Remembering Yo! MTV Raps’ Final Episode 20 Years Later by Justin Chadwick [FULL VIDEO] @FABNEWYORK @MrEdLover #DoctorDré @MTV @justin_chadwick

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Went to Short Dog’s house / they was watching Yo! MTV Raps
– Ice Cube, “It Was a Good Day” (1993)

For most of us who grew up in the 1980s & 1990s, MTV was the linchpin of our musical discovery and subsistence, an indispensable part of our daily existence. It was the epitome of appointment viewing for me, as I vividly recall spending hours upon hours of my pre-teen and teenage years transfixed by the images and sounds the network spun in constant rotation.

Beyond its staple music videos, MTV’s original programming—both music-focused and otherwise—was undeniably addictive. 120 Minutes. Club MTV. House of Style. MTV Unplugged. The State. MTV News 1515. Even the first handful of seasons of The Real World. I devoured these programs, primarily because most of them were connected to the celebration of music, whether directly or peripherally.

However, the program I tuned in to watch most religiously was Yo! MTV Raps. Premiering in August of 1988—concurrent with my own burgeoning exploration of (and soon-to-be obsession with) hip-hop—the groundbreaking Yo! MTV Raps was crucial in elevating rap music from a largely underground phenomenon to a mainstream musical force forever entrenched aboveground. For better or for worse, when Yo! MTV Raps bookended other music programming, it was entirely possible for the casual viewer to be treated to a genre-shifting sequence of videos that spanned the likes of Metallica to George Michael to EPMD.

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Moreover, it’s worth recalling that during its first few years on the air, MTV was widely accused of racism—Rick James and David Bowie being the most publicly vocal of the network’s critics—due to its rock-heavy playlists that disproportionately catered to white audiences, despite Black music’s creative vitality and commercial viability. Indeed, the introduction of Yo! MTV Raps represented more than a modicum of progress toward musical and cultural equilibrium, or at least reflected the network brass’ acknowledgment that it was high-time for MTV to evolve.

Yo! MTV Raps was certainly neither the first nor the last TV program devoted to hip-hop that had an enduring influence on the genre’s growth. Co-founded by Ralph McDaniels and Lionel C. Martin five years earlier in 1983, the New York City-based Video Music Box was the first show solely dedicated to playing hip-hop videos. And BET launched the popular Rap City series in the summer of 1989, nearly one year to the day of Yo!’s debut. However, propelled by financial backing from one of the most powerful cable entities, Yo! proved the first program to showcase rap music on an international scale, with unparalleled production value and an unrivaled ability to attract hip-hop’s top acts to appear and perform on the show. Yo! also benefited from boasting the most charismatic on-air personalities, in the form of original host Fred “Fab 5 Freddy” Brathwaite and the dynamic duo of André “Doctor Dré” Brown and James “Ed Lover” Roberts.

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Most in my thirty-something age range—plus those a decade or two older—will agree that MTV has become a farcical shell of its once-mighty self in recent years, as lamented and lampooned to great effect recently. But fortunately for us, we can still conjure our fondest memories and indulge our deepest nostalgia for the MTV of yesteryear, aided in no small part by the archived video content freely available online. Today’s post kicks off a recurring commitment here at soulhead to revisit, relive and re-love the moments that made Yo! the treasure that it was. So in the weeks and months to come, we will be celebrating our favorite “Yo! MTV Raps Flashback” moments, and we invite each of you to share your most vivid memories with us as well.

To begin our ongoing tribute in the grandest and most appropriate fashion, today we rewind to Yo!’s final episode, which originally aired August 17, 1995. The climax of the program’s solid seven-year run, Yo!’s swansong proved a thrilling affair, as an all-star crew of emcees—including Rakim, KRS-One, Erick Sermon, Chubb RockMC Serch, Redman, Method Man, Large Professor, Special Ed, and Craig Mack—stopped by to pay their respects, flex their freestyle chops, and deliver one of the greatest hip-hop performances ever captured on television. Reminiscing about the show’s farewell, Big Daddy Kane confided “That was the day it really hit people how great of a show Yo! MTV Raps was.” Couldn’t agree with you more, Kane. Though I suspect we recognized Yo!’s brilliance all along.

Enjoy this classic performance below and be sure to look out for additional Yo! MTV Raps highlights here on soulhead soon.

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