This summer marks the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, and people everywhere are taking the time to honor the legacy and impact of this powerful art form. The Land is no exception: Not only does the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame have an exhibit dedicated to the past, present and future of hip-hop, but it’s never been a better time to look back at Cleveland’s hip-hop history and legends.
The Land Spans Rock ‘n’ Roll to Hip-Hop
Cleveland’s status as a rock ‘n’ roll city begins in the 1950s with a white Cleveland disc jockey named Alan Freed. Freed spun new Rhythm & Blues records released by Black artists — Chuck Berry was a staple — and his radio show drew listeners from Cleveland's white and African American communities.
Then hip-hop started gaining a foothold in Northeast Ohio starting in late 1979 thanks to a college student named DJ Cochise. Introduced to the new genre by his Kent State University freshman roommate, he started spinning in his dorm room and later graduated to doing the same at parties.
Cochise’s star rose even more after he won a 1981 radio station-sponsored on-air DJ battle by playing all new rap songs. He started promoting hip-hop shows in Cleveland and became part of what’s considered the first rap group in Cleveland, The Bomb Squad. Another member of that troupe, MC Chill, landed on the Billboard Hot Black Singles chart in 1986 with a song called “Bust This Rhyme.” He also performed with LL Cool J and Whodini.
Hip-Hop Climbs The Charts
By the 1990s, Cleveland hip-hop came into its own on a national level. M.C. Brains landed a gold-certified single called “Oochie Coochie” that hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Rap Singles chart and reached 21 on the pop chart. Then came Bone Thugs-N-Harmony: The quintet—Bizzy Bone, Wish Bone, Layzie Bone, Krayzie Bone, and Flesh-n-Bone — put the Land on the rap map after signing with Eazy-E‘s Ruthless Records.
In the mid-1990s, singles such as "Thuggish Ruggish Bone,” “1st of tha Month” and “East 1999” were everywhere, as was the album “E. 1999 Eternal.” The somber song "Tha Crossroads," which the group wrote in honor of their late mentor Eazy-E, went on to win a Grammy Award.
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony paved the way for the next generation of rappers from Cleveland to make the city proud.
Cleveland’s Own Continue to Dominate
Kid Cudi became another local superstar on the strength of his 2008 single "Day 'n' Nite" and the album “Man on the Moon: The End of Day.” Other local talents followed — including Charles Hamilton, Ray Cash, Chip Tha Ripper (aka King Chip), and Canton-born Trippie Redd.
In more recent times, rapper turned pop-punk artist, Machine Gun Kelly, has kept The Land’s name in the national spotlight. Along with rapper Doe Boy, who’s collaborated with Future; the young upstart YSN Flow; and Smoke Screen, a hip-hop duo that recently left for L.A. to try and make it big. Closer to home, artists such as DJ Corey Grand and his weekly Monday Program create the kind of community that’s helping nurture future Cleveland hip-hop talent.
A Premier Hip-Hop Spot to Stop
National hip-hop artists also make Cleveland a stop on their national tours. The Grog Shop and its accompanying basement venue the B-Side Lounge consistently offer space for up-and-coming artists and successful acts alike. (Doe Boy is even due to stop by on Aug. 12.)
Newer venue, Crobar, books eclectic acts indebted to hip-hop, techno and house music while the Cleveland Agora also regularly books hip-hop concerts. Recent acts include Death Grips, Danny Brown, and JPEGMAFIA. Larger venues such as Blossom Music Center, Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, and the Wolstein Center draw hip-hop’s biggest names — while MGK perhaps had the biggest homecoming of them all with a show at Cleveland Browns Stadium where he ziplined to the stage.
50 Years of Hip-Hop
In July, when the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame opened their new exhibit, “Hip Hop at 50: Holla If Ya Hear Me,” innovators such as Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Flavor Flav; Darryl “DMC” McDaniels; and Roxanne Shanté visited for the grand unveiling. Their excitement for the comprehensive showcase of hip-hop’s history was infectious.
Fittingly, it starts with reproductions of early show flyers and the mixers early rappers used and then encompasses signature articles of clothing — Run-D.M.C.’s famous Adidas sneakers, Flavor Flav’s oversized clock, the metallic suit Puff Daddy wore in the “Mo Money, Mo’ Problems” music video, an iconic Salt-n-Pepa jacket, and memorabilia such as reproductions of handwritten lyrics sheets.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame also regularly books hip-hop artists on their stages, especially during the summer. And on September 22, head to the museum for the kickoff to the NerveDJs 20th Anniversary & Hip-Hop's 50th Celebration & Awards Weekend. To fortify yourself for the tour, the nearby Nuevo Modern Mexican & Tequila Bar just down the street from the Rock Hall has just what you need.