In the entire, brief history of hip-hop, a few moments have gone—as the saying goes—deeper than rap.
These are not the scenes and headlines that made hip-hop "relevant" as much as the moments where hip-hop characters, ideals, and narratives ended up on the front pages of national papers, shifting the American news cycle and making the sounds, lyrics, and faces of the genre as much a story as any great world leader or event. Sometimes, like Bill Clinton calling out Sister Soulja, the moments were gasoline on fire. Other times, they were just a spark on a fuse waiting to be lit, like Dr. Dre making headphones everybody's most essential personal style accessory.
These are moments of protest, of struggle, and of shame. These are moments of pride and of power. These are moments that define the music we so often take for granted, whether it's Kanye saying some shit about an American President, or an American President saying some shit about Kanye—and then campaigning with Jay-Z not long after. From the subliminal moments to the most pronounced, from the film and TV show moments to the moments when the corridors of political power were forced to confront rappers—yes, rappers—these are those times when hip-hop splashed into the mainstream, by all means necessary.
Hip-hop's taken everything from figurative bows thrown to literal shots fired. Yet, they weren't game changers for rap so much as for pop culture, moments of pure, uncut recognition that this isn't just a subculture, or a trend, but pieces of the greater American mosaic. From Kanye to Clinton, from Style Wars to who Wu-Tang's for, these are The 40 Biggest Hip-Hop Moments in Pop Culture History.
Written by Foster Kamer (@weareyourfek)
40. Blondie's "Rapture" is the First "Rap" Video Played on MTV
39. Tone Loc Makes the Cover of Newsweek as the Face of Rap Rage
38. KDAY Hires Greg Mack (and Becomes America's First True Hip-Hop Radio Station)
37. Def Comedy Jam Premieres on HBO
36. Vanilla Ice Makes a Cameo in the Ninja Turtles Movie
35. Bulworth is Released in Theaters
34. Busta Rhymes and Martha Stewart Present a VMA Together
33. Fat Boys' Swatch Commercials Air in NYC
32. LL Cool J Pushes FUBU Into The Gap's Commerical
31. Allen Iverson's Bars Result in NBA Beef
30. Theo Huxtable Raps on The Cosby Show
29. The Chicago Bears Debut the "Super Bowl Shuffle"
28. PBS Airs Style Wars
27. Saturday Night Live Airs the "Lazy Sunday" Digital Short
26. MC Hammer's Pepsi Ad Hits the Airwaves
25. Common is Invited To Read Poetry at The White House
24. Ol' Dirty Bastard Explains Who Wu-Tang is For
23. Eazy-E Attends White House Luncheon with President George H.W. Bush
Date: March 18, 1991
The Moment: It's the ultimate moment in "WTF" rap trivia: The L.A. Times breaks the news that Eazy-E—founding N.W.A member, singer of "Boyz-n-the-Hood," yes, that Eazy-E—had been invited to the White House by then-Republican Senate leader Bob Dole for a luncheon. The Republican Senatorial Inner Circle would be in attendance, with George H.W. Bush, the President of the United States of America.
The Impact: The American media outrage machine wasn't as fast in 1991 as it is now. In other words, by the time most people got the news, Eazy had already finished up lunch. With Bob Dole. And President George H.W. Bush. And by the time they did receive the news, it had already become the stuff of legend. The moment was so unbelievable, it was literally unbelievable, made all the more difficult to process by the fact that no pictures exist of Eazy at the lunch.
The Upshot: Republicans and fans of Eazy-E alike were stunned: How could the sitting American President allow this gangster rapper into the White House? and Eazy-E is a Republican? The Bush White House, for their part, decided to kill the matter by never commenting on it. Eazy did, however, explaining in an interview: "How the fuck can I be a Republican when I got a song called 'Fuck tha Police'? I ain't shit—ain't a Republican or Democrat. I didn't even vote. My vote ain't going to help! I don't give a fuck who's the president," and later, explaining in song: "So, you can kiss my black ass/Fuck the White House, it ain't my house/So, you can burn the mothafucka down for all I care/Cause T-shirts and khakis is all I wear."
While history accuses Eazy—who eventually died of AIDS, not exactly a conservative cause in the '90s—of being a Republican, the urban legends about this are wrong, as Jerry Heller explained in his book Ruthless. Eazy had donated to a South Central charity event. His name was picked up by an RNC computer mailing list, which hit Eazy up with an invitation, which Eazy accepted. We'll let Heller's book speak for itself, because the truth of the matter is so, so great:
"...As it turned out, we had a pretty okay time. We ate poached salmon and roast beef. (Eazy E) sat next to a woman from Dallas, who I would bet had never mixed socially with a person of color before in her long and well-heeled life. I expected her to start talking about 'the problem of the Negro.' I think she was actually afraid to look at the short African-American next to her, so she didn't notice that (Eazy E's) eyes looked like a couple of all-black marbles. "Nobody's been that stoned in the White House since Gerald Ford's kid Jack smoked dope on the White House roof. And Eazy had better weed that Jack Ford ever did."