10 Fab Facts About Yo! MTV Raps

Manny Carabel, Getty Images
Manny Carabel, Getty Images

It’s been 30 years since Yo! MTV Raps brought hip hop to MTV and the world at large. It was the place to be. The American Bandstand of the late 1980s. It was happy chaos surrounded by music videos that weren’t getting play anywhere else on the network. 

The show blazed a trail to bring rap and hip hop into the mainstream. Through its two main incarnations—the intimate art focus of host Fab 5 Freddy and the crazy, silly, cool of hosts Doctor Dré and Ed Lover—Yo! MTV Raps changed the landscape not just of music television, but of the culture itself. There’s no way to measure its full influence because the generation that grew up on it is still changing the world. Here are 10 things you might not know about the revolutionary show, on the 30th annniversary of its debut.

1. RUN-DMC HOSTED THE PILOT EPISODE.

When Ted Demme started as a production assistant at MTV in the mid-1980s, he pestered his bosses about the lack of black artists on the growing network. After developing Yo! MTV Raps for MTV Europe, MTV tossed a few thousand bucks to Demme and producer Peter Dougherty to create a pilot, which featured Run-DMC hosting a flurry of videos (the first ever was Eric B. & Rakim’s “Follow the Leader”). It was one of MTV's highest rated single episodes at the time.

2. IT TOOK MTV OUTSIDE THE STUDIO.

The original idea for the show was simply to showcase the best hip hop videos, since MTV wasn’t doing that in their regular rotation. When Yo! MTV Raps moved beyond the pilot concept with rap pioneer Fab 5 Freddy at the helm, the vibe of the show expanded to spend more time with the artists. But Fab 5 Freddy wanted to take the show on the road. “I did not wanna be cooped up in that MTV studio where all those previous VJs would be,” he said. His first episode was taped in Salt-N-Pepa’s rehearsal space; he walked the streets of New York City with The Beastie Boys; and he even hung out with LL Cool J and LL Cool J’s mom on their couch.

3. CAROLE KING WAS RANDOMLY THE FIRST GUEST OF THE NEW INCARNATION.

Yo! essentially had three starts: the pilot, the year of Fab 5 Freddy, and the daily insanity hosted by Doctor Dré and Ed Lover. That freewheeling celebration pumped into households every day after school is what most remember the show as. It was improvisational from the beginning. They spotted Carole King in the studio on their first day of filming, asked if she would join them, and she agreed, making the gentle-voiced singer/songwriter the first official guest of the raucous hip hop-focused show under its new stewardship.

4. T-MONEY INVENTED THE ED LOVER DANCE.

If you’re looking to properly credit the inventor of the Ed Lover Dance, it’s Yo!’s resident sidekick. T-Money was in Original Concept with Doctor Dré, who brought him into the production. “T-Money showed me the dance and told me, ‘Do this every week,’” Lover told Vulture. “We picked Wednesdays because most Wednesdays we didn’t have nothing else happening. It was hump day. Dré picked 'The 900 Number' and it took on a life of its own.” T-Money also made a mark on the show with a series of outlandish, hilarious characters that fit in perfectly with Yo!’s super loose style.

5. THEY SHOT ALL FIVE WEEKLY EPISODES IN ONE DAY.

Since they didn’t have a lot of money (and a lot of what they did have was allocated toward oversized props and silly costumes), Lover and Doctor Dré filmed a bunch of episodes in a few hours. “We didn’t shoot the week like Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday,” Doctor Dré explained. “We shot on one day, and all five shows, and we changed clothes on set ‘cause we didn’t have a budget. We just did everything that we wanted to do.”

