How Philly Is Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Hip-Hop in 2023
The city helped define what hip-hop is today...
Maybe you saw the epic tribute at the Grammys. (And if you haven’t, you really should .)
Or maybe you caught the ongoing multi-part documentary on PBS.
Yes, 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of hip-hop , with celebrations planned both nationally and globally — including here in Philadelphia.
Read on to see how Philly helped define what hip-hop is today, as well as info on 50th-anniversary events and concerts from local and national hip-hop acts. (And check back often for more updates to this piece throughout the year as more events and concerts are announced.)
On August 11, 1973, in the rec room of an apartment building in the Bronx, a new musical form entered the world.
The night in question was a back-to-school party, featuring a soundtrack of popular artists like James Brown, Aretha Franklin and The Meters. The host of the bash, 18-year-old Clive Campbell, took to the DJ booth and queued up heavily percussive, dance-friendly portions of songs, known as breaks, on two turntables. With a copy of the same record on each turntable, Campbell — better known as DJ Kool Herc — was able to loop these high-energy breaks, through a technique called the merry-go-round. The merry-go-round was the basis for the genre we now know as hip-hop.
Taking hold at block parties and among Black, Latino and Caribbean American communities, hip-hop spread from the underground to the mainstream , thanks to one of the first hip-hop records, Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight , released in 1979.
Philly’s Hip-Hop History
By the late 1970s, hip-hop was thriving in Philadelphia. In 1979, Philly rapper Lady B (one of the first female hip hop artists) released To The Beat Y’all , putting the city on the hip-hop map. Just a few years later, in 1985, Philly rapper Schoolly D helped define gangsta rap with his single P.S.K. (What Does It Mean?) .
Through the late 1980s and 1990s, Philly’s hip-hop scene flourished with big-name acts bringing attention to the city. DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince (known these days as Will Smith) won the first-ever Grammy for best rap performance for their song Parents Just Don’t Understand , in 1989. Blending jazz and live instrumentation with rapping, The Roots have been musical mainstays in Philadelphia since founders Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter first performed together during a talent show while they were students at Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts in 1989.
In the late ’90s, when hip-hop experienced a commercial breakthrough, Philly-born artists like Eve and Beanie Sigel gained mainstream attention with releases on major record labels. Meanwhile musicians like Adam Blackstone found notoriety performing with the likes of Jay-Z.
Today, Philly is home to some of the most imaginative and groundbreaking acts in hip-hop. Meek Mill, in addition to his anthemic music , continues to push for criminal justice reform in Philadelphia. Tierra Whack, dubbed the “ future of hip hop ,” has gripped the world with her boundary-pushing style, experimenting with time and genre. Hip-hop has always served as a vehicle for identity, a means for artists and listeners alike to share their political beliefs, fashion choices, and social and economic realities, and to speak truth to power. An amalgamation of various art forms — including poetry, breakdancing, MCing, graffiti and storytelling — hip-hop is a multi-discipline art form.
A Year-Long Celebration of Hip-Hop
Throughout 2023, Philadelphia pays homage to the half-century legacy of hip-hop.
Through events and concerts, musicians from near and far harken back to the traditions of the merry-go-round while pushing the genre into the future.
Check back often for additional events — both 50th-anniversary celebrations and hip-hop concerts from Philly and national artists — throughout the year.
Commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, the all-day Philadelphia Juneteenth Parade & Festival features floats, performances and food. Spectators at this year’s parade should keep an eye out for a float dedicated to the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. (Stay tuned for more details.)
Visit Philadelphia’s podcast about the city’s best-kept secrets and biggest exports recently returned for its fourth season. This go-around, hosts Laiya St. Clair, Rachel Ferguson and Justin Pizzi pay homage to the 50th anniversary of hip-hop through interviews with musical changemakers like DJ Jazzy Jeff and Adam Blackstone .
Can't-Miss Concerts from Hip-Hop Artists
Nick Cannon brings the next generation of musical talent to The Fillmore with his Future Superstar Tour . The rising stars shaking up the game include Symba, 24kGoldn, Big Boss Vette and many more. Each ticket also includes access to a youth-focused Future Superstar seminar, featuring a panel of entertainment industry leaders.
Throw it all the way back as a number of hip-hop legends, including TI, Jeezy, Gucci Mane and Cam’ron visit North Broad Street for an evening of throwback jams and hip-hop anthems . Cue the DJ air horn noise.
If you were conscious in the past 20 years, you got down with Sean Paul . One of the most prolific artists of the era, the Jamaican rapper popularized the dancehall genre throughout the U.S., and has collaborated with Beyoncé, Sia and Dua Lipa.
With five Grammys, 11 BET Awards, four Billboard Music Awards and over 120 million records sold, this artist needs no introduction. Lil Wayne brings his lyrical prowess and earworm-y hooks to The Fillmore this April .
