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10 Iconic Hip-Hop Boomers

For Black Music Month, AARP salutes these pioneering artists

10 Iconic Hip-Hop Boomers

While Generation X could arguably claim hip-hop music, this explosive genre and culture truly dates back to 1973. As part of this year’s African American Music Appreciation Month in June, AARP toasts 10 trailblazing boomers who paved the way for today’s hip-hop stars.

Russell Simmons, 56

Simmons founded the seminal hip-hop label Def Jam Recordings with producer Rick Rubin. The label released some of rap’s most definitive albums by such artists as Public Enemy, LL Cool J and Jay-Z. Simmons broadened his entrepreneurship into fashion (Phat Farm clothing) and TV and movie production (HBO’s Def Comedy Jam). He’s also a strong advocate for human and animal rights.

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DJ Kool Herc (Clive Campbell), 59

When DJ Kool Herc spun records using two turntables at his sister’s back-to-school party in a Sedgwick Avenue recreation room in the Bronx on Aug. 11, 1973, he unknowingly gave birth to hip-hop. Considered the founder of hip-hop, he also invented “the break” technique in which deejays cue up records to the rhythmic breakdown of a song and extend this mostly instrumental and percussion section by playing back and forth between the two turntables. 

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Kurtis Blow (Kurt Walker), 54

Blow’s 1980 landmark hit, “The Breaks,” broke new mainstream ground. Released on Mercury Records, the song — and Blow’s eponymous debut LP — became the first official rap music released on a major label. In addition, “The Breaks” became the first rap record to be certified gold (500,000 units sold), and Blow was the first rapper to perform overseas.

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Angie Stone (Angela Laverne Brown), 52

Before becoming one of today’s most distinguished R&B singers and songwriters, Stone was known as Angie B., one of the members of the Sequence, a rap trio that broke gender barriers as the first female hip-hop group. The Sequence had a 1980 hit with the single “Funk You Up.”

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Ice-T (Tracy Marrow), 56

Known for his portrayal of NYPD Detective Odafin “Fin” Tutuola on the long-running TV drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Ice-T first gained prominence as a pioneering “gangsta” rapper in the mid-1980s. Equal parts Bob Dylan and Iceberg Slim, Ice-T rapped about the grim realities of urban life that included police brutality and pimp and drug culture. His 1991 LP, O.G. Original Gangster, became a defining blueprint for gangsta rap.

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Rick Rubin (Frederick Jay Rubin), 51

Regarded as one of today’s top music producers, Rubin cofounded the record label Def Jam Recordings and produced classics for LL Cool J, Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys and Run-D.M.C. In addition to hip-hop artists, Rubin has collaborated on albums with Johnny Cash, Sheryl Crow, ZZ Top and a slew of other pop, country and rock acts.

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Chuck D. (Carlton Douglas Ridenhour), 53

As the front man for Public Enemy, Chuck D. helped usher in a new wave of socially conscious rap in the mid-1980s. With its strong black nationalist rhetoric, the group delivered an aggressive, defiantly political aesthetic that, nevertheless, burst onto the mainstream despite some negative criticism. Public Enemy albums such as It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and Fear of a Black Planet remain touchstone hip-hop classics.

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Grandmaster Flash (Joseph Saddler), 56

One of the most influential deejays in hip-hop, Grandmaster Flash developed such techniques as “the backspin” and “punch phrasing” — strategies still considered standard today. He also led the pioneering group Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, which released some of rap’s first socially conscious songs, including 1982’s “The Message.” In 2007, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five became the first hip-hop group to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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The Sugarhill Gang

Although the Fatback Band released “King Tim III,” a disco-funk classic that featured rapping, in March 1979, a few months before the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” hit the airwaves, it’s the latter that’s considered the first bona fide “hip-hop” song to be recorded and reach the Top 40. From Englewood, N.J., the Sugarhill Gang --   Guy 'Master Gee' O'Brien (52) (left), Henry 'Big Bank' Jackson (58) (center), and Michael 'Wonder Mike' Wright (57) (right) -- is widely responsible for popularizing rap music beyond its New York City origins.

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Fab 5 Freddy (Fred Brathwaite), 54

A true hip-hop pioneer and Renaissance man, Fab 5 Freddy is an internationally renowned visual artist, rapper and filmmaker who also functioned as a strong liaison between the then-underground hip-hop scene and New York City’s New Wave and downtown scenes. Blondie gave him a shout-out in the band’s 1981 hit, “Rapture.” In 1988, Freddy was one of the original hosts of the cable TV's Yo! MTV Raps.

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