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RTB Rewind: MTV Debuts 'Yo! Unplugged Rap' with LL COOL J, MC Lyte, A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul

RTB Rewind: MTV Debuts 'Yo! Unplugged Rap' with LL COOL J, MC Lyte, A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul

Published Mon, May 1, 2023 at 11:50 AM EDT

On May 1, 1991, MTV featured Rap acts on its Unplugged series for the first time.

Previous Unplugged artists include legendary acts such as Elton John, Sting and Paul McCartney, but on what was billed as Yo! Unplugged Raps LL COOL J, MC Lyte, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest inserted Hip-Hop into the already popular series. Rap as a genre was no stranger to live musicianship, as the recordings from the first three or four years contained backing bands who were usually the house bands for the respective labels that released the recordings, but by 1991, rap records were almost completely comprised of samples. The backing band for Yo! Unplugged Raps was called Pops Cool Love and they did a great job of replaying the hits by the selected artists in the 30-minute set.

I said isn't that a show where you see Aerosmith playing? What are we gonna do?

- Posdnous of De La Soul

A Tribe Called Quest set off the show with a live rendition of "Can I Kick It" form their debut People's Instinctive Travels and The Path of Rhythm. At the time, group member Q-Tip described the experience of performing with a live band to MTV.

"It's like if you've been drinking milk for ten years and someone gives you fruit punch," he said. " It's not that the fruit punch is bad, it's just an acquired taste, you gotta get used to it."

De La Soul member Posdnous explained that the group had been wanting to experiment with live music. "A live band is something that we have been wanting to do for awhile," he said. He also said that their current album at the time (De la Soul Is Dead) contained a combination of samples and live instruments.

At the rehearsals we tell the band where we wanted the music to drop, just to jazz it from the original track.

- MC Lyte

MC Lyte performed her hit "Cappuccino" from 1989's Eyes On This and LL COOL J performed a mellow, slowed down version of "Jingling Baby." LL spoke of the transition to live musicians.

"The band is real good, and it wasn't difficult gettin' it together," he said. "I just want to be a part of history and in the long run become a legend, and this will help me achieve my goal."

LL closed his set with a shirtless and energetic rendition of "Mama Said Knock You Out," a performance that is one of the series most celebrated.

De La Soul closed out the show with "Ring, Ring Ring" from De La Soul Is Dead. Yo! Unplugged Raps helped to further MTV's credibility in Hip-Hop, which started with 1988's iconic Yo! MTV Raps.

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