How many rappers are out there bridging hip-hop with nu metal? Progenitor of the sugar trap genre, punk rapper Rico Nasty takes her raspy, cutthroat flow and redefines everything you know about rap music today.
Lecrae doesn’t do the most, but he does a lot. When he isn’t busy being a music producer, a social activist and an entrepreneur, Houston artist Lecrae shows us how he became the first rapper ever to win Best Gospel Artist at the BET Awards.
Eladio Carrión has had folks bouncing ever since his Vine days. The Puerto Rican trap and reggaeton artist has collabed with artists locally and all around the world, including Bad Bunny and Karol G, introducing new generations into the world of Latin hip-hop.
The annual music festival curated by and named for Philly hip-hop band The Roots always has the most exciting lineup, highlighting both groundbreaking up-and-comers and legendary acts alike — plus a podcast stage. For the 2023 festival, attendees can look forward to performances from the legendary Ms. Lauryn Hill, the one-and-only Diddy (performing with The Roots!) and Philly’s own Lil Uzi Vert. Did we mention Busta Rhymes, Eve, Roy Ayers and The Isley Brothers? Whew.
Who run the world? The only correct answer is Beyoncé . Queen Bey brings her highly anticipated Renaissance tour to the sports complex complete with elaborate choreography, sets, costumes and vocals.
Class is in session during the High School Reunion Tour, which sees collaborators Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa (did you see their 2012 stoner comedy Mac & Devin Go To High School ?) reunite once again. The bill is rounded out by West Coast rappers Too $hort, Warren G and Berner.
Two of the most influential voices in hip-hop take the stage in South Philly for what is Drake’s first tour in five years. Spanning the past decade of Drake’s career, the “It’s All A Blur” tour will celebrate moments like Hotline Bling through Her Loss , a collaborative album with 21 Savage.
Few groups had a greater impact on hip-hop — particularly East Coast rap — than Wu Tang Clan. Member GZA performs his second solo album Liquid Swords , released in 1995, accompanied by a live band, bringing his lyrical prowess and gritty beats to life.
Chicago rapper and founder of the collective Only The Family, Lil Durk had a busy 2022, which saw the release of a solo album and a collaborative album with OTF. The trap artist has an impressive output with eight studio albums, four compilation albums, one live album, one EP, 13 mixtapes and 150 singles.
Celebrating 20 years since the release of his debut album, Philadelphia Freeway , Freeway performs at The Fillmore backed by a live band. In addition to throwback tracks like What We Do , expect newer material like his recently released Rejoice .
Memphis rapper GloRilla gained widespread notoriety when her wildly fun single F.N.F. (Let’s Go) went viral on TikTok. What came next was a collab with Cardi B, signing to Yo Gotti’s CMG imprint and, oh yeah, a Grammy nomination for best rap performance.
This double bill features two of the four members of supergroup Zoink Gang. Individually, the pair breathe fresh life into music, infusing funk and soul into their beats.
Fresh off the release of his fourth album, Me vs. Myself , a slick collection of pop-leaning tracks, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie tests the songs on the road.
Philly underground hip-hop group Jedi Mind Tricks (JMT) has been scratching beats and spitting bars for over 25 years, producing music and collaborating with rap veterans from GZA to Immortal Technique along the way. Fans can keep up with frontman Vinnie Paz on his Broad Street Breakdown podcast.
The protege of the late Young Dolph, Key Glock has largely avoided collabs or features — and relies almost completely on his own prowess as a lyricist.
South Korean trio Epik High tours behind its recently released EP Strawberry . For two decades, Epik High has influenced Korean music, with popular K-pop act B.T.S. citing them as an influence .
One of the most prolific artists of the last decade, Future’s signature Autotune trap has come to define the genre. Not a year has gone by without new music since Future’s first release in 2010. This year, he heads on a nationwide tour featuring surprise supporting acts for each city. Any guesses for Philly?
Hot off the release of his February 2023 project, GUMBO — which included a rare collab with Key Glock — Atlanta artist Young Nudy hit the rap scene running as a featured artist on several Billboard hits. (Oh, and despite being related to 21 Savage, Nudy takes a more playful approach to his rap style.)
Chicano artist Cuco takes you on a journey with lo-fi hip-hop beats to relax and dance to. Known for blending bossa nova and indie pop with trap music and smooth rap, the Lo Que Siento rapper creates a euphoric musical landscape as wide as his imagination.
At this point, TikTok royalty Bktherula is known for her aesthetic as much as she is for her flow and she keeps fans on their toes by bringing a different sound and vocal style to everything she touches. Basically, she’s a mood.
Can't-Miss Concerts from Hip-Hop Artists
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