February is Black History Month! And, in honor of those who have paved the way and pioneered in Hip-Hop culture and beyond, AllHipHop.com has compiled a list of some of its “Living Monuments.” Since there are far too many to name, we have decided to highlight 25 of them for you below. The people named in this list have represented the culture, the music, and the art, while helping to represent, preserve, and evolve it throughout the years. They’re not all Black either, but they have all in some way contributed to Hip-Hop!
Before the virtual mudslinging begins, know that this is not a list or ranking of the best artists or most influential personalities of the culture. This feature is a way to honor some of the culture and music’s greatest Hip-Hop icons. Check out AllHipHop.com’s “25 Living Monuments of Hip-Hop” below:
A Tribe Called Quest
The group’s website biography truly says it best: “easily recognized for their unique approach to rap music by employing jazz infused soundscapes to Afro centric rhymes, sans the jaded and often nihilistic aggressive posturing associated with hip-hop, ATCQ was largely responsible for the popularity of a new genre that dominated the East Coast sound of the early 1990s…ATCQ’s anomalous posture has changed the face and sound of hip-hop and paved the way for future groups, artists, producers and even fans to be unapologetic about their creative expression. With or without future recordings, ATCQ’s legacy lives on in the groups creative innovation that is recognized as a profound contribution to musical history.”
Already a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Afrika Bambaataa, who is one of the originators of break-beat DJ’ing, has many names including the “Father of Electro Funk,” “The Amen Ra of Universal Hip-Hop culture,” and the founder of the Universal Zulu Nation, which is an awareness group of former New York gang members. In the years since its creation, the Zulu Nation has gone on to help usher in some of Rap’s most timeless artists, including the Native Tongue clique with De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah, Monie Love, and more.
After five years of eligibility, The Beastie Boys will officially be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this April. Since the group’s formation in 1979, Mike D, Ad-Rock, MCA and Mix Master Mike have sold over 40 million records worldwide. After 11 albums, three Grammy Awards, and over 10 nominations, the Beastie Boys have cemented themselves as one of the greatest Hip-Hop groups in history and still continue to make the lyrical yet feel-good music they’ve been creating from day one to this day.
Big Daddy Kane
Often heralded as one of the greatest lyricists in Hip-Hop history, Brooklyn’s Antonio “Big Daddy Kane” Hardy has been making gritty, deep, honest music for almost three decades. Kane’s first two albums, Long Live The Kane and It’s A Big Daddy Thing, are both considered classic,s and the man has single handedly influenced some of this generation’s most successful MCs like Jay-Z and Eminem, who many say would not exist had it not been for Kane. To this day, Kane’s influence can be found in both the music and fashion of today’s urban cultur,e and will be for decades to come as he’s still recording music.
No one has represented for the B-Boy culture better than Richard Colon, more famously known as “Crazy Legs”. The President and one of only a few surviving members of the Rock Steady Crew is also a Source Hip-Hop Pioneer Award winner. Crazy Legs is credited with bringing Hip-Hop dance worldwide to places like Paris and Hong Kong, and he currently works actively in community outreach, mentoring young dancers, and hosting B-Boy contests all over the world.
One half of the legendary duo Gangstarr, DJ Premier has played a pivotal role in both the music and culture of Hip-Hop and will always be ranked as one of the greatest producers of all time. Premier has produced over 500 records in his career and has both worked with and inspired a number of Hip-Hop’s most cherished artists like Rakim, Royce Da 5’9″, KRS-One, Busta Rhymes, M.O.P., Bun B, Kanye West, MC Lyte, Nas, Mos Def, The Notorious B.I.G., and countless others. Most recently, Preemo surpassed all expectations with his role in the recent Grammy-presented film, Re:Generation, where he was tasked with remixing the Classical music genre and conducting a full orchestra. Preemo still plays an active role in the music realm where he still produces, DJs, and hosts a number of related events that keep the eternal fire of Hip-Hop burning strong.
The 6x Grammy Award-winner who launched and oversaw the careers of Snoop Dogg, Eminem and 50 Cent, is still just as prevalent within the music industry today as he was almost 30 years ago, even before he became a member of the iconic rap group N.W.A. Alongside names that can just as easily be considered monuments of Hip-Hop – Ice Cube, Eazy E, MC Ren and DJ Yella – Dre’s group popularized music that was dubbed “Gangster Rap” and helped share the stories of men who grew up in the harsh realities of life in Compton, California, in the 1980s and early ’90s. Dre also released what is considered to be a truly classic album when he created The Chronic in 1992. While the world awaits for Detox, the long-awaited follow-up to Dre’s 2001, Andre “Dr. Dre” Young is actively playing in a role in the development of artist’s from the West Coast like Kendrick Lamar, Slim the Mobster, and Tito Lopez.
