Credit an undying lust for pop culture nostalgia or the insufferable glut of reality TV, but there’s no denying that MTV’s pining for the good ol' days. Along with the recent relaunch of '90s gems such as "Beavis and Butt-Head" and alt-rock bonanza "120 Minutes," the network recently announced the brief return of golden era hip-hop tastemaker "Yo! MTV Raps." It'll be broadcast at 11 p.m. Dec. 4 after the first Sucker Free Awards.
Framed as a 30–minute retrospective titled “Yo! MTV Raps Classic Cuts," the show will profile three classic tracks highlighting the East Coast (A Tribe Called Quests’ “Scenario”), the Dirty South (Geto Boys’ “Mind Playing Tricks on Me”) and the Westside (Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day”). Aside from their mass appeal, these videos highlight the relevance MTV had on the hip-hop world, even though the network was slow to fully embrace the genre in its early days.
“Often, the first time anyone saw a hip-hop video it was on 'Yo! MTV raps,' ” said Craig Marks, editor-in-chief of the music blog Popdust and co-author of "I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution." "They want to let people know that they were part of the hip-hop explosion. And it’s a reasonable case for them to make."
In between videos, the "Yo!" special features discussions with former hosts Fab 5 Freddy, Ed Lover and Dr. Dre and a roster of other hip-hop heavyweights and current stars ranging from Wiz Khalifa to Common.
Initially, "Yo!" co-producer Ted Demme was told that the show, which debuted in 1988, would be a flop. The ratings, however, turned out to be huge. Though it carried on until 1999 -- by then, simply titled "Yo!" -- the show was eventually relegated to the hip-hop graveyard. Despite its demise, it remains one of MTV's most popular and respected franchises.
So, it makes sense that the network would look to "Yo!" at a time when pregnant teens and club rats from Jersey have made it near impossible to find actual music videos on MTV. And though it’s only a one-night retrospective, it could go a long way in reminding MTV audiences what the “M” is supposed to stand for.
“Its good in a token sort of way,” Marks said. “MTV is smart. They dip their toe in the water and see what the reaction is and maybe they can cash in on a late '80s, early '90s nostalgia.”
-- Nate Jackson