6. THE SHOW HELPED LAUNCH HIP HOP GLOBALLY.

T money, Fab 5 Freddy and Dr. Dre onstage during the YO! MTV Raps 30th Anniversary Live Event at Barclays Center on June 1, 2018 in New York City
T Money, Fab 5 Freddy, and Dr. Dre onstage during the YO! MTV Raps 30th Anniversary Live Event in New York City.
Nicholas Hunt, Getty Images

Hip hop is one of the United States’s biggest exports, and Yo! was a big part of making that a reality. The success of the show led MTV to use it as an anchor in dozens of other countries where it was building an incipient global empire. The show helped spread the music to a worldwide audience hungry for it. As a testament to its reach, Fab 5 Freddy once met a woman from Russia who had relatives in Europe tape the show on VHS and mail it to her so that her whole block could gather around their TV to watch it.

7. CHUCK D DESCRIBED IT AS “BLACK CNN.”

In standing at the center of mainstreaming rap and hip hop culture, Yo! also has a hand in commodifying image and attitude alongside the music to a predominantly white audience. Public Enemy’s Chuck D called it “the Black CNN,” recognizing it as a rare space on television for black Americans to share their perspectives. Fab 5 Freddy was optimistic about white youth’s interest in the culture. “They won’t be as narrow-minded as their parents were,” he said in 1991. “See, black people do it all the time. We know how whites live. We don’t have to think about it. Motion pictures, television, they’re all full of how white people live, act, how they kiss. Now things are swinging around a little bit.”

8. SALT-N-PEPA WERE ON THE FIRST AND THE LAST EPISODES.

Salt-N-Pepa pose with their Grammys for Best Rap Performance by a Group at the 37th annual Grammy Awards in 1995
Philippe AIMAR, AFP/Getty Images

Yo! fueled a lot of careers (the pilot was the first time anyone had seen a young rapper named Will Smith on TV) and relied on star power within the hip hop community. Name a major rap group or hip hop artist of the era, and they were on it. Yet Salt-n-Pepa have the unique distinction of having bookended the series. It all started with Fab 5 Freddy hanging out in their rehearsal space, and they were there when it ended August 17, 1995.

9. THE FINAL FREESTYLE WAS UNPLANNED.

The last episode of Yo! featured a now-legendary freestyle session where Rakim, KRS-One, Chubb Rock, Erick Sermon, MC Serch, Method Man, Redman, Special Ed, Extra P, and Craig Mack all passed the mic around. Like most everything in the show, it was off the cuff. “That was the whole beauty of it all,” Doctor Dré said. “They all came in to say thank you and goodbye, we love you guys, the whole thing, and it just started.” Chubb Rock saw it as a way to remind everyone of what they’d be missing.

10. DOCTOR DRÉ THINKS IT WILL BE DIFFICULT TO REBOOT.

Doctor Dre attends the Yo! MTV Raps 20th Anniversary Roundtable at the MTV Times Square Studios April 7, 2008 in New York City
Scott Gries, Getty Images

MTV recently announced they’d be rebooting the show, but there’s almost no chance that it will be nearly the same as the Fab 5 Freddy or Doctor Dré and Ed Lover years, which represent zeitgeist lightning in a bottle. “Yo! MTV Raps was a snapshot in time,” Doctor Dré said. “It happened when it was most needed, when the music industry, the nation, and the world needed something that would unite everybody to a 1-2-3-4 beat, to a boom and a bap to a zugga-zugga-zugga, to an MC getting down on the microphone.” Maybe we need it rebooted after all.

15 Surprising Facts About Scarface

Universal Home Video
Universal Home Video

Say hello to our little list. Here are a few facts to break out at your next screening of Scarface, Brian De Palma’s gangsters-and-cocaine classic, which arrived in theaters on this day in 1983.

1. IT WASN'T THE FIRST SCARFACE.

Brian De Palma's Scarface is a loose remake of the 1932 movie of the same name, which is also about the rise and fall of an American immigrant gangster. The producer of the 1983 version, Martin Bregman, saw the original on late night TV and thought the idea could be modernized—though it still pays respect to the original film. De Palma's flick is dedicated to the original film’s director, Howard Hawks, and screenwriter, Ben Hecht.