The “most-sellingest” artist of the last decade has won 13 Grammys in his career, released eight albums, and was the star of an Oscar-nominated film with 2002’s 8 Mile. Detroit’s Eminem is one of the most polarizing figures in not just music but in entertainment as a whole. After having his career shot into super-stardom with the help of Dr. Dre and millions of fans during the TRL era, Marshall Mathers has continued to release some of the most introspective, attention-grabbing, and at many times explicit music of any artist in the last 10 years. With the release of last year’s critically-acclaimed, “comeback” album, Recovery, Eminem has maintained an almost untouchable status in Hip-Hop, with much more to come in the future.
Grandmaster Flash perfected scratching, plain and simple. The DJ’ing pioneer, along with his group The Furious Five, will go down in history for many things, including being the first rap group to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five consisted of one DJ and five rappers, which included Melle Mel, Kidd, Cowboy, Scorpio, Rahiem, and Creole, and went on to influence some the genre’s greatest groups, including Run DMC, Boogie Down Productions, Gangstarr, and Digital Underground. Grandmaster Flash was also the recipient of both the BET “I Am Hip-Hop” Icon Award in 2006 and the Urban Music Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. Flash continues to DJ and has his own weekly show on Sirius Satellite Radio.
For the past 12 years, Tracy “Ice-T” Morrow has played an NYPD detective on the hit show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and for two decades before that, he was one of the strongest voices in Gangster Rap and music in general. Throughout the late 1980s and early ’90s, Ice-T was one of the most aggressive, in-your-face lyricists to ever grab a mic. The Grammy Award-winner was one of the first to combine hard Rock music and Gangster Rap together, a sound which was later duplicated by a number of acts who never succeeded in the way or fashion that Ice did. He may be most known, however, for the way he proved himself a teflon don of rap when he bounced back larger than ever after the “Cop Killer” controversy of years ago.
Some call him Mr. Carter, others call him Jay-Z, but most address him as the man who transcended Hip-Hop in almost every form of the word. From his first classic album, Reasonable Doubt, to creating one of the most successful independent record labels with Roc-A-Fella, selling out Madison Square Garden, to his monumental LiveNation deal that gave him his own empire, RocNation, to performing at festivals worldwide with the likes of U2, Coldplay, and even his “little brother” Kanye West, Jay-Z is a force to be reckoned with in every sense. One of Jay’s most monumental moments came during the 2009 World Series where he and Alicia Keys performed “Empire State of Mind,” a record that not only earned Jay his first #1 single, but also became a true anthem for the Big Apple. To this day, Jigga is still putting out music that is not only mature but at its very essence, still sets the trend for the rest of Hip-Hop.
Kool G Rap
Ask your favorite rapper who their favorite rapper is and more often than not, Kool G Rap’s name will be the first you hear. Kool Mo Doe once described G as “the progenitor and prototype for Biggie, Treach, Nore, Fat Joe, Big Pun and about twenty-five more hard-core emcees.” Kool G Rap is one of the most gifted MC’s to ever bless a mic – just ask two of the greatest rappers alive, Jay-Z and Nas. To this day, the Queens-bred, lispy MC who spit some of the most creatively complex lines you may ever hear still does his thing, and he released his fifth studio album, Riches, Royalty, Respect last year.
Who knew that throwing parties in the recreation room of 1520 Sedgewick Avenue in the Bronx, New York would evolve into the very culture we know, love and celebrate as Hip-Hop? Herc helped bring the sounds of Funk to the Bronx in the 1970s and played the pivotal role of entertaining the masses who would show up to his “back-to-school” parties that pretty much defined the culture. Herc’s influence had a major impact on other monuments like Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa, and although he has fallen ill in recent years, Herc’s key hand in defining Hip-Hop will never be tarnished or forgotten.
