Blondie’s career is full of lofty achievements and accolades, but one thing that will likely continue to evade them is a Nobel Peace Prize for bringing an end to racial tensions. However, they did give it their best shot.
Naturally, Blondie wanted to tear up the status quo and create a brighter, more progressive world. Even to this day, they constantly look forward, but when they erupted into the scene, it was clear that a changing of the seasons was in the air as new-wave took over and didn’t fit into one specific box.
Genre fluid artists are a commonality today thanks to the advent of streaming, with people’s tastes becoming more diverse than ever as a result. In a way, new-wave bands were the beginning of this trend, and musicians from the scene weren’t defiantly loyal to just one sound, with Blondie going the extra mile when they made the foray into hip-hop.
Before its release in 1981, rap was a minute sub-culture foreign to most people. While there had been artists like Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa and Kurtis Blow, it was far from penetrating the mainstream.
Admittedly, Debbie Harry is hardly Jay-Z, and the track features the cringe-inducing line, “Man from Mars eating cars”— nevertheless, ‘Rapture’ was a defining moment that helped hip-hop reach the masses.
Furthermore, Blondie wanted the track to do more than that and help draw a line under racial tensions. They saw music as the way to bring people together by fusing cultures, and it remains a source of pride for the group. Speaking about the song to Entertainment Weekly, Harry commented: “A lot of rappers have told me over the years that that was the first rap song that they ever heard because rap really wasn’t on the radio in the beginning.”
“The most impressive was the Wu-Tang guys and the guys from Mobb Deep, they told us it was the first rap song they heard when they were kids,” guitarist Chris Stein added. The band’s founding member then discussed how the track opened doors for him as the hip-hop community welcomed him with open arms, stating: “It was so exciting to see this whole other world that was going on at the same time as what was going on downtown in New York, even though we were only vaguely aware of it,” Stein added. “It took a while for all that stuff to start coming together later on. It’s ironic what’s happened to New York now, especially in comparison to what was going on back then.”
Additionally, he even told Biography about the societal importance of ‘Rapture’ in his eyes. “We wanted to make music that would cross over. I would like to see the record resolve racial tensions by bringing different audiences together,” he said. “When the new wave kids and the rapper kids get together, that’ll be something,” Stein continued. “Eventually, they’ll all meet in the middle, where you’ll have a strong race of young people that won’t be divided by stupid racial issues.”
Truthfully, it does seem a silly notion to say that music has the power to change the world and end racial tensions for good when there are societal structures in place that need tearing down for real change to happen. However, it can possess the ability to change the average man’s opinions on the street.
Culturally, it was a groundbreaking moment to see one of the biggest bands in America recognise what the underground hip-hop platform were doing and attempt to give them their seal of approval. Even though they were naive, Blondie’s intentions for the track were pure, and ‘Rapture’ still stands the test of time despite not defeating racism as they hoped.