'Rap City': 5 Facts About Hip-Hop's Televised Beacon

From giving a platform to unrecognized artists to airing Biggie's last and Jay-Z's first interviews, BET's 'Rap City' wasn’t just a show—it was a revolution in hip-hop culture. Dive into its rich legacy before the three-part documentary airs.

“Rap City,” which debuted in 1989, is one of the most groundbreaking shows in hip-hop history. On Oct. 10, BET will air Welcome to Rap City, a three-part documentary about how the show became a beacon in hip-hop culture for decades while also providing an outlet for artists who, for a long time, didn’t have a mainstream platform. The show saw several different hosts and iterations in its 19-year run.

In preparation for the upcoming documentary, here’s the rundown of five quick facts about the iconic show’s history.

History-making Television

“Rap City” premiered one year after “Yo! MTV Raps” and seven years after “Video Music Box” but ultimately went on to become the longest-running TV show centered around Hip-Hop. That record has yet to be broken and “Rap City” has served as a blueprint for modern day digital shows and podcasts focused on the genre.

Rap City: Is There Anything Left of Hip Hop?

Bob Johnson Thought Hip-Hop was a Fad

At first, BET co-founder Robert L. Johnson was not confident about Hip-Hop’s future. “Video Vibrations” aired on BET five years before “Rap City” debuted. The music video program played Hip-Hop, but mixed in with other genres, including Pop, Reggae, and R&B. Johnson’s marker of success at the time was when an artist got an interview with Donnie Simpson. However, “Video Vibrations” host Alvin Jones encountered rappers who felt they weren’t getting enough airplay. He spent an entire week airing nothing but Hip-Hop videos on the show. It was a ratings hit that led to “Rap Week,” which then became “Rap City.”

Biggie's Last Interview

On Feb. 24,1997, “Rap City” host Joe Clair interviewed The Notorious B.I.G. on the set of “Hypnotize.” Biggie promoted his sophomore album, Life After Death, discussed Tupac Shakur’s passing and the state of hip-hop at that time. It turned out to be the rapper’s last televised interview – he was murdered almost two weeks later on March 9.

Jay-Z's First Televised Appearance

In 1990, host Hans Dobson interviewed Big Daddy Kane, who came on the show to address the rumor that he had HIV.  He confirmed that he did not, and he also brought a promising new talent with him. That talent was Jay-Z, and it was his first time on TV. Jay-Z delivered a freestyle and put the world on notice that he was coming.

Introduced Freestyling to Mainstream Audiences

“Rap City” introduced freestyling, which has become an iconic part of BET’s universe, to mainstream audiences. Freestyle battles made their way to “106 and Park” on “Freestyle Friday” and are still a highly anticipated part of the BET Hip-Hop Awards.

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