2. IT COULD HAVE BEEN A SIDNEY LUMET FILM.

At one point in the film's production, Sidney Lumet—the socially conscious director of such classics as Dog Day Afternoon and 12 Angry Men—was brought on as its director. "Sidney Lumet came up with the idea of what's happening today in Miami, and it inspired Bregman," Pacino told Empire Magazine. "He and Oliver Stone got together and produced a script that had a lot of energy and was very well written. Oliver Stone was writing about stuff that was touching on things that were going on in the world, he was in touch with that energy and that rage and that underbelly."

3. OLIVER STONE WASN'T INTERESTED IN WRITING THE SCRIPT, UNTIL LUMET GOT INVOLVED.


Universal Home Video

Producer Bregman—who passed away on June 16, 2018—offered relative newcomer Oliver Stone a chance to overhaul the screenplay. But Stone, who was still reeling from the box office disappointment of his film, The Hand, wasn't interested. "I didn’t like the original movie that much," Stone told Creative Screenwriting. "It didn’t really hit me at all and I had no desire to make another Italian gangster picture because so many had been done so well, there would be no point to it. The origin of it, according to Marty Bregman, [was that] Al had seen the '30s version on television, he loved it and expressed to Marty as his long time mentor/partner that he’d like to do a role like that. So Marty presented it to me and I had no interest in doing a period piece."

But when Bregman contacted Stone again about the project later, his opinion changed. "Sidney Lumet had stepped into the deal," Stone said. "Sidney had a great idea to take the 1930s American prohibition gangster movie and make it into a modern immigrant gangster movie dealing with the same problems that we had then, that we’re prohibiting drugs instead of alcohol. There’s a prohibition against drugs that’s created the same criminal class as (prohibition of alcohol) created the Mafia. It was a remarkable idea."

4. UNFORTUNATELY, ACCORDING TO STONE, LUMET HATED HIS SCRIPT.

While the chance to work with Lumet was part of what lured Stone to the project, it was his script that ultimately led to the director's departure from the film. According to Stone: "Sidney Lumet hated my script. I don’t know if he’d say that in public himself, I sound like a petulant screenwriter saying that, I’d rather not say that word. Let me say that Sidney did not understand my script, whereas Bregman wanted to continue in that direction with Al."

5. STONE HAD FIRSTHAND EXPERIENCE WITH THE SUBJECT MATTER.

In order to create the most accurate picture possible, Stone spent time in Florida and the Caribbean interviewing people on both sides of the law for research. "It got hairy," Stone admitted of the research process. "It gave me all this color. I wanted to do a sun-drenched, tropical Third World gangster, cigar, sexy Miami movie."

Unfortunately, while penning the screenplay, Stone was also dealing with his own cocaine habit, which gave him an insight into what the drug can do to users. Stone actually tried to kick his habit by leaving the country to complete the script so he could be far away from his access to the drug.

"I moved to Paris and got out of the cocaine world too because that was another problem for me," he said. "I was doing coke at the time, and I really regretted it. I got into a habit of it and I was an addictive personality. I did it, not to an extreme or to a place where I was as destructive as some people, but certainly to where I was going stale mentally. I moved out of L.A. with my wife at the time and moved back to France to try and get into another world and see the world differently. And I wrote the script totally f***ing cold sober."

6. BRIAN DE PALMA DIDN'T WANT TO AUDITION MICHELLE PFEIFFER.


Universal Home Video

De Palma was hesitant to audition the relatively untested Pfeiffer because at the time she was best known for the box office bomb Grease 2. Glenn Close, Geena Davis, Carrie Fisher, Kelly McGillis, Sharon Stone and Sigourney Weaver were all considered for the role of Elvira, but Bregman pushed for Pfeiffer to audition and she got the part.

7. YES, THERE IS A LOT OF SWEARING.

According to the Family Media Guide, which monitors profanity, sexual content, and violence in movies, Scarface features 207 uses of the “F” word, which works out to about 1.21 F-bombs per minute. In 2014, Martin Scorsese more than doubled that with a record-setting 506 F-bombs thrown in The Wolf of Wall Street.

