Richmond celebrates its pioneers in Hip-Hop

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By Azriah Bryant

Published: Dec. 29, 2023 at 6:38 PM EST|Updated: 2 hours ago

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) -As this 2023 comes to a close, we’re looking back at a monumental moment in Richmond—the 50th anniversary of hip-hop celebration.

Over the summer, the River City had its birthday bash at the historic Hippodrome. Giving flowers to those who paved the way for the genre.

‘’Hip-hop was the first time we had our own voice,” said Jay Quan, a member of the Too Def Crew.

“If you don’t know where you come from, you don’t know where you’re going,” said ELBRAVADOR.

The city of Richmond itself has been home to some of the genre’s legends, such as:

ELBRAVADOR AND DJ MC Fresh of the Z Rock Crew.

Jay Quan, MC Divine and Scratch Master D of the Too Def Crew.

DJ Madd Mixer, DJ Plus One, DJ Sweet B and ELBRAVADOR of the JR. Funk Machine.

Chris Brooks, one of the creators of the show B Side.

Brooks and ELBRAVADOR created one of the biggest local programs showcasing our local hip-hop talents.

While the hip-hop sound is everywhere now, it wasn’t immediately accepted in the late 70s and early 80s.

“When you’re making history, you don’t know that you’re doing something that’s going to be revered again; this is something nobody wanted,” said Jay Quan.

Much of that pushback came from viewers who weren’t used to the new sound, an electric mix of Jazz, Funk, Soul and Disco.

“I was coming down the steps after my air shift, and I was attacked by five people still till this day, I don’t know who they were,” described EL BRAVADOR, who was leaving his shift from WANT.

Radio was an unstoppable force in getting this new genre to the masses.

“Which goes back to my original statement of us having to create our own community of, I guess, call it hip-hopers,” said Brooks.

Richmond’s first hip-hop record was fresh off the press in 1985. MCI recorded Commandments, which is now a collector’s item.

‘’A lot of artist don’t realize Richmond hip-hop goes back that far,” said Mike Street a legendary local radio broadcaster.

A slew of other records came to follow. The Too Def Crew and Z Rock Crew were some of those contributors in ‘87.

“We just wanted to play music. It was what we loved,” said DJ Madd Mixer.

When hip-hop first hit, equipment was hard to come by, and recording studios were slim to non-existent.

So, those radio stations were essential in getting the sound out there.

A lot of people first heard hip-hop through WANT and WENZ radio.

The Z rock crew, Stan Brooks, Sir RJ, Mitch Malone and Jay Lang were some of the legends scratching live on air, but the stations weren’t always broadcasting the music.

“We had to get the communities to accept what we were doing,” said ELBRAVADOR.

Eventually, two stations embraced the new culture.

WKLE was the first all-rap and go-go station, and Kiss 96 was the first station that incorporated hip-hop in all dayparts.

The Church Hill Crew and Grandmaster Jay were each Kiss 96 Master Mix Champions.

So started the Richmond hip-hop wave, becoming a test market for the genre.

Over the decades, our city has hosted numerous shows with other hip-hop legends.

“It was a fight for hip-hop to be what it is now,” said Jay Quan.

Now, hip-hop has not only mass appeal but also the respect of RVA.

In August, Mayor Levar Stoney declared Hip-Hop Day.

“Now, therefore, I, Mayor Levar M. Stoney of the city of Richmond, do hereby proclaim Aug. 11, 2023, Richmond Hip-Hop Day in the city of Richmond to recognize the artist’s contributions of the city’s Hip-Hop legends giving birth to the long luscious musical history,” he said.

Now, some of these history makers are looking to the future and making sure everyone knows Richmond’s hip-hop history.

Some other notable crews and people involved in Richmond’s hip-hop scene are Mahogany(the first female rapper from our area), Grandmaster Jay, August Moon, Rockwale, Cooley T, Hunny Bunn, The G Men, Mr.Mellody and the Royale Sound Crew.

“I love hip-hop. It lets me be me,” said DJ Madd Mixer.

ELBRAVADOR is producing a full documentary on the history of Central Virginia’s role in the hip-hop scene. He plans on showcasing it in the summer of 2024.

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