In 1988 the hip hop revolution began to be televised when MTV debuted Yo! MTV Raps

Yo! MTV Raps (also known as Yo!) is a two-hour television music video program and the first hip hop music show on the network. It was MTV’s first large attempt at incorporating rap music videos into its format, enabling fans to see their favorite artists on the small screen. The show produced a mix of rap videos, interviews with rappers, live in-studio performances and comedy. 

The show’s hosts

Premiering on August 6, 1988, Yo! MTV Raps would be a game-changer and quickly become an institution of hip hop. Fab 5 Freddy, the legendary NYC graffiti artist and curator of cool, was the first host, serving as rap’s first ambassador and conduit in providing context to the music and the cultural lifestyle surrounding it.

Fab 5 Freddy – Host for Yo MTV Raps

The show originally aired solely over the weekend, but it was such a big hit that it prompted MTV to add a daily weekday version, dubbed Yo! MTV Raps Today. It premiered the following year, on March 13, 1989. Introducing Doctor Dré, Ed Lover and soon after, T Money, as the hosts of Yo! MTV Raps Today, the brand would catch wildfire and become a cultural phenomenon. Fab 5 Freddy proceeded to host on the weekends.

Pilot episode

Fab 5 Freddy was the first host of Yo! MTV Raps, but Run-DMC hosted the pilot episode. When creator and executive producer Ted Demme finally got the green light from MTV, he and co-creator Peter Dougherty flew to meet DMC on tour to tape the episode, which also features the first on-camera moments from a young Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff.

The first-ever Yo! MTV Raps video is Eric B. & Rakim’s title track of the album “Follow the Leader”. The pilot was one of the highest-rated programs on MTV at the time, behind the Video Music Awards and Live Aid. 

Guests on the show

Artists from Yo! MTV Raps initial run from 1988 to 1995, including Special Ed, Das EFX, MC Lyte, EPMD, Big Daddy Kane, Kool Moe Dee, Nice & Smooth, The Beatnuts, Brand Nubian, and KRS-One rocked the stage. Salt-N-Pepa were in the first and last episode of the show. 

Guest interviews include Tupac, The Notorious B.I.G., Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, NWA, Eazy E, Ice Cube, MC Hammer, Diddy, LL Cool J, and many others. People who weren’t rappers also came as guests on the show. You’ll find interviews of Carole King, Mel Gibson, Howard Stern, Pam Grier, James Brown, Bobby Brown, among others.

Interview with the Wu-Tang Clan for Yo! MTV Raps

How Yo! MTV Raps changed hip hop

The show blazed a trail to bring rap and hip hop into the mainstream. As rap entered the ‘90s, Yo! MTV Raps became even more of a cultural staple and was responsible for a number of landmark moments. It, undoubtedly, changed the landscape not just of music television, but of the culture itself. Yo! MTV Raps was the must-see TV show for rap fans, young and old, during its peak as the unofficial home of hip hop. 

During the Yo! MTV Raps: 30th Anniversary Experience last year, Vulture spoke with Doctor Dré and Ed Lover about the show.

Yo! MTV Raps was a snapshot in time. It happened when it was most needed, when the music industry, the nation, and the world needed something that would unite everybody to a 1-2-3-4 beat, to a boom and a bap to a zugga-zugga-zugga, to an MC getting down on a microphone.

Doctor Dré in an interview with the Vulture

The end of Yo!

Yo! MTV Raps would continue to air after being repackaged simply as Yo!, with a rotating cast of hosts replacing Fab 5 Freddy, Ed Lover, and Doctor Dré. It would ultimately be replaced by MTV Direct Effect, which became known as Sucker Free in 2006. The series finale aired on August 17, 1995, and the show was closed with a freestyle rap session.

Yo! MTV Raps series finale (1995)

Yo! MTV Raps remains an unparalleled aspect of the hip hop culture

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