The little known story behind the rise of the first female MC of hip-hop

Before the genre was called 'hip-hop,' MC Sha-Rock changed the game.

10/17/2021 8:02:00 PM

Before the genre was called 'hip-hop,' MC Sha-Rock changed the game.

MC Sha-Rock, the first female MC of hip-hop, reflects on the roots of the genre, how she landed a spot in The Funky 4+1 and how they took hip-hop to the mainstream.

'The Real Queens of Hip-Hop’: A decade-by-decade look at their evolutionFrom MC Sha-Rock to Cardi B, the women of hip-hop have proven to be game changers in the music industry.Al Levine/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images, FILEThe roots of hip-hop can be traced back to the night of Aug. 11, 1973, when DJ Kool Herc and his sister Cindy Campbell hosted a block party in the Bronx, New York, -- the first of many jams that birthed the first sounds and the earliest pioneers of hip-hop culture.

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Sharon Green, who came to be known as MC Sha-Rock, was 13 at the time. And it was at those parties that the first female emcee of hip-hop, who is also known as the"mother of the mic," got her start."I heard about the parties, but because I was that young, my mom was very protective about us going out ... I didn't get to experience the first party that Kool Herc gave, but I got to experience many more after that," she said in an interview that is set to air on ABC and Hulu on Monday as part of the special,"The Real Queens of Hip-Hop: The Women Who Changed the Game."

The birth of hip-hopGreen moved with her family to the Bronx from Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1969. At the time, the working-class neighborhood had descended into total economic collapse, and amid the poverty, gangs took control of the streets and drug trafficking was rampant.

Property values plummeted so steeply that landlords began burning down their own buildings to collect the insurance money and many residents were killed in the fires.Courtesy MC Sha-RockMC Sha-Rock, second from left, is pictured with her family on Coney Island, New York in 1974.

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"The Bronx was burning," she said, referencing a famous phrase that describes conditions at the time."In New York City, and especially in the Bronx, there was no hope besides if you had a supportive parent like my mom was. It was no hope. Everything you look around, when you look around the Bronx, it was like, 'How do we get up out of this?"

At the time, youth in the Bronx found solace in music and dancing. And over the next couple of years, Green attended many of the parties thrown by DJ Kool Herc, where she got her start in hip-hop as a"B-girl" -- the word used to describe what would become known in the 1980s as breakdancers.

According to Green, the B-boy, the B-girl, the MC and the graffiti were the earliest elements that made up hip-hop culture, but it was not called"hip-hop" until the 1980s."We who started the culture started out as B-girls and B-boys, meaning that we listened to the breakbeats of DJs like Kool Herc who would play certain parts of the breakbeats," she said.

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Courtesy MC Sha-RockMC Sha-Rock is pictured in 1982.At the time, those parties catered to youth of all ages, especially young people who weren't old enough to attend events at the clubs, and according to MC Sha-Rock, people from different boroughs of New York City would pack the streets to be a part of the experience.

"I start tearing up when I think about it," she said, reflecting on those early days."We used the conditions that was around us to help us get away from all the negativity and everything that was going on in the Bronx at that time and created the culture of hip hop," she said.

A life-changing auditionWhile growing up, Green said that her mother encouraged her and her siblings to participate in the arts and even signed her up for her first poetry slam -- a talent that would eventually land her a spot in a group as the first female MC in hip-hop.

"She said, 'Listen, this what you do: you rhyme it, you recite, and your cadence will make people be able to feel it when you say it. You got to make sure when you say it they feel that they're a part of that rhyme.'"Courtesy MC Sha-Rock

MC Sha-Rock, second from left, is pictured in 1982.At the time, cassettes tapes and flyers were a form of communication. This is how music was shared and how people found out where the next party was going to be.In 1977, Green came across a flyer posted at her high school that was a call out for auditions for an MC for The Brothers Disco, a new music group that was forming.

After convincing her mother to let her audition, Green started writing and practicing her rhymes and when she arrived at the basement where the audition would take place, she was ready for battle."I practiced the rhyme, I rehearsed the rhyme, I said the rhyme all over again, so by the time I got to that audition, I was comfortable with the rhyme and my deliverance would beat out anybody," she said.

Michael Loccisano/Getty Images, FILEIn this July 11, 2016 file photo MC Sha-Rock is seen at David Geffen Hall in New York City.Green was selected as a member of the group that would eventually be named The Funky 4 + 1 or"the Funky 4 + 1 More." Along with MC Sha-Rock, the group was composed of Jazzy Jeff, D.J. Breakout, Guy Williams, Keith Keith, The Voice of K.K. and Rodney Stone.

The group would go on to make history by becoming the first hip-hop group to land a record deal.Making hip-hop mainstreamIn 1981, while the group was on its first major tour, they got a call from Deborah Harry, the lead vocalist for the band Blondie, who was set to host"Saturday Night Live."

The rockstar invited the group to perform on"SNL" on Feb. 14, 1981, where she introduced them to America as some of"the best street rappers in the country."With MC Sha-Rock at the center, theytheir hit song"That's the Joint," becoming the first hip-hop group ever to appear on national television.

Al Levine/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images, FILEFunky 4 + 1 More during the musical performance, Feb. 14, 1981, on Saturday Night Live."Once we did 'Saturday Night Live,' we're in our dressing rooms and they've given us top treatment. It's the first time that hip-hop is being televised on national television by young teenagers," she said, adding that she did not realize how historic this moment was until years later.

Jay-Z reflected on the moment hip-hop broke through the mainstream and how watching the Funky 4+1 More's"SNL" performance as a child was a defining moment in his life."By the time the eighties came along, rap was exploding, and I remember the mainstream breakthroughs like they were my own rites of passage," Jay-Z

wrotein his 2011 book,"Decoded.""In 1981, the summer before seventh grade, the Funky Four Plus One More performed 'That's the Joint' on Saturday Night Live and the Rock Steady Crew got on ABC Nightly News for battling the Dynamic Rockers at Lincoln Center in a legendary showdown of b-boy dance crews. My parents watched Soul Train every Saturday when we cleaned up, but when my big sister Annie and I saw Don Cornelius introduce the Sugar Hill Gang, we just stopped in the middle of the living room with our jaws open. What are they doing on TV?"

Monica Schipper/Getty Images, FILE

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Wasn't she in the funky4 plus 1 more? 'It's the joint'