host whose shock jock tactics often came with massive attention and strong reactions from listeners. After holding various jobs at various radio stations such as WBLS and Hot 97, she made the big move to TV and was offered a six-week daytime talk show in 2008. Since its debut on July 14, 2008, The Wendy Williams Show has become a staple in daytime celebrity TV. Williams’ knack for pairing hyperbolic expressions with humorous commentary and juicy gossip news made her irresistible to viewers, but also landed her in the hot seat with different celebrities who found themselves targets of her vicious remarks. Many people have tried and failed at daytime TV, but Williams was able to successfully translate her radio personality to a very different platform and create hilarious moments and timeless catchphrases like “how you doin’?” Unfortunately her show ended in 2022 due to ongoing health concerns, but The Wendy Williams Show set the blueprint for how to conduct a successful and entertaining celebrity gossip show.—Jessica McKinney

Claim to fame: Rap interviews with the future greats

Known for: The Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show

Follow: @stretcharmstrong@koolboblove

What happens when you pair up a New York City club DJ with a slick sneakerhead-loving street basketball player who was also an intern at Def Jam? A hip-hop radio show that created some of the most iconic moments within hip-hop culture during the ‘90s. The Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show aired from 1990–1999 out of Columbia University’s WKCR radio station. Because the show aired during the twilight hours of 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. on Thursday nights, it gave the duo the freedom to speak freely and air explicit lyrics without tripping the FCC. Garcia and Armstrong used their connections with Def Jam and the local New York club scene to get the greatest ‘90s rappers as guests. To this day, freestyles delivered by legends like Big L and Jay Z, Prodigy of Mobb Deep, Biggie Smalls, and many others are still enjoyed by hardcore hip-hop heads today. Nas appeared on the show before he even released his debut album Illmatic. They put artists like the Wu-Tang Clan and Big Pun on before they even got signed. Today, Armstrong and Garcia are still big players within hip-hop culture today. Armstrong continues to work as a DJ and co-hosts an Apple Music radio show with Garcia. Aside from radio, Garcia also wrote for hip-hop magazines like Vibe and made documentaries covering street basketball, sneakers, and more.—Lei Takanashi

Claim to fame: Played an instrumental role bringing hip-hop into the Downtown New York arts scene

Known for: Wild Style and Yo! MTV Raps

Follow: @fab5freddy

Long before hip-hop became associated with high-brow art, Fab 5 Freddy bridged the gap. He brushed shoulders with artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and helped graffiti artists like Lee Quiñones exhibit their artwork in haughty Downtown New York art galleries. Fab 5 Freddy also played an instrumental role in creating the 1983 film Wild Style, which arguably built the entire foundation of hip-hop media by being the first movie to document and spread the culture. “In a way, he was the one who bought it all together,” said Charlie Ahearn in a 1991 New Yorker profile on Fab 5 Freddy. Later on, Fab 5 Freddy continued to introduce hip-hop culture to a new audience as the original host of Yo! MTV Raps. The show, which was inspired by MTV Europe’s Yo! launched by the French journalist Sophie Bramly in 1987, arrived a year later and lasted for seven years. Yo! MTV Raps helped spread hip-hop globally. The show was known for its interviews, live television performances, and music video curation. Fab 5 Freddy’s “man on the street” interviews were particularly memorable. In one segment, NWA gave him a tour of Los Angeles and in another he interviewed Gerb, Stash, and Futura about their pioneering streetwear brand Not From Concentrate. —Lei Takanashi

Claim to fame: The two charismatic hosts of Yo! MTV Raps weeknight airings

Known for: Yo! MTV Raps; Who’s the Man?; and Morning Show with Ed, Lisa & Dre on Hot 97 

Follow: @Edlover@Doctordre39

Although Fab 5 Freddy was the original face of Yo! MTV Raps, the show’s ratings were so good that MTV decided to expand it from being a weekend show to airing on weeknights as well. Ed Lover and Doctor Dre were the duo that made Yo! MTV Raps one of the most popular weeknight television shows in the ’90s. Lover and Dre’s laid-back demeanor helped Yo! MTV Rap’s weeknight airings feel like a clubhouse rather than a traditional evening cable television show. Aside from introducing new rap stars, they gained a loyal after-school viewership by injecting loads of humor into the show—doing everything from filming themselves working out to eating tons of pizza on air. For example, T-Money, Dre’s assistant, frequently appeared on the show for comedic relief as a character named “Lo Leveljoe.” At one point, MTV asked the duo to tone down their off-the-cuff and raunchy humor. Lover and Dre responded by hosting an entire episode gagged. The comedic banter between Lover and Dre eventually landed them starring roles in the iconic ’90s movie Who’s the Man? After Yo! MTV Raps, both Lover and Dre have held host positions at popular radio stations including Hot 97, Power 104, Los Angeles’ The Beat, and SiriusXM. —Lei Takanashi

Claim to fame: Video Music Box (1983–1996)

Known for: Creating and hosting a seminal public-access rap video show that later became the subject of a documentary