8. TONY MONTANA WAS NAMED FOR A FOOTBALL STAR.

Stone, who was a San Francisco 49ers fan, named the character of Tony Montana after Joe Montana, his favorite football player.

9. TONY IS ONLY REFERRED TO AS "SCARFACE" ONCE, AND IT'S IN SPANISH.

Hector, the Colombian gangster who threatens Tony with the chainsaw, refers to Tony as “cara cicatriz,” meaning “scar face” in Spanish.

That chainsaw scene, by the way, was based on a real incident. To research the movie, Stone embedded himself with Miami law enforcement and based the infamous chainsaw sequence on a gangland story he heard from the Miami-Dade County police.

10. VERY LITTLE OF THE FILM WAS ACTUALLY SHOT IN MIAMI.

The film was originally going to be shot entirely on location in Miami, but protests by the local Cuban-American community forced the movie to leave Miami two weeks into production. Besides footage from those two weeks, the rest of the movie was shot in Los Angeles, New York, and Santa Barbara.

11. ALL THAT "COCAINE" LED TO PROBLEMS WITH PACINO'S NASAL PASSAGES.

Though there has long been a myth that Pacino snorted real cocaine on camera for Scarface, the "cocaine" used in the movie was supposedly powdered milk (even if De Palma has never officially stated what the crew used as a drug stand-in). But just because it wasn't real doesn't mean that it didn't create problems for Pacino's nasal passages. "For years after, I have had things up in there," Pacino said in 2015. "I don't know what happened to my nose, but it's changed."

12. PACINO'S NOSE WASN'T HIS ONLY BODY PART TO SUFFER DAMAGE.

Still of Al Pacino as Tony Montana in 'Scarface' (1983)
Universal Home Video

In the film's very bloody conclusion, Montana famously asks the assailants who've invaded his home to "say hello to my little friend," which happens to be a very large gun. That gun took a beating from all the blanks it had to fire, so much so that Pacino ended up burning his hand on its barrel. "My hand stuck to that sucker," he said. Ultimately, the actor—and his bandaged hands—had to sit out some of the action in the last few weeks of production.

13. STEVEN SPIELBERG DIRECTED A SINGLE SHOT.

De Palma and Spielberg had been friends since the two began making studio movies in the mid-1970s, and they made a habit of visiting each other’s sets. Spielberg was on hand for one of the days of shooting the Colombians’ initial attack on Tony Montana’s house at the end of the movie, so De Palma let Spielberg direct the low-angle shot where the attackers first enter the house.

14. SOME COOL TECHNOLOGY WENT INTO THE GUN MUZZLE FLASHES.

In order to heighten the severity of the gunfire, De Palma and the special effects coordinators created a mechanism to synchronize the gunfire with the open shutter on the movie camera to show the huge muzzle flash coming from the guns in the final shootout.

15. SADDAM HUSSEIN WAS A FAN OF THE FILM.

The trust fund the former Iraqi dictator set up to launder money was called “Montana Management,” a nod to the company Tony uses to launder money in the movie.

11 Things You May Not Know About John Lennon

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Before he was one of the world's most iconic musicians, John Lennon was a choir boy and a Boy Scout. Let's take a look at a few facts you might not have known about the leader and founding member of The Beatles

1. HE WAS A CHOIR BOY AND A BOY SCOUT.

Yes, John Lennon, the great rock 'n' roll rebel and iconoclast, was once a choir boy and a Boy Scout. Lennon began his singing career as a choir boy at St. Peter's Church in Liverpool, England and was a member of the 3rd Allerton Boy Scout troop.

2. HE HATED HIS OWN VOICE.

Incredibly, one of the greatest singers in the history of rock music hated his own voice. Lennon did not like the sound of his voice and loved to double-track his records. He would often ask the band's producer, George Martin, to cover the sound of his voice: "Can't you smother it with tomato ketchup or something?"

