Amazon Music Celebrates Hip-Hop's 50th Birthday With Queen Latifah Track
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, Amazon Music has launched "50 & Forever." The program will feature events, playlists, new music, original content and livestreams across platforms including Amazon Music, Twitch, Audible, Prime Video and Amp.
It kicks off with "Generational Queens," created by Droga5. This is the first of numerous short films that will underline the brand's commitment to "fueling the next 50 years of hip-hop fandom."
Directed by Fenn O'Meally, it revolves around two young women discovering Queen Latifah's track "U.N.I.T.Y."—which turns 30 this year—in a box of their mom's memorabilia.
"Two teenage daughters discover a side of their mother they’ve never seen before when they uncover a box that reveals their mom’s love of hip-hop back in the day—and how that love is still as strong as ever," explains Courtney Richardson, creative director at Droga5. "From her fashion sense to her swag, we showcase how hip-hop fandom runs deep whether it began 30 years ago or today—the culture is here to stay."
At this point in her career, Queen Latifah's woven into the mythology of the genre. "U.N.I.T.Y." earned a Grammy in 1995 for Best Rap Solo Performance. Kicking off with her feminist anthem—which is about loving Black men while demanding they respect Black women as equals—is a move.
Hip-hop at its best is a deceptively technical, poetic format that drew people together and unleashed Bard-caliber creativity in unexpected spaces. Old-school tracks like Soulz of Mischief's "'93 'til Infinity" were about sporting various members' stylistic talents and promoting a sense of community. (Baz Luhrmann tries to capture this spirit in The Get Down—but as the show's production demonstrated, that's hard to do without getting long-winded. This article's about to repeat the same mistake.)
The "gangsta rap" that emerged alongside these formats, and generated more mainstream attention, had plenty to say about the pressures of living in a state that felt like perpetual war. Violence was romanticized, but the subtext was survival in a culture that doesn't provide many options.
Sometimes, the only way to live through harsh realities is to romanticize everyday existence, which helps attach aspirations to a troubled culture. The negativity that's stemmed from such aspirations has contributed to so much of hip-hop’s bad reputation among those who don't care for the music or its history. Hip-hop's legacy is reckoning with that, and its symptoms, including the callous abuse or dismissal of women that Queen Latifah decries in "U.N.I.T.Y."
This is despite the historic presence of epic women like Lil' Kim, Mary J. Blige, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Salt N' Pepa, TLC and Queen Latifah herself, whose unique flow and flavor so perfectly capture a time.
Last year, in his song "Circo Loco," Drake caught heat for alluding to the idea that Megan Thee Stallion lied about getting shot in 2020. The controversy was worse for Megan; she's just now getting justice for what happened to her, but spent the last three years contending with people who implied she was merely seeking attention.
Meanwhile, the larger message of Drake's "Circo Loco" deals with pissing money away and treating women like disposable objects. It's a dated perspective, and laughable coming from the guy whose arrival in the public eye was as a mediocre ensemble player in Degrassi: The Next Generation. (We will forever see Drake as that awkward kid, and he hasn't given us a reason not to.)
That's an irritable digression. Returning to Amazon Music, "Generational Queens" features an all-female cast of Black women, two of whom represent the next generation. They discover a slice of what made hip-hop great, and gain insight into their mom, who still knows all the lines to the song.
But everybody's gotten older in the category. Snoop Dogg's making nursery rhymes, E-40's slanging lumpia in his hometown, and RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan offers guided meditations. At the same time, so much of the music was always about drawing from the past—through sampling—and dreaming about better days. The best possible tribute acknowledges both its history, and the fact that in the present, its still got stuff to tell us and beats that slap. That vibe is timeless.
Leading the series with a powerful woman reminds us that there was always more to the genre than women's dismissal, and paves the way for more nuanced perspectives to come. The artists and aspirants who harvest hip-hop's weakest fruit miss the genre's larger message, and the reasons it still resonates.
"50 & Forever" was co-created by Amazon's hip-hop and R&B brand Rotation. Future events, including immersive sequences, livestreams and other tributes, will include artists like J. Cole, Mary J. Blige, Jeezy, DJ Drama, Jodeci, Free Marie, Kenny Burns and Busta Rhymes.
Fans can access the "Rap Rotation Rewind" in DJ Mode, hosted by Free Marie and featuring stories and artist interviews, with historic musical entries curated by Amazon Music and drawn from customers' listening habits. There are also playlists for formative eras in the genre, which can be found on Amazon Music’s [RE]DISCOVER: The 2010s: Hip-Hop, The 2000s: Hip-Hop, The ’90s: Hip-Hop, and The ’80s Hip-Hop.
"This year, hip-hop fans around the world will come together to mark one of the culture’s most important milestones: the 50th anniversary of hip-hop," says Tim Hinshaw, head of hip-hop and R&B for Amazon Music. "More than music, hip-hop has broken barriers and redefined culture across fashion, sports, film, and social movements. From art to activism, hip-hop hasn’t just changed history, but is history, and '50 & Forever' pays tribute to the indelible mark that hip-hop has made on the culture."