Blondie's 'Rapture:' The New Wave Goes Hip Hop, Meaning And Lyrics
By | March 26, 2021
The first rap song to go to #1 on the Billboard pop chart? That would be "Rapture" by Blondie, from 1981, featuring the fresh rhymes of Debbie Harry. The song hasn't aged well, and neither has the look -- of an already-successful white artist crafting a pop hit with her version of an urban black genre of music. But before we go down that path of analysis, let's remember something: that in 1981, Debbie Harry was just about the coolest person in the most interesting music scene of the Groovy era. She wasn't exactly born to rap, but she and her band Blondie were eclectic experimenters, drawing inspiration from and giving it back to the musical eco-system in New York.
Fixtures in the New York City art scene of the late '70s and early '80s, Blondie and Debbie Harry were in rarified air. They could play punk, they could play disco, and they could play funk and it was all cool, it was all Blondie. The band's incredible list of influences is most on display in "Rapture," their last number one single and the very first number on song in the United States to feature rap vocals.
If there's a sound of New York at the beginning of the 1980s it's "Rapture." This mix of disparate genres all jammed together in one six-and-a-half-minute song is a link between the quickly waning disco era and the emergent sound of hip hop. Blondie definitely released better singles than "Rapture," but it's with this song that they introduced masses of white American listeners to one of the most important art forms of the 20th century.
New York, New York
In the late '70s and early '80s hip hop was something that could be heard on the streets of Brooklyn, the "Boogie Down" Bronx and Queens. Local heroes were spitting bars on street corners and on basketball courts. Years away from the bling and the executive producers dancing all up in the videos, it was a new art form with few rules. At this point aspiring rappers didn't even need two turntables and a microphone.
Artists like Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa were kings of the underground scene who mingled with the art world, but to the world outside of New York City they may as well have been invisible. The Sugarhill Gang scored a major coup when "Rapper's Delight" became the first hip hop song to break the Top 40, but hip hop was still seen as a niche genre, something that would pass in the same way that "Disco Duck" disappeared into the bargain bins of history.
But that's not what happened. Where punk codified a style and an ethos of downtown culture in the '70s, hip hop did the same thing for graffiti artists, dancers, and streets artists in the early '80s. In the same way that the disparate looks and sounds of The Ramones, Talking Heads, and Blondie defined New York punk, so did the electro of Afrika Bambaataa and the frenetic stylings of the Fabulous 5. All of these different cultures and factions were splattered across New York by some kind of Jackson Pollack inspired civil engineer and it took Debbie Harry to bring them together.