The first hip-hop video to air on MTV
(Credit: MTV)

Old School Archives

The first hip-hop video to air on MTV

At one point in time, hip-hop and its rich culture was a suppressed underground art form that was not present in the mainstream.

Unlike disco, funk or pop-rock, the establishment didn’t broadcast rap music to the masses on a wide scale and most definitely didn’t consider it a threat. However, during the mid-’80s, the genre’s growing popularity nationwide made it impossible for the mainstream media to suppress what was an innovative phenomenon.

Launched in 1981, Music TV (MTV) initially reflected what was considered mainstream, such as pop-rock and disco. The first-ever music video to be broadcast on the channel was ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ by the Buggles. However, as demand for more edgy genres, such as grunge and hip-hop grew, MTV realised they had to begin accepting these new cultures.

During the 1980s, rap and rock began to join forces. With producers such as Rick Rubin pushing acts like Run-DMC and The Beastie Boys with a more fused palatable style of hip-hop, by the middle of the decade, even suburban Caucasians were consuming what was previously seen as a low-brow African-American art form. As such, MTV began to endorse this style of hip-hop in its audio-visual form and afforded a spot to one of the most potent acts of the ’80s, Run-DMC.

Compromised of Jam Master Jay, Rev. Run and DMC, Run-DMC was formed in 1983 in the Hollis neighbourhood of Queens, New York. With the crew’s rise to fame commencing during the mid-1980s boom-bap era, the trio’s mainstream commercial success was almost instant when they released their debut single ‘It’s Like That/Sucker MCs’ and, from there, continued to grow.

As one of the most prominent acts of the decade, in 1984, the visuals for ‘Rock Box’ were broadcast on MTV, making it the first rap video to air on the channel. Directed by Steve Kahn, it was Run–D.M.C.’s first video. The electric guitar solo in the track played by Eddie Martinez, a session player who had worked alongside Blondie, went down well with all consumers, much to the surprise of the group. Speaking with I Want My MTV, D.M.C admitted, “We didn’t want the guitar version playing in the hood. But when DJ Red Alert played it on his radio show, black people loved the guitar version!”

You can watch the video for ‘Rock Box’ below.