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 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.

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.

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.

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Wa Wa Wee Wa: The Origin of Borat's Favorite Catchphrase

Wa wa wee wa! Sacha Baron Cohen is back in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2020).
Wa wa wee wa! Sacha Baron Cohen is back in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2020).
Courtesy of Amazon Studios

When Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan was released in 2006, a new audience was exposed to Borat Sagdiyev, a “journalist” portrayed by Sacha Baron Cohen who had made frequent appearances on the comedian’s Da Ali G Show.

Soon, in our country there was problem: People mimicked Borat’s catchphrases, "very nice" and “wa wa wee wa,” incessantly. The latter phrase was used to denote surprise or happiness on Borat’s part. While some may have assumed it was made up, it turns out that it actually means something.

Wa wa wee wa is Hebrew, which Cohen speaks throughout the film and which helped make Borat a hit in Israel. (Cohen is himself Jewish.) It was taken from an Israeli comedy show and is the equivalent of the word wow. Reportedly, the expression was popular among Israelis, and they appreciated Cohen’s use of it.

The original Borat also sees Cohen singing a popular Hebrew folk song, “Koom Bachur Atzel,” or “get up lazy boy,” among other Hebrew mentions. It remains to be seen how much of it he’ll be speaking in the sequel, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. It premieres on Amazon Prime Friday, October 23.

[h/t The Los Angeles Times]