Follow: @VideoMusicBox

Before Yo! MTV RapsRap City, and 106 & Park, there was Video Music Box. “Uncle Ralph” McDaniels created the NYC public-access TV show with co-host Lionel C. Martin in 1983, well before rap cracked the mainstream. VMB provided a video platform for some of the future greatest rappers of all time, including Jay-Z and Nas. McDaniels and Martin later started their own production company, Classic Concepts, and McDaniels began directing music videos, including Nas’ “It Ain’t Hard To Tell” (1994). Without the corporate dollars that fed hip-hop’s boom in the ’90s, McDaniels was pivotal in pushing rap culture forward.—Jordan Rose

Claim to fame: Rap City Tha Basement

Known for: showcasing music videos, freestyles, and interviews with rap artists

Follow: @bigtiggershow, @joeclair; @iamlesliesegar

Rap City, a daytime music video television program, aired on BET when music videos were crucial. Created by Alvin Jones in 1989, Rap City separated itself from competitors like Yo! MTV Raps by focusing on hip-hop’s underground figures. Its first host, Chris Thomas, interviewed acts like Run-DMC in an arcade. Then comedian Hans “Prime” Dobson joined, continuing the format as hip-hop grew. Hosts Joe Clair and Leslie “Big Lez” Segar steered the show during the mid to late ’90s before producer Stephen Hill helped expand the brand with a new format and title, Rap City: Tha Basement. Host Big Tigger helped grow the show with this new concept, bringing rappers into the basement and taking them to the booth, where he would freestyle alongside artists like Eminem, Raekwon, Jay-Z, and more. With many of its most iconic moments now up on YouTube, the show serves as a meaningful time capsule of rap. —Jessica McKinney

Claim to fame: Creating the “Bible of Hip-Hop” in the golden era

Known for: Elevating how rap was covered

Follow: @therealdavemays; @sheckygreenlv

David Mays and Jonathan Shecter started The Source as a one-page hip-hop newsletter while they were undergrad students and roommates at Harvard in 1988. By 1990 they moved offices from Boston to New York, where The Source eventually became a glossy magazine that was known as the “Bible of Hip-Hop.” Mays handled The Source’s business, establishing relationships with record labels that bought ads, and helped shape its editorial. Shecter focused on the editorial side and wanted to elevate rap coverage with criticism and intelligent writing. The Source’s “Five Mics” album rating column became the gold standard for hip-hop album reviews, and the “Unsigned Hype’’ feature, created by Shecter and led by Matty C, helped launch the careers of iconic artists such as The Notorious B.I.G., Mobb Deep, Common, and others. Early on they understood the importance of being bigger than a print magazine, launching The Source Awards in 1994, when mainstream award shows didn’t properly recognize hip-hop. Eventually Shecter, who mostly handled the editorial side, left the publication in 1995. He went on to direct programming for Wynn’s clubs in Las Vegas, and later joined Medium as an editor. Mays eventually launched Hip-Hop Weekly tabloid with Benzino, and more recently BreakBeat, a podcast network. The Source was also a starting point for many important writers who went on to tell bigger stories, including Dream Hampton, Selwyn Hinds, Bakari Kitwana, and Carlito Rodriguez.—Kameron Hay

Claim to fame: Ego Trip magazine and its offshoots

Known for: Irreverent, unconventional hip-hop coverage

Follow: @egotripland

Ego Trip was “The Arrogant Voice of Musical Truth,” an irreverent New York-based hip-hop magazine founded in 1994 by Sacha Jenkins, Elliott Wilson, and Jeff “Chairman” Mao. Two years later, managing director Gabriel Alvarez and art director Brent Rollins joined the trio. During its 13-issue run, Ego Trip documented the budding genre from a witty, defiant perspective, featuring legends like Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, and Rakim in its pages, which were enhanced by photo journals from late photographer Ricky Powell and coverage of tangential communities like graffiti and skateboarding. 

Books like 1999’s Ego Trip’s Book of Rap Lists, 2002’s Ego Trip’s Big Book of Racism!and the production of three reality shows for VH1 including the 2007’s infamous (White) Rapper Show only added to the brand’s lore. Each of Ego Trip’s founding members went on to have successful careers after the magazine shuttered in 1998. Jenkins has written for hit television series like The Boondocks, directed documentaries like 2015’s Fresh Dressed, wrote for publications like Vibe, and is currently the creative director of Mass Appeal and continuing to document hip-hop with care. Wilson wrote for The Source and was the editor-in-chief of XXL from 1999 to 2008 before he launched Rap Radar in 2009. Mao wrote for XXL and Vibe and worked closely with Red Bull Music Academy throughout the 2010s. Alvarez wrote for various publications including ComplexThe Source, and Vibe. And Rollins was the creative director of Complex from 2010 to 2017, in addition to design work for high-profile artists and brands. —Mike DeStefano

