Fab 5 Freddy & Ed Lover Look Back on 30 Years of 'Yo! MTV Raps': 'I Thought it Would Probably Last a Summer'
Back on August 6, 1988, MTV launched a show dedicated to the still fledgling culture of hip hop with Yo! MTV Raps. The music video show was instrumental in introducing the larger world to hip-hop and there's no question that it catapulted rap music into the mainstream.
It’s hard to believe that 30 years have passed since the show debuted considering how huge an impact hip-hop has had on the world in the decades since. To commemorate the moment, the Barclays Center in Brooklyn will host a family reunion concert on Friday (June 1) titled “Yo! MTV Raps: 30th Anniversary Experience."
"I saw all of these tours like the I Love The 90s tour and it seemed to me that retro was being cool again and there was a lane for all of the artists that were on Yo! to start working steadily,” former Yo! co-host Ed Lover explains to Billboard about how the show came together. “There was a lot of interest to see these acts from the 80s and early 90s. I called my ex-manager, Charles Stettler, who had a great relationship with MTV and I asked if we could work out a deal for the rights to the name so we can take it on tour. Fifteen months later here we are trying to kick this tour off with the Yo! MTV Raps experience at the Barclays.”
After word got out, Lover said it wasn’t difficult to secure acts for this commemorative event. Aside from some scheduling conflicts that complicated matters for a few acts, the likes of Big Daddy Kane and the Juice Crew, Public Enemy, KRS-One and Boogie Down Productions, Eric B. and Rakim, Doug E. Fresh, the Pharcyde, EPMD, Melle Mel & the Furious Five, Brand Nubian, Nice and Smooth, Das EFX, Onyx, Kid Capri, Black Sheep, Das EFX, Special Ed, Yo-Yo, and the Young Black Teenagers were all on board to perform.
Given that much of the success of Yo! can be attributed to the hosts, it only makes sense that Fab 5 Freddie, Ed Lover, Doctor Dre and T-Money would also make appearances at the show. Fab 5 Freddie’s relatable interview style helped us understand the up-and-coming acts that would soon invade our airwaves while the comedy of Ed Lover and Doctor Dre gave us moments that we would never forget. And 30 years later, we’re still talking about the impact of the show and how it shifted the landscape of music.
"I didn’t think that deeply about it because I had no perception of how people across the country and around the world were going to fully embrace something that was so english-language based,” Fab 5 Freddie says when asked if he realized he was part of something groundbreaking. "But it was a pleasant surprise to learn that MTV got the highest ratings that it had ever received and they wanted to check to see if the Neilsen ratings did something wrong.”
Ed Lover, who hosted the show with Doctor Dre and T-Money, also says he couldn’t foresee the show’s impact because he just hoped it wouldn’t get canceled before the end of their first year on air.
"I thought it would probably last a summer,” he says with a laugh. "It was just a 30-minute show when we got on. I never thought it would mean anything to people 30 years later. But what set it apart was the international factor and that this was many people’s first introduction to hip-hop. You have to remember that people didn’t have access to rap music on the radio or shows like Video Music Box. The introduction of this culture to the world was Yo! and I’m proud to say that we represented for this entire culture.”
Everyone has a favorite Yo! interview. Many point to Ed Lover and Doctor Dre’s talk with Tupac, where the late rap legend dished the dirt on what really happened on the set of Menace II Society while others recall Freddie introducing the world to the Staten Island conglomerate known as the Wu-Tang Clan.
Freddie recalls the moment when he first met the entirety of the Wu-Tang Clan and the behind-the-scenes confusion regarding who was in the group and who wasn’t.
"All we had heard that they were a rap group inspired by kung fu and used that as imagery so that was a no brainer for me,” Fab 5 says of what he knew before the RZA-led group arrived. "All 9 members were there but then there was the Killa Bees, which was a bunch of extra guys. We set up to do the first segment and I couldn’t remember all of their names so I would pass the mic around for them to introduce themselves. But when we did that the mic was passing from the 9 members of the Wu and then, somehow all of these Killa Beez guys, there were like 10 of them, got the mic.”
Although he may have been slightly intimidated by their presence, Fab 5 managed to restore order to the chaos. "RZA caught the energy and during the break told all the Killa Beez to fall back and we did it again,” he says.
But perhaps the most memorable moment of the interview for Fab 5 Freddie was when Ol’ Dirty Bastard talked about how poor he was before finding his escapism in rap music. "The answers ODB gave were beyond classic because I knew a family coming up that was so poor that they didn’t have a refrigerator so the family survived all winter by putting their products on the ledge to keep them cold,” he says. “It was just an incredible moment that I almost fell out.”
As for Ed Lover, one of his most memorable interviews wasn’t with a rapper or producer. Instead, the 55-year-old recalls sharing the set with The Godfather of Soul who was being heavily sampled by the culture that Ed represented. And the honor of being in James Brown’s presence and eventually getting him to do the now legendary Ed Lover Dance is something that he will never, ever forget.
"Everyone around him, including the people who were there for MTV were told to call him Mr. Brown, but we called him James,” Lover reflects. "When he said ‘you can call me James,’ that meant a lot to me. I saw the level of respect he demanded from everyone but he let us call him James and he did the Ed Lover dance! C’mon. You can’t beat that. That’s a once in a lifetime experience. There aren’t a lot of people who can dance with a legend."
Both Ed Lover and Fab 5 Freddie may have been instrumental in introducing the world to new hip-hop acts, but what you may not know is that Yo! also broadened their horizons and made them realize that there was great music coming from places other than New York.
“If you lived in Hollis and were a fan of LL, you probably never heard of Too Short, N.W.A, Tone Loc or anybody from another area. You never heard of Neneh Cherry coming with that 'Buffalo Stance' out of England. It was all foreign. You didn’t know Too Short was selling records in Oakland until Yo! MTV Raps. That gave everyone a bigger view of what was going on around the country,” Lover says.
For Fab 5, it took him taking a trip down south to realize that hip-hop was alive and well across the country, albeit different from what he was used to.
"The first time Yo! traveled was to Miami, Luke and 2 Live Crew were just beginning to make a lot of noise,” he says. "I’m a guy who likes great lyrics so what I heard I wasn’t crazy about until I saw what happens at a party. The first time we went we got to go to Liberty City where Luke and the core of that energy was coming from. We went to a party where a lot of white college kids were. But when Luke’s records came on, the party just turned into this total fun experience. That’s when I got got it. Those kind of things were the most exciting and to ask questions that I was naturally curious about and share that with the world. I couldn’t understand it but it all made sense once I talked to those artists in different places."
With the concert getting ready to jump off, both Ed Lover and Fab 5 Freddie agree that they can’t escape the success of the show that launched both of their careers. Even 30 years later, people will approach them and talk about what they did on the MTV music video show that changed their lives. Even though they have other things going on in their lives — Freddie has been heavily involved in the art scene while Ed Lover hosts 104.3 Jams' morning show in Chicago — they are proud to be a part of something that has changed the world.
"It’s the most exciting thing and has surprised me to no end these bright moments having to do with hip-hop have happened since our show debuted,” he says. Whether it's Barack Obama getting elected as President of the United States and brushing his shoulder off to Kendrick Lamar winning a Pulitzer Prize, you could never have imagined that the things that rappers fantasized about coming to fruition.
“Once upon a time all we wanted was a color TV and a swimming pool. Now we have rappers running streaming services and are in big business. It’s quite surprising what we’ve done and I hope people make an effort to come out to the 30th Anniversary show to see what we are continuing to do."