50 years of hip hop and its mark on mid-Michigan

This year marks the 50th anniversary of hip hop, the birth of a genre that put mid-Michigan on the map in the 90s with a local rapper’s Billboard charting hit.
Updated: Feb. 21, 2023 at 5:00 PM EST
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FLINT, Mich. (WNEM) - From L.L. Cool J and Run DMC, to Biggie and Tupac, to Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar, hip hop has found its way into the fabric of music and its place in every corner of the globe including in Flint, Michigan. This year marks the 50th anniversary of hip hop, the birth of a genre that put mid-Michigan on the map in the 90s with a local rapper’s Billboard charting hit.

When hip hop first hit the scene in August 1973 in The Bronx, New York, no one knew how big of an impact it was going to have on music.

“When I first heard hip hop, I thought it was just hearing the Sugarhill Gang. I thought I was just hearing a funny story that rhymed. And I didn’t know people could continue to do it,” said Timothy Moore, owner of Peewee’s Place Studio in Flint.

As the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” caught on, it brought a new form of art to the youth of the world. It caught the ear of future artists like Ira “Bootleg” Dorsey of the rap group The Dayton Family.

“The music just caught me. You know, once I heard it, I fell in love with it instantly,” Dorsey said.

He was born the same year as hip hop and as he grew, so did this new art form. It opened doors for young black kids in the inner city by giving them an avenue to release some of their extra energy.

“It was a place that I could be creative and tell my story the way I wanted to tell it with nobody telling me how to tell it and what to say and what not to say. I was free,” Dorsey said.

In an era where artists like Ice Cube, Wu-Tang Clan, Fugees, and N.W.A. made their way into music history, one artist from Flint burst onto the scene to put the Vehicle City on the music map. In 1991, MC Breed’s single “Ain’t No Future In Yo’ Frontin” reached #66 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart making it the first hip hop song to hit the chart from the Midwest.

“Eric Breed broke the seal. When Eric Breed kicked the door in and made it International and labels start checking for Flint, it made us feel like ‘oh, Breed did it. We can do it.’ You know, we you know, we make good music. We from the same place and to see somebody come from where you come from succeed and make it, it’s just inspirational,” Dorsey said.

Once Breed made it to the mainstream and moved to Atlanta, he made sure he reached back to help other Flint rappers navigate their way through the music industry.

“He gave us all the advice and insight that we ever asked for. He never was stingy with the advice or and he was always open. You know, for us to learn from, he taught us things about recording that we didn’t know. He was just a giving caring person,” Dorsey said.

Helping to give artists like the Dayton Family an opportunity to make it big as well; and in turn, inspiring the next generation of artists coming out of Flint.

“I think the city of Flint has the potential to be one of the biggest hip hop markets the world has ever seen,” said rapper Cameron Tyler, from Blood Rich Business. “I kind of believe that, you know, we can really build an economy out of hip hop in the city of Flint, you know. I look at cities like Atlanta and I feel like they really built an economy out of entertainment. So, you know, in Flint, I kind of feel like we can do the same thing.”

Flint rappers are making their own lane into the genre and say they’re going against the grain and bringing their own style to hip hop.

“Everybody got their own individual style, people are themselves. So it’s like that’s really where it comes from. It’s just that people don’t follow what’s going on outside the scene. They just do them,” Tyler said.

Moore said everybody is kind of breaking the rules.

“We might not have a 16-bar verse or a bar hook. You know, people might keep going, we just doing things this, we rule breakers. And that’s what hip hop is about,” Moore said.

One thing is for sure when it comes to hip hop in the city of Flint, old school will live on and light the way for new school to follow along, to blaze a trail that keeps the city in the forefront of the music industry.

“Anything that incorporates the truth will survive the test of time. And hip hop has always stood on being truthful. You know, the best songs are the truthful ones,” Dorsey said.

So, here is to 50 years of rhyming to a beat, and to another 50 years of “the rhythm that’ll make your body rock.”

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