Claim to fame: One of hip-hop’s first shock jocks

Known for: Radio show on HOT 97 

Follow: @missjonesofficial

Miss Jones, also known as Tasha Jones, considered herself the black sheep of Hot 97 and will, by choice, go down in history as radio’s most controversial divas. The R&B singer, who had deals with Tommy Boy and Motown Records, turned to radio in 2004, joining Hot 97’s controversial pair Star and Buc Wild as the gossip reporter, delivering hip-hop news with sharp takes and heated discussions. She credits Funkmaster Flex for pushing her into radio in a lengthy, tell-all interview with the Drink Champs guys. As the first Black woman to appear on a syndicated morning show, she’s tied to a lot of big moments, including being the only radio host on the station to give Nas a platform to speak at the height of his beef with Jay-Z. She has also played a vital role in nurturing the next generation of journalists and entertainers as she is credited for discovering and mentoring big names such as Stephen A. Smith, Ebro Darden, and DJ Envy. Miss Jones is as consistent as she is feisty, which is why she frequently brought in number one ratings throughout her career. After 15 years, she returned to radio with a classic morning hip-hop show called “94.7 The Block” on WXBX in Newark, New Jersey in 2022. Her stories, both as-told-to and lived through, are endless, and it seems like she’s far from done. —Jessica McKinney

Claim to fame: popularizing the Black youth magazine

Known for: Right On! Magazine editorial director and now owner

Follow: @cinnamonchipsmedia

Cynthia Horner started on her journey as a writer at the age of 11 when she became the editor of her elementary school newspaper. She later moved on to write stories about her high school and community for the local newspapers before attending Seaver College of Pepperdine University at Malibu on a communications scholarship. At 21-years-old, Cynthia Horner took on the role as editor-in-chief of Right On! Magazine, the bible for young fans to keep up with their favorite Black celebrities like Diana Ross and the Jackson 5. And as the ‘80s came along, Horner oversaw the cataloging the comings and goings of hip-hop’s earliest stars. When its headquarters moved to New York, Horner said that’s when they started featuring rappers like Run DMC and Whodini. She was the editor-in-chief of Hip-Hop Weekly for many years, and she recently purchased Right On! and Word Up! Magazine.—Drea O

Claim to fame: The Star and Buc Wild Morning Show (2000–2003 on Hot 97)

Known for: Being the first shock jocks of rap radio

Follow: @TroiTorain

At one point, Troi “Star” Torain and his half-brother Timothy “Buc Wild” Joseph hosted a morning show with higher ratings than Howard Stern. Before their radio success, Star and Buc Wild launched Universal Haters on public-access cable, and later wrote a column for The Source in the late ‘90s. In 2000, the duo joined Hot 97, giving rise to The Star and Buc Wild Morning Show, which eventually surpassed the self-proclaimed king of all media. Known for their off-color commentary and controversy, they left Hot 97 in 2003 for various other gigs, including a brief co-hosting stint for Star on Complex’s Everyday Struggle. Star and Buc Wild were clickbait before clickbait even existed, paving the way for many provocative voices to come.—Jordan Rose

Claim to fame: The Wake Up Show

Known for: Being one of the first rappers to pivot to hosting

Follow: @RealSway

With a triumphant start in 1986, Sway Calloway became the blueprint for hip-hop radio. The Oakland native started his career as a rapper alongside fellow music industry veteran Rod “King Tech” Sepand as his DJ. They formed the duo Flynamic Force in 1986 and went on to release four studio albums before pivoting to nationally syndicated radio with The Wake Up Show. They eventually signed a deal with Interscope Records, releasing This or That in 1999. But Sway is best known as a radio host and TV anchor who held positions at MTV News, and eventually his own morning radio show, Sway in the Morning, on Eminem’s Shade 45 channel on SiriusXM. There he’s documented hip-hop history thanks to interviews with artists like Jay-Z and Kanye West (remember the iconic “How Sway?!” moment). His Five Fingers of Death freestyle segment became a special part of hip-hop culture and is one of the many things that make Sway a staple of rap media. —Jordan Rose

Claim to fame: The Combat Jack Show

Known for: Being one of the pioneers of hip-hop podcasting

The late Reggie Ossé started his career as a Def Jam entertainment lawyer in the ’90s before leaving the music industry in the 2000s. After working as a blogger in the early mid-aughts, introducing the “Combat Jack” moniker, he landed a job as the managing editor at The Source in 2010. In August of that year he started podcasting, years before podcasting became a dominant medium. The Combat Jack Show—with co-hosts that included Dallas Penn, Premium Pete, DJ Benhameen, AKing, and Just Blaze—featured in-depth interviews with everyone from LL Cool J to J. Cole. Combat Jack’s experience in the hip-hop world coupled with his genuine love for the genre allowed him to unearth never-before-heard stories from his guests. The audio podcast led to a video version for Complex, and, with the help of Chris Morrow, the creation of Loud Speakers Network in 2013. In December 2017, Combat Jack sadly died at the age of 53 of colon cancer. Still, The Combat Jack Show’s archive will live on, and through it Ossé’s influence and legacy can never be forgotten.—Mike DeStefano

Claim to fame: NahRight.com

Known for: Ushering in the rap blog era 

Follow: @nahright

Ahsmi Rawlins, known as Eskay, started NahRight.com, one of the first aggregate hip-hop blogs that went live in 2005. NahRight quickly became a go-to for the latest hip-hop news, mixtape leaks, album reviews, and track listings. It gained a loyal and vocal community—the NahRight.com comments section was always very lively—for its basic design and straightforward blogging style with a little bit of editorializing. Eskay created a blueprint for hip-hop blogs that would follow with 2DopeBoyz, OnSmash, YouHeardThatNew, Xclusives Zone, MissInfo.tv, and DaJaz1. They would all form the New Music Cartel, a group that became powerful players in hip-hop music and news distribution around 2008. Eskay led the movement.—Dayna Haffenden

