Afrika Bambaataa reading about Queen Latifah Hip-Hop: A Cultural Odyssey book logo, (Aria Multimedia Entertainment)

The recently released luxury coffee table book “Hip-Hop: A Cultural Odyssey,” highlights 40 rap acts who are deemed “Game Changers,” artists whose impact changed the genre and pushed it forward.

Jordan Sommers, the Editor in Chief of “Hip-Hop: A Cultural Odyssey,” gives his take on five of the book’s 40 “Game Changers.”

Native Tongues

To me, the Native Tongues represented family. At the height of the so-called Golden Era, in the summer of ’88 you had Slick Rick, Stetsasonic, Public Enemy, 12 inches by N.W.A and Eazy-E. You had the Jungle Brothers and De La Soul had “Plug Tunin’.” It was a very fertile creative ground where it [the music] hadn’t been taken over by the big record companies yet, where it started to get homogenized. To me, they represented their own style of speak, this really creative, fun, collaborative, family. It was the rap equivalent of a drum circle, almost. Their influence and legacy is insane, if you look at the artists who came after them and were clearly influenced by them. Some of our favorite artists, even today, will tell you straight up that De La, Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest, Black Sheep, Queen Latifah influenced them. People like Common, Mos Def and Cee Lo [Green] have talked about how they’ve influenced them.

Queen Latifah

Aside from being an incredible MC that happened to be female, she was one of the first to expand beyond rhyming and take the culture in new directions, different directions, from the acting to the endorsements to her sitcom. While she doesn’t get the paydays that a Will Smith does, I think it’s fair to say that she had a similar path as far as expanding the horizons of what a hip-hop artist could do beyond rhyming. She was able to parlay being a rhymer into sitcoms, endorsements, outside businesses and turn herself into an icon entrepreneur and an incredible role model, not just for African-American women, but for women in general.


He took production to outer space. He really expanded the vocabulary of a producer. I think he demonstrated that you could take anything, any sound – and he heard sounds that no one else seemed to hear – from crickets to a baby ga-gaing to probably a fart -- and make it sound incredible and natural. Dude’s not from this galaxy. He was able to show other producers how to expand and that there was nothing that was off limits or that was not appropriate or that wouldn’t fit. Hip-hop production could mean any sound from anywhere and he could make it hip-hop. He also expanded what hip-hop music meant and means. He expanded the vocabulary of a producer, so to speak.


When he first came on the scene and the impact of “Illmatic,” they were calling him the second coming of Rakim for a reason. Lyrically, he was one of those guys that was just head and shoulders above what else that was out there. He’s just one of those guys that’s just ill. When he first dropped, there were still cassettes and at least in my own personal experience, he made me press rewind a lot because what he was saying was so dense. Either it was something that was incredible that you wanted to hear it again or it was so deep that you wanted to hear it again just to get the full scope of what he was talking about. In an era where it started to become about music and partying and dancing – and there’s nothing wrong with that – he was incredibly lyrical and he brought it back to that.

Will Smith

Will Smith is a guy that started out as a guy who was almost in danger of being the novelty rapper with “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” But look at his accomplishments. If you google the guy, forget the billion dollar box office, the awards for “Fela” on Broadway that he did with Jay-Z, the fact that this guy was just a humble rapper from Philadelphia and is now the No. 1 movie star in the world. If that’s not an inspiration to hip-hop heads out there [I don’t know what would be]. Any boundary, barrier or stumbling block put on hip-hop as an artist, he broke through that like it was nothing and just said, “Look, I’m capable of accomplishing anything.” 

For more information on “Hip-Hop: A Cultural Odyssey,” check out

Follow Soren Baker on Twitter: @SorenBaker



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