1984: The Year That Hip-Hop Became Big Business


In 1984, three rap albums dropped that forever changed the landscape of the rap industry, and set the template for the modern day rap album. These albums contained no ballads and they were sequenced in a way that told a musical story. Rap music was no longer a singles- driven industry. The rap album had it own identity, complete with liner notes, themes, and skits.

Run-DMC’s Larry Smith-produced, self-titled album changed the game, based primarily on the momentum of their groundbreaking 1983 single “It’s Like That”/”Sucker MC’s,” and “Hard Times”/”Jam Master Jay.” Fans eagerly awaited a full album of the stripped down, drum machine only beats and rhymes from the Kings from Queens, but the legendary album almost didn’t happen.

Profile Records co-founder Cory Robbins told The foundation : “It was time to do an album, and they didn’t want to. I called Russell (Simmons) their manager, and told him that we had all these songs on the radio, and we needed to put on an album.”

Robbins added: “Russell said that rap albums don’t sell, and there’s never been one that sold anything and how they all suck. I told him that we had four songs, and that if we did five more we would have enough for an album. If we sold 30,000 or 40,000 we would be good. I had to remind him that contractually we had the option for an album. He agreed to do the album and we ended up with the first Gold rap album.”

“Hollis Crew” was a follow up to the game changing “Sucker MC’s,” while “Wake Up” continued the social commentary of “It’s Like That,” and “Hard Times.” “Jay’s Game” would mark the first time that a “DJ cut song” appeared on a full-length rap album.

Run-D.M.C.’s most successful mainstream recording is their duet with Aerosmith, the genre bending “Walk This Way” from 1986’s Raising Hell; but their first time combining rock and rap occurred on “Rock Box” from Run-D.M.C. “Rock Box” received heavy MTV airplay, the first rap video to do so. Robbins explained of the video: “We intentionally casted a little White boy on the video in a White Rock club with a predominantly White crowd, so that MTV would play it, and it worked.”

Run D.M.C. and its album cover was the first time that many outside of the tri state area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut actually saw what Run D.M.C. looked like. The B-Boy streetwear that Run and D.M.C. wore on the back of the record cover was a first glimpse into what New York Hip-Hop fashion looked liked for many. Run-D.M.C. established a standard that forever changed the game and further established rap as a formidable music genre.

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