Who Was the First Rapper Signed to a Major Label?

Do you wonder who was the first rapper to be signed to a major label? If so, you aren’t alone. But, I’ve done the research for you!

Even those not familiar with the genre can recognize that hip-hop and rap have changed. Hip-hop and rap hits before 2005 can be easily distinguished from those from the past decade, and the music of rappers who got into the game within the last decade is very different from that of rappers of the 1990s.

But who paved the way for all the amazing rappers that have been signed today? Who was the first rapper signed to a major label? Today we find out! 

Who Was the First Rapper Signed to a Major Label?

Who Was the First Rapper Signed to a Major Label?

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The first rapper signed to a major label was Kurtis Blow. He was signed to Mercury at the tender age of twenty, with the release of “Christmas Rappin”. One of the first pop singles to sell over 400,000 copies, it became a commercial success.

After his appearance on Soul Train in October 1980, he became the first rapper to appear and perform on national television.

In addition to working with Whitney Houston, New Edition, Stephanie Mills, El Debarge, James “JT” Taylor from Kool & the Gang, The Fat Boys, and Run DMC, Windy was regarded as a pioneer in the world of rapping. He also traveled the world to share his music.

Kurtis Blow has a career spanning more than 30 years, which makes him a living legend for young artists.

Who is Kurtis Blow?

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Kurtis Walker, better known as Kurtis Blow, was born on August 9, 1959 in Boston, Massachusetts. He is an American singer, rapper, public speaker, producer, song writer, b-boy, DJ, and minister.

A major record label signed him as the first rapper to be commercially successful. His 1981 self-titled debut album features the first gold-certified rap song, “The Breaks”. During his career, he has released 15 albums, and he is also an ordained minister.

A person's greatest achievement in life is to make history. This is something Kurtis Blow learned in elementary school. It's something he ended up doing twice.

He became the first rapper to sign a major label deal when he signed with Mercury Records in 1979. The album's lead track, “The Breaks,” went platinum the year after its release. It became the first gold rap single.

Does Kurtis Blow Have Any Famous Collaborations?

Absolutely! Some of the most notable being Run DMC, Bob Dylan, The Fat Boys, and Wyclef Jean. 

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday, he helped coordinate “King Holiday”, a song with Dexter Scott King.  Among the artists featured on Mercury/Polygram's single produced by Kurtis Blow are New Edition, Whitney Houston, Stephanie Mills, James “JT” Taylor of Kool & the Gang, The Fat Boys, and El Debarge. The annual Holiday Classic is now a tradition.

Along with his own work, Kurtis is also credited with Rap hits by The Fat Boys and Run DMC.  Among those who have worked with Kurtis Blow in the past are Love Bug Starski, Sweet Gee, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Full Force, Russell Simmons, and Wyclef Jean.  Kurtis Blow also gifted Rene & Angela's chart topping debut “Save Your Love for #1” to them.

What Hits Did He Have In His Early Career?

Kurtis Blow released ten albums between 1979 and 1990. His first album was self-titled (Kurtis Blow), and Deuce was his second Top 40 pop album. He also had a rap and go-go combo album called Party Time. Among the hits from Ego Trip were “8 Million Stories”, “AJ Scratch”, and “Basketball”.

In 1985, his album America was praised for its title track music video. Billboard's R&B chart placed “If I Ruled the World” among the Top 5 hits from this album. He transitioned into production in 1983.

Kurtis has also created hits for The Fat Boys and Run DMC. Run was billed as the ‘Son of Kurtis Blow' when he began his career. Walker produced or collaborated with Lovebug Starski, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Full Force, Russell Simmons, and Wyclef Jean, among others.

Kurtis gift rapped the R&B chart-topping debut by past label mates Angela & René, “Save Your Love (For #1).” The song was produced by Walker along with Phillip Jones and Dexter Scott King, and it commemorates Martin Luther King Jr. Day, an American holiday established in 1986.

What Were Achievements In His Later Years?

At the Rock-N-Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, Kurtis Blow was featured in a Hip Hop exhibit.  It still stands today.  For the background track of the #1 pop song “Too Close,” Next sampled the music of “Christmas Rap” in 1998.  

In 1998, “Too Close” held the #1 position for Billboard's Pop Chart for the longest period of time.  Blow and Next were honored by ASCAP at a gala event on May 26, 1999. After 9/11, Kurtis toured the Armed Forces Bases in the Middle East for 17 shows so troops stationed there could experience a little bit of home. The tour included shows in Oman, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait and Pakistan.

Having legitimized Hip Hop, Kurtis Blow now plans to help redeem it.  As a result of Kurtis' deep commitment to Jesus Christ, he has been able to successfully complete classes at NYACK College in Ministry.  In addition to founding the Hip Hop Church, Kurtis serves as a rapper, DJ, and worship leader, and is now a licensed minister.  

Around the world, there are various Hip Hop churches, and Kurtis has a connection to a number of them.  Kurtis, who was ordained as a Minister of the Gospels of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ on August 16th 2009, says that God has always existed and that Hip Hop can bring these young people back to church.

Is Kurtis Blow Still Rapping Today?

Kurtis continues to wow crowds around the world, with a recent tour in fall 2016. Additionally, he has produced television shows and movies. Recent projects include producing The Get Down for Netflix and visiting his VICELAND friends for The Untitled Action Bronson Show.

He shares his knowledge of the game today. Recently, he gave a TED talk and spoke at some of the country's top music and arts Universities. 


The first rapper signed to a major label was Kurtis Blow. He was signed to Mercury at the tender age of twenty, with the release of “Christmas Rappin” which sold over 400,000 copies.





About Author

Arielle P

Arielle P

Songwriter | Music Producer | Engineer.

With a background in music production and a strong passion for education, Arielle is dedicated to helping emerging artists navigate the music industry. She has worked with a diverse range of artists, from indie rock bands to well-known hip-hop and grime artists. Arielle's unique approach to teaching focuses on empowering artists to take control of their brand, ensuring they retain creative ownership throughout their journey. In her free time, she enjoys experimenting with new sounds in her home studio and sharing her insights through music production tutorials and workshops.

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