As someone born in 1986, it’s hard to think of a time when rap wasn’t a vital component of mainstream culture. The idea that there hasn’t always been entire publications and cable television shows dedicated to the genre, rap-centric companies with IPOs, rappers crossing over into TV, film, and other business ventures, or even rapping grandmas is somewhat baffling.
Yet that was not the case in the early ’80s, when rap was an untested commodity in the American cultural landscape, occupying space in the streets and not yet in the boardrooms. For a look back at days of past, Uproxx has unearthed an ABC News 20/20 special that examines rap’s very early days in 1981.
It’s an a surreal expose on the then-burgeoning genre, as correspondent Steve Fox approaches rappers, young kids, and others attached to the culture like he’s meeting alien lifeforms. (The intro tag speaks volumes: “The new sound of the ’80s. Suddenly you hear it everywhere. Rap music! It’s all beat and all talk. It tells you a story and makes you want to dance. Steve Fox examines an overnight phenomenon: rapping to the beat.”) Fox also refers to rap as “self-assertive boasting” and compares breakdancing to “ritual warfare.”
Awkwardness aside, Fox does a pretty commendable job introducing mainstream America to this relatively foreign genre. He not only speaks with fans and MCs, including a very young Kurtis Blow, but the report adds a sense of legitimacy by tracing rap’s roots back to early 1950s radio and black Southern preachers. As profound and impactful as rap music has become in the here and now, this little visual time capsule is a reminder that cultures grow and develop much in the way of any living organism.
Watch the full report below.