Showtime partners with Nas, Mass Appeal to celebrate ‘Hip Hop 50’

Hip hop celebrates its 50th anniversary and Showtime will be there to showcase the groundbreaking genre with new content for the next three years

Erykah Badu once sang that it “is bigger than the government.” Kanye West called it an “euphemism for a new religion” and “The soul music of the slaves that the youth is missing.”

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What is it? It is hip hop, and the 50th anniversary of its origin is on the horizon.

The Universal Hip Hop Museum Groundbreaking Ceremony Held In Bronx Point
Nas speaks during the Universal Hip Hop Museum Groundbreaking Ceremony at Bronx Point on May 20, 2021 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

It’s hard to believe the genre, born out of an after-school party in the Bronx in the summer of 1973 by Jamaican born DJ Kool Herc, morphed from a folk art by disenfranchised urban youth into a cultural phenomenon that’s influenced all in its path, is coming up on five decades of existence.

Showtime announced this week that the network plans to make a grand celebration of hip hop’s 50th with a new cross-platform programming initiative called Hip Hop 50. In collaboration with entertainment company Mass Appeal, the cable network is planning to produce and release several new programs, specials and documentaries starting this year.

Showtime released a trailer to tease the upcoming content on May 19.

The trailer is narrated by the legendary Queens rapper Nas, who’s 2021 Grammy-winning album King’s Disease was released via the Mass Appeal label, who he is in partnership with.

“They didn’t expect anything from us,” Nas narrates over footage of hip-hop’s early days in New York City. “That’s what makes this come up so much sweeter.”

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From there you see images of Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, Rakim, and Run DMC mixed with drone shots of Manhattan and Nas’ Queensbridge projects.

“This little thing of ours, sharpened and refined in project parks and staircases has grown much bigger than the NYC blocks it was birthed on,” Nas continues.

Nas, born Nasir Jones, is doing more than just providing a voice over for the teaser. He, along with Mass Appeal’s other partner and chief creative officer, Sacha Jenkins, are helming a multi-tiered roll out with Showtime that will include podcasts, documentaries, unscripted series and digital shorts revolving around the genre.

“Hip hop’s growth and rise over what will soon be 50 years is staggering,” Jones said in a press release. “With influential partners like Showtime, we are poised to bring hip hop’s greatest stories to life and inspire a multitude of generations in the process. It is truly a blessing to be a part of this movement that gives due praise to my community and the culture.”

Jenkins, who started out as journalist, became the creative director for Mass Appeal when it was a magazine. He has previously collaborated with Showtime on music content. He wrote, directed and produced Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men, a 2019 Peabody Award-nominated docuseries about the platinum-selling Staten Island rap collective, as well as 2018’s Word Is Bond, a documentary about rap lyricism.

Showtime’s executive vice president of nonfiction programming, Vinnie Malhotra, made the formal announcement on Wednesday.

Sotheby's Inaugural Hip Hop Auction And Exhibition
“Uncle” Ralph McDaniels’ original WU-TANG CLAN PARENTAL ADVISORY jacket is displayed at Sotheby’s for their Inaugural HIP HOP Auction in 2020. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

Hip Hop 50 will be an unprecedented multiplatform experience that is going to be absolutely essential, not only as a celebration of the genre but also as a cultural touchstone for our world,” Malhotra said in his statement.

“Showtime and Mass Appeal have curated a remarkably insightful – and emotional – series of programming, bringing new depth to the giants of hip-hop and new exposure to the most important untold stories. We can’t wait to roll this out.”

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Among the projects set to premiere on Showtime for Hip Hop 50 is Push It. Named after the breakout Salt-N-Pepa single, Push It will be a multi-dimensional project that will focus on the varying stories and contributions of women.

Also included will be Hits From the Bong, a Sony and Mass Appeal produced documentary on platinum-selling Cypress Hill. Directed by Estevan Oriol, Hits From the Bong will chronicle the unique music, social consciousness and impact of the West Coast rap trio known for hits like “Insane in the Brain” and “How I Could Just Kill a Man.”

Roger Gastman is directing a documentary on the secret life of subway graffiti, Rolling Like Thunder. The film will uncover the underground culture of graf writing, one of hip-hop’s five major elements (rapping, breakdancing, DJing and knowledge), and how it evolved from an outlaw-style visual expression into a mainstream artistic movement.

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In addition, there will be an documentary on Ralph McDaniels, the innovative force and tastemaker behind Video Music Box the seminal New York City based video and interview show. The public TV program became a go-to platform in New York City for acts like Jay-Z, Nas and Eric B. and Rakim and many others to showcase their music videos to the masses when their music was still getting scarce coverage on mainstream television.

The as yet untitled documentary will reveal the beginnings, triumphs and trials of the man known as “Uncle Ralph,” who continues to air Video Music Box to this day.

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