Claim to fame: Playing hip-hop on commercial radio in its early days

Known for: Mr. Magic Rap Attack

In 1979, John “Sir Juice” Rivas, better known as Mr. Magic, was one fo the first to play a hip-hop show on the radio. His original program, known as Magic’s Disco Showcase on WHBI, where he paid for his airtime, was unprecedented, with legendary artists like Kurtis Blow and Melle Mel making appearances. After two years of airing at 2 a.m., WBLS program director Frankie Crocker brought him to that station and a larger market, launching Mr. Magic Rap Attack with DJ Marley Marl in 1982, the first rap show of its kind at the New York City stapleSlowly, a family was built. WBLS became “the station with the juice” and the collective of artists, including MC Shan, Roxanne Shante, Biz Markie, Kool G Rap, and Big Daddy Kane, were part of the Juice Crew. He died in 2009 at 53.—Shamira Ibrahim

Claim to fame: One of hip-hop’s first radio DJs

Known for: DJ at HOT 97, KISS FM, and now WBLS

Follow: @kooldjredalert

Harlem’s Kool DJ Red Alert started one of the first hip-hop radio programs in New York, at Kiss-FM. His main rival was the team behind WBLS’ Rap Attack, and at one point the friendly competition spilled into music: KRS-One, MC Shan, and Marley Marl approached WBLS with the record “Success Is the Word,” which Rap Attack founder Mr. Magic roundly dismissed as “wack, wack, wack, wack.” When the Juice Crew came out with the massive hit “The Bridge.” KRS-One and co. retaliated by going to Kiss-FM with a new record for Red Alert to premiere: “South Bronx,” under the newly named Boogie Down Productions. One of the most popular borough-beefs in hip-hop history was initiated as a pretense for settling a grievance over radio coverage. Besides that bit of infamy, Red Alert also let a young DJ named Funkmaster Flex fill in for him on occasion, setting Flex up to make a name for himself in New York radio and hip-hop culture at large. —Shamira Ibrahim

Claim to fame: DJ at KDAY

Known for: helped popularize gangsta rap

The first rap radio station in the country was in Los Angeles, not New York. Thanks to music director Greg Mack, LA’s KDAY, which got its start in 1948 as a soul and R&B station that was so small it switched off at night, was the first station in the city to fully embrace hip-hop when it arrived out west. The Mixmasters, KDAY’s collective of DJs who helped popularize the new genre, achieved local renown and caught the ear of a young Julio “Julio G” Gonzalez. He sought out mentorship from Mixmaster Tony “Tony G” Gonzalez, and eventually became a Mixmaster himself. From that perch, he and KDAY helped Los Angeles gangsta rap make its mark on hip-hop—at a live KDAY radio show in 1986, he played Eazy-E’s “Boyz-N-The-Hood” for the first time. After a local real estate mogul bought the station in 1990, he changed its format to business and talk the next year and dispersed its talent to other LA stations. But by then they had already made their impact: In 1997, Billboard reported that there was enough interest in the Mixmasters’ mixes to produce a CD box set.—Melvin Backman

Claim to fame: Providing daily, non-biased coverage of hip-hop online

Known for: AllHipHop.com

Follow: @chuckcreekmur; @grouchygreg

AllHipHop.com was founded by Chuck Creekmur and Greg Watkins in 1998. It started as a site to promote music from artists on Oblique Recordings, a label run by Creekmur, but he soon teamed up with Watkins, a friend and freelance journalist, to publish hip-hop news on a daily basis. Before the era of rap blogs, AllHipHop dominated online rap coverage—some called it the CNN of hip-hop—and by 2006 it was bringing in more visitors than Vibe.com and BET.com. AllHipHop was appreciated for its reliable and accurate news coverage, and it became a resource for rap fans and industry insiders when most print publications weren’t focusing on digital. Both Watkins and Creekmur still own the site, which will be the subject of a new docuseries produced by Quincy Jones III, Quincy Jones’ son. —Kameron Hay

Claim to fame: Breaking rap artists in the south

Known for: Weeknight radio show on V-103

Follow: @djgregstreet

Gregory Polk, also known as DJ Greg Street, has been on radio for nearly 30 years. Born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Street first started his career on WORV-WJMG (the first Black-owned station in that city). In 1995, he moved to Atlanta, where he joined V-103 and is widely known for his weeknight show, which starts with his catchphrase, “It’s 6 o’clock. It’s 6 o’clock. Time for Greg Street to Rock.” Street has become one of the most influential radio personalities in Atlanta, helping break artists like T.I. and Lil Jon on the radio, and doing things behind the scenes like paying for Young Thug to get his teeth fixed. —Drea O


Claim to fame: Bringing his voice to the page when writing about hip-hop 

Known for: Writing the “Gangsta Limpin’” column for The Source and later Bomb magazine

Dave “Funken” Klein had made a name for himself from behind a pen and a desk. While he held down music industry day jobs at Def Jam, DJ Red Alert’s Red Alert Productions, and the Disney-owned Hollywood Basic record label, he also wrote his “Gangsta Limpin’” column for The Source and later the short-lived Bay Area magazine Bomb. (The column was called that because Klein used a leg brace and wheelchair to get around after surgery for spinal cancer.) His missives, which were part gossip, part newsreel, and posted on Bomb’s website in 2014, were stream-of-consciousness time capsules full of slang and humor: One, from February 1993, includes the lines: “This just in … HI-C CUTS HIS HAIR. GHERI CURL STOCK IN RAPID DECLINE;” “the continued hype on Marky Mark and his Funky Bunch makes me wanna fuckin puke;” and “my man Q-Tip is buggin in a Silence of the Lambs mask in that “ Hot Sex” video.”

