‘It gave voice to a generation’: On hip-hop’s 50th birthday, Philly pioneers reflect on its legacy, and its future

On Aug. 11, 1973, hip-hop was born on the streets of New York City, echoing the pulse of urban life to become a global phenomenon.

In this 50-year history, Philadelphia stands out as a place that has not only embraced the rhythm and rhymes, but also played a defining role in crafting hip-hop’s legacy.

As hip-hop celebrates its golden anniversary, Philly hip-hop lovers are reflecting on the nascent years of hip-hop, the forging of a culture, and the future of an art form that has transcended boundaries in every sense of the word.

Philadelphia’s mark on hip-hop’s lineage can be traced back to 1979, when West Philadelphia native Lady B became the first Philly artist to put a rap on vinyl with her single “To The Beat Y’all.” Born Wendy Clark, Lady B is a woman of many firsts: she was also the first female to release a record on air, and as the first female MC to ever have a record played on the radio, she paved the way for future female artists. In her 43-year career curating songs on the radio, she’s provided a platform for hip-hop when there was none.

“I convinced a radio station to allow me to play this new genre of music that no one ever heard of,” Lady B said. “I had to convince them that this was something my generation was gravitating to, fell in love with, and they finally gave in. People were speaking about their life, and that’s what made me believe that it would be here, because it was so organic, it was so real. It gave a voice to a generation that had no voice, and I knew that we had plenty to say.”

A photo taken on “Hip Hop Holler Day,” hosted by Philly World Magazine in November 2003. Emulating the iconic photo of “Hip Hop’s Greatest Day,” the photo captures Philly’s hip hop talent in the early 2000s. Lady B is pictured at the center. (Gina E. Kim / WHYY)

Born Wendy Clark and raised in Wynnfield, Philadelphia, Lady B knew local Philly icons early in their careers. She grew up with Will Smith, also known as the Fresh Prince, and was the first to bring DJ Jazzy Jeff to the radio to spin. She recalls when DJ Jazzy Jeff first won the New Music Seminar’s 1986 DJ Battle For World Supremacy.

“I’m standing there with Will. [DJ Jazzy Jeff] does his mix, he pulls out a basketball, he scratches with his basketball on the turntable. Judges go crazy, hands down he wins the contest. The story goes that I jump over a table — that me and Will were screaming and losing our minds, we were so happy,” she said. “I remember making a phone call to Russell Simmons, and I was like, there’s these kids here in Philly that need to be larger than life. You gotta do something. And he did.”

  • August 11, 2023
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