As one third of the iconic group Boogie Down Productions, the world is constantly reminded of KRS-One’s impact, influence, and genius, through the sights and sounds of Hip-Hop culture today. One of KRS’ greatest achievement was the creation of the Stop the Violence Movement and the historical record it produced in 1989 with Heavy D, Public Enemy, MC Lyte, and many more entitled “Self-Destruction.” The 2007 BET Lifetime Achievement recipient has released over 25 albums, starred in over 20 films and documentaries, and written four books, including the critically-acclaimed, Gospel of Hip-Hop. KRS currently plays an active role in community outreach and education, and is working on his thirteenth solo studio album, Just Like That, as well as a collaborative project with fellow monument, DJ Premier.
As one third of The Fugees, alongside fellow MCs Wyclef Jean and Pras, Lauryn Hill stood out from the moment she touched a microphone, and no one would have it any other way. After almost six years of immense success with the group, Lauryn decided she wanted to try out the solo game and what followed was an album for the history books. Many would say that Hill’s 1998, 10x Platinum-certified album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, is a masterpiece and set a new standard for both R&B music and Hip-Hop, especially for females. She cleaned house at the Grammys that same year after winning five of the 10 awards she was nominated for. Hill has been working on her follow-up for a number of years, and as the world waits to see what she has in store musically (and if in fact there ever will be a new Fugees reunion), she continues to tour in front of sold-out crowds worldwide.
LL Cool J
LL has been the recipient of four NAACP Image Awards, nominated for nine Grammys (two of which he won), acted in over 25 films and television shows, and helped Def Jam become a force to be reckoned with. Not bad for a guy who is under 50. The man responsible for classic Hip-Hop records like “Mama Said Knock You Out” and “I’m Bad” said numerous times on record that he was directly influenced by fellow monuments like Kool G Rap, Afrika Bambaataa, and Run DMC, all of which has been fairly obvious since day one. With 13 albums under his belt, Todd “LL Cool J” Smith knows what it means to be a legend, since he crafted two classic albums in Radio and Mama Said Knock You Out. He was most recently honored in 2011 by BET when he received the “I Am Hip-Hop” Lifetime Achievement Award. LL continues to strive and prosper in the entertainment realm, and although he has not released an album since 2008, he continues to record music and act in the popular CBS show NCIS: Los Angeles.
Let’s be clear about one thing. Percy “Master P” Miller changed the way business is done in the music industry for the rest of our lives. What began as a little record shop in 1990 became a multi-million dollar label based out of New Orleans, LA called No Limit Records. P has had entrepreneurial blood running through his veins for as long as many can remember. As a solo artist, P has sold over 15 million records worldwide and released 12 albums. As C.E.O. he oversaw ventures like fashion, film, management, and real estate. He also is responsible for releasing records from his stable of platinum artists in the ’90s and early 2000s, like Silkk the Shocker, Mia-X, Lil Romeo, Mystikal, Snoop Dogg, and many more. Despite some financial instability in the past, Master P has embodied what it means to live not just the life of an icon, but that of one living the American dream. With the label still operating, a cable television network in the works, and some successful and smart kids, P has showed no signs of slowing down, at least not in the near future.
In 2004, Rolling Stone named Public Enemy one of the “100 Greatest Artists of All-Time,” and five years later their song “Fight the Power” was named the “Greatest Hip-Hop Song of All-Time.” While as prestigious as they come, these two accolades still do not even come close to capturing the immense influence that Public Enemy has had on not just Hip-Hop culture, but society in general. With their music, Public Enemy used an almost untapped outlet at the time to share their stories as well as those of millions of others around the world and help raise awareness about the many atrocities that befell everyday citizens on a daily basis. The group still tours and is currently in the process of finishing two albums that they will be releasing in 2012, Most of Our Heroes Don’t Appear On A Stamp and The Evil Empire of Everything.
The seven-time NAACP Image Award nominee has made a career out of staying true to herself. Queen Latifah has released seven albums throughout her career and starred in over 35 films for which she’s earned Golden Globe, Academy Award, Screen Actor’s Guild and Emmy nominations. For over two decades, Dana “Queen Latifah” Owens has been a role model for women everywhere, whether they be young, old, white, black, slim, or full-figured. She has consistently maintained a persona as “icon” for as long as most can remember. As recently as last month, Queen Latifah was said to be working on a new album, one that may very well see her return to some of the Hip-Hop roots she first tapped into in the early Flavor Unit days of 1989 with the release of her debut, All Hail the Queen.