Klein died of cancer in 1995. Speaking to Jeff Chang for the 2008 book Total Chaos, Klein’s editor Reggie Dennis recalled the writer’s tremendous stylistic approach: “More than anyone else, I think Dave helped set the bar for irreverence in hip-hop journalism.”—Melvin Backman

Claim to fame: Leading the editorial voice and vision for top hip-hop publications

Known for: King magazine founder


The early 2000s was the era of pinup-heavy lad mags, and Datwon Thomas introduced his take on the genre in 2002. Until it closed in 2009, the XXL spin-off frequently celebrated beautiful Black women and their curvy bodies. “It was like your homeboy’s magazine,” Thomas told HuffPost in October 2011. “We took a bit of street savvy, wit, hood, academia—we took it all and just put it into this dope project. If you saw the covers, you’d be like, ‘All they want to do is look at this girl’s ass.’ But if you opened it, you’d be like, ‘Wow, it’s so much more than that.’” Throughout the magazine’s run, A-list celebrities graced the cover, including Lil’ Kim, Trina, Mya, Kelis, Gabrielle Union, Ashanti, and more. The aughts were also the heyday of the video vixen, when women like Buffie the Body and Melyssa Ford, who provided arm and eye candy in rap videos, became celebrities in their own right, and their appearances on the front of King are one of the truest documents of their moments in the sun. Thomas’ resume also includes editor-in-chief at XXL, Global Grind, Respect, and currently at Vibe. But King offered Black women an elevated platform when other mainstream publications ignored them. —Dayna Haffenden

Claim to fame: Bring Black music to video countdown show

Known for: BET’s 106 & Park 

Follow: @missfreemarie@ajcalloway

During the 2000s, BET’s 106 & Park music video countdown show, created by producer Stephen Hill, who also worked on Rap City, was an authority in hip-hop and R&B, and became a go-to for promotional stops. Marie “Free” Wright and A.J. Calloway were the founding hosts, who shared the job from Sept. 11, 2000, until July 28, 2005. Yes, it was an answer to MTV’s very popular TRL, but it catered mainly to Black music and Black audiences. But instead of becoming a complete carbon copy, Wright and Calloway lent the show its own identity. Segments like “Freestyle Friday” and “Wild Out Wednesday,” along with the spirited live audience, differentiated the show even more. At one point, 106 & Park, which aired at 6 p.m. Eastern, was topping TRL in viewership. In 2002, Kevin Liles, who was then president of Def Jam, told Entertainment Weekly, ”There are five things you need to do to be successful: Sign a superstar with a great image, have a great first single, get great word of mouth, get them on the radio, and get them on 106 & Park. Those things start projects.” The show had a 14-year run, with other hosts including Julissa & Big Tigger (2005–2006), Terrence J & Rocsi (2006-2012), and Bow Wow & Keshia Chanté (2013–2014). But Wright and Calloway set the tone. —Drea O

Claim to fame: legendary music producer who wanted to make a glossy rap magazine 

Known for: Many amazing things, but for the purposes of this story, founder of Vibe

Quincy Jones founded Vibe, wanting to make a hip-hop magazine that would help solve a problem for his friend, Steven J. Ross, then chairman of Time Warner who had just merged Warner Communications and Time-Life, a publishing house. Ross told Jones the companies were lacking “synergy” and Jones proposed Vibe. While Jones had the original concept, which was novel at the time, most of the credit has to go to the individuals who created the product, which set the tone for rigorous reporting around hip-hop and provided stand out imagery. George Pitts was the founding director of photography who stayed in the position from 1993 until 2004, later joining LIFE Magazine before he died in 2017. Up until then, images and styling took a backseat at most publications that covered hip-hop. At Vibe, it led the conversation. Michaela Angela Davis was the first fashion editor, helping elevate Black designers and their work before it was the cool thing to do. Emil Wilbekin was there early on, eventually rising the ranks to become editor-in-chief in 1999 and popularizing the ghetto fabulous aesthetic that defined the early aughts. Danyel Smith served as the music editor in 1994, giving words to enigmatic cover stars like Foxy Brown and Janet Jackson in a way no one else could. She became editor-in-chief in 1997 and came back again in 2006 and chief content officer. Noah Callahan-Bever was senior editor before hopping over to Complex and lending the magazine a specific brand identity that’s still strong today. Mimi Valdes also served as editor-in-chief. She now works at I Am Other, Pharrell’s multimedia company, as chief creative officer And other important rap documentarians like Sacha Jenkins, Jon Caramanica, Sean Fennessey, Minya Oh (Miss Info), and Carter Harris worked at the title. Vibe pushed coverage around hip-hop to a new realm and opened up a market for other publications and platforms to exist.—Aria Hughes

