February 22, 2023
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter penned a heartfelt love letter to the genre and its biggest performers in collaboration with BET.
In the nearly five-minute video, The Roots rapper pays tribute to hip-hop, reciting rhymes about its decades-long history while visuals of hip-hop legends like Nipsey Hussle, NWA, Common and Salt-N-Pepa play in the background. The performance explains how the genre's pioneers have influenced today's biggest artists.
The video opens on the rapper standing in an empty room with projected images of hip-hop artists and dancers on a screen behind him. In a separate shot, a teenager practices break dancing next to an old-school boombox. Black Thought then delves into the history of the genre, touching on the underground parties hosted by DJs, graffiti tags on New York City trains and the culture that evolved from it.
He also shouts out Sylvia Robinson, the record producer responsible for several early hip-hop singles, including "Rapper's Delight" by the Sugarhill Gang and "The Message" by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.
"I remember a time before hip-hop and it's something we need to cherish and appreciate and not take for granted because it's not guaranteed," Black Thought told Rolling Stone. "Even though it's always been there for people for the past few generations, it's not guaranteed that it's going to always be there if we don't, you know what I'm saying, treat it the way we're supposed to and continue to pour ourselves and to invest into it in an authentic way."
While it's difficult to pinpoint the origins of hip-hop's signature sound, the genre is widely believed to have originated at a back-to-school party hosted by DJ Kool Herc and his sister Cindy in the Bronx on Aug. 11, 1973.
Philadelphia's hip-hop history also begins in the 1970s, according to Visit Philadelphia. In 1979, female hip-hop pioneer Lady B released "To The Beat Y'all," which was one of the earliest hip-hop singles in the United States. Other Philly acts, like Schoolly D and DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, would flourish in the genre and help cement it as a mainstream art form. The Roots, which Black Thought and Questlove formed in 1987 while studying at the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts, are considered hip-hop legends as well.
Black Thought is not the only member of The Roots taking part in the year-long hip-hop celebration. Questlove, the other founding member of the hip-hop group, was tapped by the Recording Academy to curate a 50th anniversary performance at this year's Grammy Awards, which aired on Feb. 5.
Black Thought's spoken word tribute to hip-hop can be found below. Check out more coverage of hip-hop's 50th anniversary celebration from BET on Instagram.