“YO! MTV Raps” had an advantage that no hip-hop show after it may have had: timing. “YO!” was there for what many consider to be the “golden age” of rap music: Artists like Run-DMC and LL Cool J reaching their apex and then-young upstarts like Notorious B.I.G., Tupac, Nas and the Wu-Tang Clan kicking off their careers.
How influential were the years from 1988 to 1995 in rap music? Here’s a small sample of the legendary tracks that got airplay — many for the first time — on “YO!” during that period.
Run-DMC — “Run’s House”: The trio was the rare hip-hop act that had some play on MTV generally, thanks to rock influences on songs like “Rock Box” and “Walk This Way.” But “YO!” was the place where Run DMC didn’t need electric guitars to be loved.
Eric B. and Rakim — “Follow the Leader”: The first video on “YO!” featured one of the greatest duos of all time, one coming off a stone-cold classic of a debut album. Immediately, “YO!” showed that it was to-the-moment with what was going on in the hip-hop world.
Boogie Down Productions — “My Philosophy”: KRS-One is a beloved figure in hip-hop, in part to tracks like this, the video for which features the emcee reciting the first verse nearly a cappella. The lyric “It’s not about a salary/it’s all about reality” would end up sampled ad infinitum through rap music’s history.
EPMD — “You Gots to Chill”: Two of Long Island’s finest, EPMD released its first album “Strictly Business” the same year that “YO!” started. It hit the top of the Billboard R&B/Hip Hop albums chart, but this video helped introduce them to the world.
Big Daddy Kane — “Ain’t No Half-Steppin’”: So many of the songs from this era are still relevant today, especially from a sampling standpoint; “Half-Steppin’” has been a part of songs by Run the Jewels, Joey Bada$$, and more than 100 others, according to WhoSampled.com.
N.W.A — “Express Yourself”: Maybe the cleanest song from the West Coast collective’s seminal “Straight Outta Compton,” “Express Yourself” helped introduce an entire nation to what was going on in the culture in Los Angeles.
LL Cool J — “Mama Said Knock You Out”: It wasn’t the first hit for the emcee, but it might have been the biggest, at the time: it was hard to turn on MTV, day or night, and escape LL in that boxing ring, rapping into the announcer’s mic.
A Tribe Called Quest — “Check the Rhime”: Not only is the Queens trio’s big breakthrough video worth watching, but also look up their performance on the track in the “YO!” studio for extra credit.
Chubb Rock — “Treat ‘Em Right”: One of the biggest hits in Rock’s career, “Treat ‘Em Right” is an infectious party jam that caught fire on “YO!” and opened the Brooklyn-based emcee to a wider audience.
Notorious B.I.G. — “Juicy”: The influence of “YO!” was felt throughout MTV. By the time Biggie’s “Juicy” came out, the network had plenty of hip-hop in its heavy rotation.