Claim to fame: The voice of New York

Known for: Iconic interviews with hip-hop legends on Hot 97 and now Power 105.1

Follow: @angiemartinez

(Pulled from Hip-Hop Media Power Ranking) A longtime radio legend, Angie Martinez has maintained her relevance by not resting on her laurels. Her Angie Martinez IRL podcast, launched in July 2022, has quickly created a space where A-list guests (like Kim K. and Usher) can unwind and be more vulnerable. Martinez might not have the headline-grabbing sound-bites surrounding ongoing drama or outrageous moments some others on this list do, but that’s to her benefit. Instead, she gets the biggest stars to leave their baggage at the door, and just be themselves. With over three decades of interviewing experience, Angie is one of the industry’s best at getting very famous people to open up.

Claim to fame: Ozone Magazine

Known for: Creating a publication that was a trailblazer for Southern rap

Follow: @JuliaBeverly

From 2002 to 2010, when the South was strengthening its grip on hip-hop, Julia Beverly’s Ozone Magazine was leading the charge. Beverly, the CEO and editor-in-chief of Ozone, was instrumental in helping amplify the voices of the likes of Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Pitbull, and Young Jeezy. In 2008, Beverly launched her Agency Twelve booking agency and in 2015 the Florida native penned Sweet Jones: Pimp C’s Trill Life Story, a 726-page opus on the life of Chad “Pimp C” Butler. “I don’t know how to explain it but when you’re doing the right thing, when you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, it’s just going to kind of come to you and fall in place,” Beverly explained to Jezebel in July 2015. “At least for me, that’s how my career has always been.” —Dayna Haffenden

Claim to fame: Helping define what hip-hop is and how its covered

Known for: Hard Knock Radio

Follow: @mrdaveyd

A Bronx native who moved to the Bay Area in the ‘80s to attend UC Berkeley, Dave “Davey D” Cook gave a viral platform to hip-hop in its infancy, through events like The Day in Hip-Hop, back in 1984, and he famously wrote an early article that defined what hip-hop was and explained why it was important. 

In the decades that followed, Cook never stopped spreading the word of hip-hop. He’s worn many hats in that span: DJ, writer, radio host, and activist among them. Constantly on the pulse of the latest in hip-hop, he conducted what some consider to be Nipsey Hussle’s first major interview back in 2006 on Hard Knock TV, in addition to conversations with artists like Tupac, Chuck D, 50 Cent, and Missy Elliott. His site, Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner, still acts as a comprehensive archive of hip-hop news and interviews from years past. –Mike DeStefano

Claim to fame: Shedding light on regional movements instead of mainstream

Known for: Murder Dog magazine

Black Dog Bone (nobody knows his real name) has lived many lives. Born in Sri Lanka, he made his way to the States and entrenched himself in the punk rock scenes of the Midwest and Bay Area, eventually stumbling upon hip-hop. He soon became so enamored with the genre and the Bay Area’s growing rap scene that he started publishing the legendary hip-hop magazine Murder Dog. The publication put emerging underground artists on its covers, artists who were usually overlooked by mainstream mags like The Source. The photos often included guns and the interviews were raw, unfiltered Q&As. In a way, you could say Black Dog Bone was one of rap’s first bloggers, shedding light on regional movements rather than focusing on the mainstream. Today, he lives in Vallejo, California, and manages and mentors Sri Lankan rappers. —Angel Diaz

Claim to fame: Giving Jay-Z his first magazine cover

Known for: Creating Stress magazine

Follow: @alankets

Stress wasn’t around for long, launching in 1995 and closing in 2003. But in that short time, it was able to punch above its weight creatively. Its founder, Alan Ket, was a graffiti writer who wanted to start something more aligned with the average hip-hop fan’s perspective than the industry-centric magazines he was seeing on newsstands. 

“We were coming from a place where hip-hop is a culture started in the streets by people of color, and we wanted to represent the things that hip-hop culture experiences and deals with,” he told Unkut in 2008. “And we deal with things like police brutality and incarceration and love and marginalization and whatever the case might be. We wanted to paint the bigger picture and communicate more things to our audience.” 

That perspective paid editorial dividends. In 1996, Stress featured a new rapper named Jay-Z on his first-ever cover. When The Source was featuring Eminem in its “Unsigned Hype” column in 1998, Stress had him on the cover a year later. Ket & Co. were so far ahead of the curve that the same Jus Ske cover shot from their A Clockwork Orange-themed photo shoot got reused by Spin three years later. One of Stress’s longest-running advertisers was Marc Ecko’s clothing line, Ecko Unlimited. When Stress shut down, Ecko asked if Ket could help out with a new media project, a magazine he’d call Complex.—Melvin Backman

