This 1981 20/20 segment on rap music will make you cringe

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

In 1981, two years after "Rapper's Delight" was released as a single, ABC's 20/20 ran a segment on this zany thing called rap music. It is a masterclass in white-splaining, and the number of times someone defines rap music is almost comical. The jumping off point for reporter Steve Fox is Blondie's "Rapture."


"Rap music: it's all beat and all talk. It tells a story and makes you want to dance!"

Right off the bat, Hugh Downs does not seem to be that impressed with this "new" genre, calling attention to a lack of melody in many of the songs.

What really sticks out, though, is how far Fox goes to lay out the historical roots of rap music in relation to African-American culture, citing everything from oral tradition, jazz music, and Muhammad Ali. It makes a sort of sense as Fox's aim seems to be convincing (white) skeptics that rap is a legitimate form of artistic expression that has evolved and is not some weird fad. And yet: "Inner-city kids learn rhyme in their street games" is said with matter-of-factness over b-roll of three children playing double dutch.

Here's part two:

Highlights here include referring to boomboxes as "big boxes" and a transit cop's story about arresting a group of breakdancers because he thought they were involved in some kind of gang warfare.


It's not all bad though, really. Former DJ Jocko Henderson pops in to demonstrate his rapping-and-learning program with a well-constructed verse about the Declaration of Independence. Later Joe Robinson of Sugar Hill Records mentions that rap isn't strictly an African-American thing and his label has had #1 records in countries where "there's nothing but white folks."

This segment was well reported and may have done a lot to bring rap music into the mainstream. But watching it today, it is basically "How do you do, fellow kids?" in news form.


At least we got these GIFs out of it.


H/T Open Culture

David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on—hop on. Got a tip? Email him: