Who was the first rapper to headline Glastonbury Festival?

28 June 2019, 18:50 | Updated: 16 January 2020, 11:45

Who was the first rapper to headline Glastonbury Festival?
Who was the first rapper to headline Glastonbury Festival? Picture: Getty Images/Mike Marsland/WireImage

As Stormzy becomes the first black British rapper and solo artist to headline Glastonbury, we look back at the first ever rapper to top the Pyramid Stage.

By Jenny Mensah

Glastonbury 2019 took place his weekend, with Stormzy headlining the Friday night of the festival, while The Killers top the bill on the Pyramid Stage on the Saturday and The Cure bring it to a close on the Sunday.

Stormzy - whose real name is Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr - made history by becoming the first black British rapper and solo artist to top the Somerset Festival's famous Pyramid Stage.

But who was the first ever rapper to headline Glastonbury and why was his performance so important?

READ MORE: Get the Glastonbury stage times and line-up here

Find out here...

Who was the first rapper to headline Glastonbury Festival?

Back in 2008, Glastonbury organisers shocked music fans and festival-goers when they announced Jay-Z would be headlining the Saturday night of the festival.

Sandwiched in-between Kings of Leon on the Friday night of the festival and The Verve on the Sunday night, the American rapper stuck out like a sore thumb on the main stage line-up that year, which largely housed rock and guitar-based bands.

Jay-Z in 2008
Jay-Z in 2008. Picture: Photo Jeff Fusco/Getty Images

What was the reaction to the news?

In 2008 Jay-Z, who's real name is Shawn Corey Carter, was at the top of his game.

He had already released 10 studio albums, had collaborated with everyone from Mariah Carey to Linkin' Park, and he was widely considered one of the best rappers of all time.

Plus, he was one half of the most powerful music couple in America - married to none other than Beyonce Knowles, who would go on to headline the festival in 2011.

But the fact that rap (and US rap at that) was about to take centre stage at a largely alternative music festival wasn't lost on music critics and fans alike.

The overall reaction was one of shock and confusion, and - while not everyone was totally against the idea - some voices were louder than others...

Enter Noel Gallagher: The most opinionated rock star on the planet. The Oasis guitarist and songwriter had something to say about Jay-Z and as you can imagine it wasn't good.

Noel Gallagher
Noel Gallagher. Picture: Press

As reported by the likes of The Independent at the time, when hearing that the American rapper would headline the festival in 2008, Gallagher famously told BBC News "Glastonbury has a tradition of guitar music and even when they throw the odd curve ball in on a Sunday night you go 'Kylie Minogue?’ I don't know about it.

"But I'm not having hip-hop at Glastonbury. It's wrong."

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," Gallagher said of the festival's formula and his predications for its success in the future. "If you start to break it then people aren't going to go. I'm sorry, but Jay-Z? No chance."

Gallagher's comments spread across the pond and made its way into rap and hip-hop outlets as well as in the mainstream media.

The entertainment world was primed to see how Jay-Z's performance would go down, with many envisioning light crowds at the Pyramid Stage or Jay-Z even being booed off stage.

But no one was prepared for what actually happened on the night of his performance on Saturday 28 June 2008.

What happened during Jay-Z's performance?

After much hype and speculation, Jay-Z began his set by playing out Gallagher's comments, and the famous riff to Wonderwall.

The Brooklyn rapper then appeared holding a guitar and singing the Britpop anthem to an ecstatic Glasto crowd.

After singing the famous 1995 track, the Glasto crowd erupted into cheers and began to chant his name before he launched into his famous 99 problems single.

See the moment below:

Jay-Z went on to play a 29-song-set, which included the likes of Dirt off Your Shoulder, Hard Knock Life, Girls, Girls, Girls, Big Pimpin' and ended with his Linkin Park collab Encore.

Ever the crowd pleaser, Jay-Z's energetic set also made nods to some of the popular artists at the time, such as Amy Winehouse and The Prodigy, as well as acts who he worked with such as Rihanna.

See Jay-Z's Glastonbury 2008 setlist below:

1. Wonderwall (Oasis cover)

2. 99 Problems (AC/DC, Back in Black, instrumental)

3. Is That Yo Bitch (The Prodigy, Firestarter, instrumental)

4. Smack My Bitch Up (The Prodigy cover)

5. Rehab (Amy Winehouse cover)

6. Takeover

7. U Don't Know

8. Say Hello

9. Roc Boys (And the Winner Is ...)

10. I Know

11. A Billi

12. Blue Magic

13. Public Service Announcement

14. Dirt off Your Shoulder (Linkin' Park instrumental)

15. N***a What, N***a Who (Originator 99)

16. Izzo (H.O.V.A.)

17. Can I Get A...

18. Mundian to Bach Ke (Beware of the Boys) (Panjabi MC cover)

19.I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)

20. Show Me What You Got

21. Excuse Me Miss

22. Song Cry

23. Girls, Girls, Girls

24. American Boy (Estelle cover)

25. Umbrella (Rihanna cover)

26. Big Pimpin'

27. Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)

28. Heart of the City (Ain't No Love) (U2, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Instrumental)

29. Encore (Linkin Park instrumental)

What was the legacy of Jay-Z's headline performance at Glastonbury 2008?

Jay-Z's set went down as one of the most memorable Glastonbury performances in recent years.

The rapper managed to win the crowd over by paying tribute with one of the most famous songs in British history, while silencing his most vocal and famous critic.

In one fail swoop the New York rapper proved he had not only the wit and the charm to impress British crowds at the Pyramid Stage, but that rappers could pull off memorable and electrifying performances at a traditionally guitar-based festival.

Most importantly, Jay-Z's performance arguably went on to change how we see British festivals today.

His set became the framework for how to play a Glastonbury or festival headline set, and led to more bookings of rap and hip-hop acts at festivals on the whole.

He also paved the way for more mainstream artists to take to the main stage, ushering in headline sets at the festival from his wife Beyonce (2011), Kanye West (2015) and Adele (2016).

And undoubtedly, Stormzy - the first black British rapper to headline Glastonbury - knows he owes a debt of gratitude to Jay-Z, who forever changed our ideas about the kind of artist who could feature on the top slot at the Pyramid Stage.

While he was teasing his own performance last year, Stormzy even shared an Instagram story which paraphrased Gallagher's old quote, thus suggesting he's well aware of who came before him.

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