Claim to fame: On the Go Magazine

Known for: Graf writers who launched a design-forward hip-hop mag

Follow: @steveespopowers@ari

In 1988, prolific Philly graffiti writer Stephen “ESPO” Powers launched On the Go magazine with designer Ari Saal Forman. According to PowersOn the Go hit a peak circulation of 80,000—smaller numbers than XXL or The Source, but a different product altogether. On the Go was particularly known for its playful magazine covers and aesthetically pleasing layouts from two creatives that put design at the forefront; their famous De La Soul cover inspired by Newport ads is a prime example. On the Go covered artists—both rap stars and fellow graf writers—in a casual, humorous, but still respectful way during a time when hip-hop was just on the crest of becoming a global phenomenon. Today, Powers continues to work as a successful artist who runs his own studio in Brooklyn, whereas Foreman has made a name for himself in the advertising industry and is well-known as the mastermind behind the Menthol 10s.—Lei Takanashi

Claim to fame: “Native Son” column at The Village Voice

Known for:
 Documenting hip-hop and Black culture in a rigorous way

Follow: @315nelsongeorge

Nelson George started his professional career writing disco and heavy metal music reviews for Billboard Magazine as a sophomore at St. John’s University in the late 1970s. By 1983 George was able to publish his first bestselling book, The Michael Jackson Story, a detailed account of the singer’s rise to stardom. At the time, hip-hop was on the verge of mainstream recognition, and upon moving to Fort Greene, Brooklyn, his neighbors (Spike Lee, Chris Rock, Rosie Perez, Wesley Snipes, to name a few) were cultivating the next Black renaissance in the borough. Dubbed the Brooklyn Bohemes by George, this amalgam of Black and Latino creatives ushered in a new era for Black art in Brooklyn and hip-hop was at the foundation. It led him to create an eponymous documentary about this enclave in 2011. Throughout the ‘80s, George worked as the Black music editor of Billboard and was able to invest in Lee’s debut film She’s Gotta Have It, all while pursuing a career in authorship, penning 23 books that include The Plot Against Hip Hop and Hip Hop America. After Billboard, George went on to become a luminary at the Village Voice with his column “Native Son,” and pursued his interests in film and television as a producer with credits on the film Strictly BusinessThe Chris Rock Show, and CB4. In short, George wasn’t just reporting on the culture. He was creating it. —Alessandra Maldonado

Claim to fame: Cultural critic at The Village Voice

Known for: Shaping how we critique and analyze Black art

The late Greg Tate is often referred to as the Godfather of Hip-Hop Journalism, and for good reason. Tate started his career in the early 1980s writing music reviews for The Village Voice, where he quickly became the leading voice for Black arts. His reviews eventually shifted to cultural criticism, where he dove into topics like the Black nationalist movement, the impact of Jean-Michel Basquiat, and countless analyses of Black music, from the D.C. hardcore band Bad Brains in the ‘80s to the “Afrofuturistic” Azealia Banks in the 2010s. His book,  Flyboy in the Buttermilk: Essays on Contemporary America, released in 1992, is a reference guide for many writers who cover and critique Black art. 

“I marvel at hip-hop for the same reasons I marvel at Duke Ellington, Ralph Ellison, Malcolm X and Michael Jordan: a lust for that wanton and wily thing called swing and an ardor for Black artists who make virtuosic use of African-American vernacular,” he wrote for The New York Times in 1994. —Alessandra Maldonado

Claim to fame: Pioneering the academic study of hip-hop

Known for: Groundbreaking book Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America

Follow: @proftriciarose

Tricia Rose pioneered the academic study of hip-hop and was instrumental in the genre being viewed as more than just music. Holding a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology from Yale University and an American studies Ph.D. from Brown University, she wrote her doctoral dissertation about hip-hop, which inspired her groundbreaking 1994 book Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America. The book thoroughly examined rap music, how it shapes Black culture, and how the genre became a fixture in popular American culture. Rose’s work also dissected rap lyrics from some of hip-hop’s greats, as well as the misogyny, sexual content, and criticism of politics, police, and the government that inspired the words and themes often used in the biggest songs within the genre.—Karla Rodriguez

Claim to fame: Earliest cover stories on Tupac that covered him through the scope of hip-hop and politics 

Known for: Vibe magazine senior writer, author, curator


You may know Kevin Powell as a cast member on the first season of MTV’s The Real World: New York, which premiered in 1992. But some of his biggest contributions include his hip-hop coverage. He joined Vibe magazine when it first launched in 1992, writing its first cover stories, which included profiles of Snoop Dogg for the test issue and Naughty By Nature for the first issue. He built a rapport with Tupac, who trusted Powell to tell his story. Powell wrote three cover stories on Tupac published between 1994 and 1996 right before he was murdered. His documentation of hip-hop has gone beyond magazine pieces, with Powell producing a 1993 documentary Straight From the Hood: An MTV News Special Report, which showcased Central Los Angeles after the infamous riots following Rodney King’s beating, and curating the “Hip-Hop Nation: Roots, Rhymes, and Rage” exhibit in 2000, the first hip-hop exhibit featured in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And Powell led the way in connecting the dots between hip-hop and the politics that surround it.—Kameron Hay

Claim to fame: Co-author of 1991’s essential Bring the Noise: A Guide to Rap Music and Hip-Hop Culture

