Considered the father of hip-hop, the Jamaican-born disc jockey created the "breakbeat" through experimentation at dance parties, during which he'd break the song by isolating and repeating the beats, which would extend the song and create a new track that would keep the dance floor moving.
The legendary Bronx, N.Y.-born disc jockey's Planet Rock with Soul Force is a seminal hip-hop record that embodies the early sound of hip-hop. After a trip to Africa, Bambaataa converted his old street gang, the Black Spades, into an international hip-hop awareness group called the Zulu Nation. The Zulu Nation traveled throughout New York City spreading the four pillars of hip-hop — break dancing, DJing, rapping and graffiti art.
The story goes that while Theodore was practicing his DJ skills at home, the Bronx, N.Y., native's mother told the 12-year-old to turn the volume down, which caused him to stop the record with his hand, creating an interesting sound that he would develop into scratching. There's been an ongoing controversy between Theodore and his mentor, Grandmaster Flash, about who is the true originator of scratching.
The DJ virtuoso took the craft to new heights when he introduced back spinning and perfected the art of scratching by mixing and extending the beats of the same song on two turntables. "I learned you could actually do things with the vinyl — touch it — which was unheard of for the time," said the legendary disc jockey in an interview.
The influential hip-hop group from Hollis, Queens, N.Y., was the first rap act to be nominated for a Grammy and the first to get airplay on MTV. Their hit single "It's Like That" blurred the lines between hip-hop and rock. But it was their cover of Aerosmith's "Walk This Way" that catapulted the group further into the mainstream.
The duo made an enormous splash in the 1980s with seminal hip-hop hits "The Show" and "La-Di-Da-Di." Though the pair parted ways soon after the success of those hits, they would both go on to become pioneers in the genre. Fresh, who could mouth pitch-perfect imitations of a drum machine, would define the art of beatboxing, while Slick Rick became an innovative hip-hop storyteller.
Though the members of Public Enemy hailed from the Long Island, N.Y., suburb of Roosevelt, they would revolutionize the hard-core street sound pioneered by others such as KRS-One. Led by Chuck D, who famously claimed that rap music was "the black CNN," the group's politically charged, pro-black songs would forever change the culture of hip-hop.
The Staten Island, N.Y.-based collective redefined the notion of crew with a 10-member group that worked together as a unit but could also spin off into individual solo careers, thus expanding the group's brand and reach. Their melodious synergy was unrivaled, making them one of the most revolutionary rap group of the 1990s.
By tackling issues of sexism, the no-nonsense emcee from Brooklyn, N.Y., broke down the door for other female rappers such as Queen Latifah. With her debut Lyte as a Rock (1988), she became the first female rapper to release a solo album.
The Newark, N.J.-born emcee was hip-hop's first bona fide female star. Her hit "Ladies First" gave voice to women in a male-dominated art form. Latifah would go on to blaze trails in other media with a successful TV and movie career, eventually earning an Oscar nomination for her role in the musical Chicago.
The Jersey-based Sugarhill Gang's 1979 hit song "Rapper's Delight" introduced hip-hop to the world. The group was the brainchild of producer Sylvia Robinson, who was considered "the mother of hip-hop." At first, some involved in the hip-hop scene lamented the fact that the Sugarhill Gang was getting credit for something they didn't create. Then there's also the controversy surrounding who actually wrote the song.
The seminal West Coast group NWA was hip-hop's dark angel. Their music sensationalized gang life, crime and violence, spawning the genre "gangsta rap" and changing hip-hop culture in ways that are still felt today.
The rapper and hip-hop provocateur put Southern rap (the Dirty South) on the map with hits like "It's Your Birthday." The rapper was the target of a national campaign against obscene music in Florida, making him arguably one of the most controversial hip-hop figures of the early 1990s.
The Harlem, N.Y.-born rapper began as a Kool DJ Kurt at his college radio station. After making the transition to emcee in the 1970s, he changed his name to Kurtis Blow. He was the first rap artist signed by a major label, helping usher in hip-hop as a bankable music form.
The '80s sensation proved that hip-hop could be funny and melodic, without sacrificing its street cred. His hit single "Just a Friend" earned him legendary status, though shortly after, Markie would maintain a low profile, returning to his DJ roots instead of recording.
The former NWA member solidified West Coast hip-hop with G-funk, which is characterized by synthesizer and bass-heavy beats. But it was as a producer that Dr. Dre paved the way for other West Coast rappers like Snoop Dogg.
The late rapper and son of a former Black Panther member, who famously coined the term "thug life," would merge poetry and politics in songs that painted a grim portrait of black life in America. He would go on to become one of hip-hop's most revered rappers.
The late Brooklyn, N.Y.-born emcee was a game changer whose early hit "Juicy" displayed his dexterous storytelling that was both humorous and gritty. His style made him one of the most influential rappers of all time, inspiring a generation of hip-hop stars from Jay-Z to Lil Wayne.
The middle-class trio from the suburbs of Long Island, N.Y., was noted for their heavy sampling of funk, soul and jazz, making them vanguards of an experimental sub-genre, jazz rap. Working with producer Prince Paul, the trio released 3 Feet High and Rising, an album that pioneered the hip-hop skit.
The hip-hop group from Queens, N.Y., followed the lead of De La Soul by popularizing the fusion of jazz and hip-hop. Like De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest's politically conscious songs provided an alternative to the hardcore gangsta rap that was taking over hip-hop in the '90s.