The God-MC is often heralded as one of, if not the, greatest lyricists of all time. Rakim and his partner Eric B.’s classic album Paid In Full was anointed by MTV as the “Greatest Hip-Hop Album of All-Time,” one of many feats that helps support the case for why the duo were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year. Rolling Stone also placed Paid In Full at #227 on their all-time list of the greatest albums in music. Rakim single-handedly inspired and influenced an entire generation and beyond of Hip-Hop artists and MC’s including Raekwon, Nas, Eminem, Canibus, Snoop Dogg, LL Cool J, and Jay-Z. His most recent album, The Seventh Seal, was released in 2009, and although their may or may not be new Rakim music in the future, what he has done in the past surely will never be forgotten.
As co-founder of Def Jam Recordings with business partner and friend Russell Simmons, Rick Rubin brought Hip-Hop to the forefront of mainstream culture with groups like The Beastie Boys, Run DMC, and solo artist LL Cool J. In the many years since Def Jam’s 1984 inception, Rubin has gone on to produce in almost every musical genre imaginable, and has crafted critically-accalaimed and Grammy-winning records for the likes of Kid Rock, Jay-Z, Johnny Cash, Macy Gray, Rage Against the Machine, and countless others. Today, Rubin is the co-president of Columba Recordings and is currently producing new albums from Metallica, ZZ Top, and Linkin Park. He most recently won a Grammy for his work as producer on singer Adele’s multi-platinum album, 21.
Rev Run, DMC, and Jam Master Jay are each icons in their own individual right, but collectively they are a true monument of music as a whole. The trio from Hollis, Queens helped put Def Jam on the map back in the mid-1980s with the release of their self-titled album and continued to crank out classic material for almost a full decade. Run DMC transcended race, gender, or religion, and offered fans and listeners a new take on the rap style that had begun to explode nearly 30 years ago. Being named “The Greatest Hip-Hop Group of All-Time” was surely an honor but being inducted as the second into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame back in 2009 was surely one of their proudest moments, especially since there only company in that realm was previous inductees, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Although the late Jam Master Jay was not alive to receive his post-humous accolades with the group, he was often looked at during his life as the true embodiment of Hip-Hop and one of the greatest to ever do it. He even helped develop a young artist that the world now knows as 50 Cent. In 2009, the group had the honor of having a street named after them in their hometown of Hollis.
As co-founder of Def Jam with fellow “living monument” Rick Rubin, Russell Simmons helped usher in a more stylized and mainstream approach to Hip-Hop with previously mentioned acts like LL Cool J, The Beastie Boys and Run DMC. However, Def Jam was just one part of a much larger corporate puzzle that Simmons was the head of as he founded the conglomerate Rush Communications which contained entities like Phat Farm, Def Poetry, Run Athletics, Def Comedy Jam and Global Grind. With a net-worth of over $340 million, Russell Simmons, has redefined what it means to be a true entrepreneur. His work both within and outside of music speaks as a living testament for a true living monument.
No one can tell a story like Sir Rick the Ruler. Even Kool Moe Dee has said, “Slick Rick raised the lost art of hip hop storytelling to a level never seen again.” Hailing from South London, The Ruler first aligned himself with Doug E. Fresh’s Get Fresh Crew and in 1988 went on to create the classic album,The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, which was put out by Def Jam as well as his three subsequent releases. The multi-platinum rapper still records music and performs around the world including major concert events, like the annually-held Rock the Bells Festival.
Who can forget the names RZA, GZA, Method Man, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, U-God, Masta Killa, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard? Hailing from the Shaolin, the Wu-Tang Clan delivered some of the rawest Hip-Hop records in history. Not only did the group’s debut Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers rank on over 40 “Best” lists, it introduced to the world to nine of the most gifted, ferocious and honest lyricists to ever do it. While the Wu found immense success as a group, each member found success with solo careers that resulted some other certifiably classic albums. With RZA handling most of the production on Hip-Hop staples like Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Link, GZA’s Liquid Swords, Method Man’s Tical, Ghostface’s Supreme Clientele, and ODB’s Return to the 36 Chambers, Wu-Tang had a proven formula for success. To this day, Wu-Tang records as solo artists and a group, and they still tour – minus the deceased ODB and plus Cappadonna. They are currently working on their sixth studio album which is set for release in Summer 2012.
These are just a few of the many, many “Monuments” who have impacted Hip-Hop. Comment and tell us some of your own favorites!