Known for: Gonzo-style hip-hop writing

Follow: @gonzomike

Over a storied career, Gonzales has cultivated a distinct style of gonzo hip-hop writing all his own. He has written for the Village Voice (with his close friend, the late and legendary Greg Tate), The SourceWax Poetics, VibeThe Paris Review, and plenty more. Gonzales is still putting us on game today as he’s transitioned from traditional physical media to the internet with his frequent contributions to CrimeReads and his short stories. One of his recent notable pieces was about the time he was shot when someone confused him for a person connected to the Puffy and Shyne club shooting. That type of honest storytelling is why he’s on this list.—Angel Diaz

Claim to fame: Documenting hip-hop culture for a variety of publications

Known for: An unmistakable voice of NYC authenticity

Follow: @donsigliere

If you’ve followed rap since the ’90s, you know who Bonz Malone is. He was one of the more unique characters during hip-hop’s golden era. Bonz not only wrote for magazines like SPINVibe, and The Source, he also acted (check out Bomb the System where he plays a dirty cop—real heads know), and was a sneakerhead before it went mainstream. Bonz often included the slang of the day in his pieces and his column “Tuph Street” in Vibe touched on current events in a way that only a former graffiti artist and Lo-Life could. If you want to know what type of cat Bonz is, just check out his monologue about sneaker hunting in the 2003 documentary Just for Kicks.—Angel Diaz

Claim to fame: Bomb drops, freestyles, and enlivened ad-libs over hot songs

Known for: Funk Flex radio show on Hot 97

Follow: @funkflex

(Pulled from Hip-Hop Media Power Ranking) Funkmaster Flex is not an artist, but his iconic voice is worth millions. The veteran Hot 97 hip-hop radio host/DJ is an indelible media presence because of his ad-libs, late-night rants, and ability to book legendary artists to spit freestyles for his show. Flex became a host on Hot 97 during the radio station’s inception in 1992, and to this day his bomb-drop sound effect is a measure of a song’s heat (hello, “Otis”), so much so that rappers reference it in their verses. Flex’s occasional late-night radio diatribes also continue to move the needle and become must-listen content just to hear who or what got him so tight. With his legacy already cemented, Flex is now like a cool uncle who pals around with the O.G.s but can still relate to the younger generation (witness his unforgettable session with Tyler, the Creator). Just beware the wrath when unc gets cranky.

Claim to fame: Helping shape the editorial voice around hip-hop and its cross sections with other spaces

Known for: Co-founding Honey Magazine

Follow: @kiernamayo

Kierna Mayo is a longstanding cultural architect, curator, and archivist of Black culture, not only bearing witness to shifting trends on the ground, but also interpreting and articulating how the hip-hop community that she grew up in became mainstream both musically and politically. Mayo was part of The Source’s reputed “Mind Squad,” crafting the dominant national editorial voice in rap alongside titans such as Dream Hampton and James Bernard in the publication’s early days. She would proceed to partner with longtime friend Joicelyn Dingle in founding Honey, a magazine for contemporary Black women that was embedded in hip-hop culture, with an iconic leading preview cover featuring Lauryn Hill in front of a wall of golden honeycombs. Later, as editorial director and editor-in-chief of Ebony, she transformed and revitalized the magazine’s digital presence, publishing a standard-bearing cover story that showcased a shattered image of the Cosby family on the print cover of the magazine in 2015 in the wake of dozens of allegations of sexual assault levied against Bill Cosby. She would continue to speak truth to power, serving as one of the main voices in On the Record, a documentary about allegations of sexual assault against Russell SimmonsMayo’s calling to preserve stories remains, as she most recently signed on as executive editor of Random House and Roc Nation’s imprint Roc Lit 101.—Shamira Ibrahim

Claim to fame: starting one of the first rap publications ever

Known for: Hip Hop Connection

Follow: N/A

Published in the U.K., Hip Hop Connection was one of the first rap publications in history. Journalist Chris Hunt brought rap across the pond as the genre started to bubble internationally thanks to acts like Run DMC and their infatuation with German footwear brand Adidas. One of the magazine’s more endearing features was its readers’ Best Of lists. Every year, Hip Hop Connection polled its readers about best albums, best songs, best groups, etc. The magazine had a 21-year run, ultimately publishing 232 issues and without a doubt is one of the most important rap artifacts out there.—Angel Diaz

Claim to fame: Distributing viral videos before IG, Twitter, and TikTok

Known for: WorldStarHipHop.com

Before Vine or TikTok, there was WorldStarHipHop. Lee O’Denat, more commonly known as “Q,” founded the website in 2005 and remained the company’s CEO until his untimely death in 2017. He was 43. Q, who was raised in Hollis, New York, launched the WSHH website initially as a portal for music lovers to download rap and hip-hop mixtapes in 2005. It then evolved into a YouTube-like hub for not only hip-hop music videos and mixtapes but also viral content, celebrity interviews, and—perhaps most prominently—hilarious clips and street fights people shared online. The site boomed to become one of the most visited websites in the U.S. when the use of cellphone cameras was taking off. Its popularity decreased overtime once people started using Instagram and Twitter to watch the same viral content that WorldStar was known for. In its prime, the website became so ubiquitous and ingrained in the culture that people still shout “WorldStar!” as they pull out their phones to capture videos of a fight or any scandalous, could-be-viral real-life moment. —Karla Rodriguez

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