When old-school hip-hop began, Billboard wasn’t late to class. With the July 1, 1978, article “B-Beats Bombarding Bronx,” former Billboard staffer Robert “Rocky” Ford Jr. — who died May 19, 2020 at age 70 — became the first journalist to write about the genre for a mainstream publication. “He’d heard there was something going on in the Bronx and wanted to learn more about it,” recalls his widow, Linda Medley. “He appreciated what this music meant to the Black community, and he could see it growing in popularity.”

Although Ford soon left Billboard to become a music producer, reporting on music was “his dream job in a lot of ways,” she says, noting he could write with authority and passion on everything from jazz to disco to Latin to country. And he was fully aware of the historic role he played in rap (and Billboard) history. “It seemed either fated or luck,” she says. “He was proud to put that on his resume.”

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