3. HE WAS DISSATISFIED WITH ALL OF THE BEATLES'S RECORDS.

Dining with his former producer, George Martin, one night years after the band had split up, Lennon revealed that he'd like to re-record every Beatles song. Completely amazed, Martin asked him, "Even 'Strawberry Fields'?" "Especially 'Strawberry Fields,'" answered Lennon.

4. HE WAS THE ONLY BEATLE WHO DIDN'T BECOME A FULL-TIME VEGETARIAN.

John Lennon (1940 - 1980) of the Beatles plays the guitar in a hotel room in Paris, 16th January 1964
Harry Benson, Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

George Harrison was the first Beatle to go vegetarian; according to most sources, he officially became a vegetarian in 1965. Paul McCartney joined the "veggie" ranks a few years later. Ringo became a vegetarian not so much for spiritual reasons, like Paul and George, but because of health problems. Lennon had toyed with vegetarianism in the 1960s, but he always ended up eating meat, one way or another.

5. HE LOVED TO PLAY MONOPOLY.

During his Beatles days, Lennon was a devout Monopoly player. He had his own Monopoly set and often played in his hotel room or on planes. He liked to stand up when he threw the dice, and he was crazy about the properties Boardwalk and Park Place. He didn't even care if he lost the game, as long as he had Boardwalk and Park Place in his possession.

6. HE WAS THE LAST BEATLE TO LEARN HOW TO DRIVE.

Lennon got his driver's license at the age of 24 (on February 15, 1965). He was regarded as a terrible driver by all who knew him. He finally gave up driving after he totaled his Aston-Martin in 1969 on a trip to Scotland with his wife, Yoko Ono; his son, Julian; and Kyoko, Ono's daughter. Lennon needed 17 stitches after the accident.

When they returned to England, Lennon and Ono mounted the wrecked car on a pillar at their home. From then on, Lennon always used a chauffeur or driver.

7. HE REPORTEDLY USED TO SLEEP IN A COFFIN.

According to Allan Williams, an early manager for The Beatles, Lennon liked to sleep in an old coffin. Williams had an old, abandoned coffin on the premises of his coffee bar, The Jacaranda. As a gag, Lennon would sometimes nap in it.

8. THE LAST TIME HE SAW PAUL MCCARTNEY WAS ON APRIL 24, 1976. 

Paul McCartney (left) and John Lennon (1940-1980) of the Beatles pictured together during production and filming of the British musical comedy film Help! on New Providence Island in the Bahamas on 2nd March 1965
William Lovelace, Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

McCartney was visiting Lennon at his New York apartment. They were watching Saturday Night Live together when producer Lorne Michaels, as a gag, offered the Beatles $3000 to come on the show. Lennon and McCartney almost took a cab to the show as a joke, but decided against it, as they were just too tired. (Too bad! It would have been one of the great moments in television history.)

9. HE WAS ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO SING LEAD ON THE BEATLES'S FIRST SINGLE, 1962'S "LOVE ME DO."

Lennon sang lead on a great majority of the early Beatles songs, but Paul McCartney took the lead on their very first one. The lead was originally supposed to be Lennon, but because he had to play the harmonica, the lead was given to McCartney instead.

10. "ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE" WAS THE BEST LYRIC HE EVER WROTE.

A friend once asked Lennon what was the best lyric he ever wrote. "That's easy," replied Lennon, "All you need is love."

11. THE LAST PHOTOGRAPHER TO SNAP HIS PICTURE WAS PAUL GORESH.

Ironically (and sadly), Lennon was signing an album for the person who was to assassinate him a few hours later when he was snapped by amateur photographer Paul Goresh on December 8, 1980.

Lennon obligingly signed a copy of his latest album, Double Fantasy, for Mark David Chapman. Later that same day, Lennon returned from the recording studio and was gunned down by Chapman, the same person for whom he had so kindly signed his autograph.

Morbidly, a photographer sneaked into the morgue and snapped a photo of Lennon's body before it was cremated the day after his assassination. Yoko Ono has never revealed the whereabouts of his ashes or what happened to them.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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