MTV has a complicated history with hip-hop. ‘90s babies like myself may look back on the channel fondly for taking us inside our favorite rappers' cribs and playing Eminem and 50 Cent videos all day (ya’know, when they actually played videos—word to Kanye), but there was a time when MTV didn’t want anything to do with hip-hop. Or Black music in general. Just ask Rick James.
It was only in 1988—almost a decade after hip-hop had introduced itself to the mainstream through The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”—that MTV properly acknowledged rap music with the launch of Yo! MTV Raps. The show, which put legends like Run-DMC, Rakim and Ice-T on the small screen, enjoyed an influential run until 1995, at which point hip-hop was here to stay.
So, it’s fair to say A$AP Rocky’s recent appointment as Creative Director of MTV Labs is pretty special. We’re still not entirely sure what to expect from this new partnership, though according to Variety, the role will see Rocky “devise original concepts, experiment with programming...and develop content for advertisers” on behalf of MTV. It sounds like there will be a focus on shorter, snappier video content, too.
But as MTV begins to up the promotion of MTV Labs, one thing’s becoming clear: A$AP Rocky is putting hip-hop’s new stars on TV.
In a recent teaser clip posted on Rocky’s Instagram, Lil Uzi Vert appears in a colorful cartoon promo that brings back memories of the channel’s classic “I Want My MTV” campaign—which featured the likes of David Bowie and The Police—into the new millennium. “This is Lil Uzi Vert, yeah, and I want my MTV Labs,” the Philly rapper says while swimming around in a pool of red liquid.
There are also similar promos featuring YG, Lil Yachty, Chief Keef, Key! and Father—all artists who wouldn’t otherwise get airtime from MTV. Sure, being on TV isn’t as crucial to success as it once was, and who knows whether these guys will actually be featured in future content, or are just being milked for “cool points” to promote a new brand.
But like Ted Demme and Peter Dougherty did with Yo! MTV Raps almost 30 years ago, A$AP Rocky is working behind the scenes to put hip-hop’s new wave on TV.