songs that soundtracked the AIDS crisis: boogie down productions “jimmy”

“here is a message to the super hoes”

whew, name a more iconic and sex-positive opening line of a hip-hop song released in 1998 – during the genre’s golden era? well, maybe i am being hyperbolic, but almost every lyric in “jimmy” by the pioneering new york hip-hop group boogie down productions is a foundational text.

music enthusiasts, critics, and historians all agree that the late 1980s was a golden era for hip-hop. artists like public enemy, NWA, eric b. & rakim, and boogie down productions (BDP) were all reshaping the genre’s landscape by utilizing powerful storytelling for social commentary and activism.

composed initially of KRS-one, d nice, and scott la rock, BDP emerged in 1987 with their explosive and critically acclaimed debut album “criminal minded.” the impact of BDP’s hard-hitting style of rap narrated the realities of life in the bronx during the ronald reagan era was immediate. sadly, BDP was dealt a devastating blow in august 1987 when member scott la rock was murdered, just months after the release of the album. he was 25 years old.

by the release of BDP’s sophomore album “by all means necessary” in april 1988, the group’s music had transitioned towards a more socially conscious and political commentary. inspired by Black revolutionary malcolm x’s philosophy of self-determination and empowerment, the album tackled topics ranging from racism, poverty, education, health, and the AIDS crisis.

“cuz now in winter aids attacks
so run out and get your jimmy hats”

written, produced, and performed by KRS-one, “jimmy,” short for “jimmy hat,” was a metaphor for condoms and was revolutionary for its time. amidst the track’s frenetic beats and melodic rhymes, the song delivers a crucial public health message about safer sex, prevention, and the responsibility we all have to protect our health and the health of our communities.

before the 1980s and the emergence of AIDS, condoms were primarily viewed and recommended as a means of preventing pregnancy, with their role in preventing sexually transmitted infections (s) receiving less emphasis. but by the mid-1980s, there was a collective effort by health organizations, activists, media and popular culture to normalize condoms and conversations about safer sex as a form of STI and HIV prevention.

“do me a favor, wear your hat”

while not officially released as a commercial single, “jimmy” was a standout track from the “by all means necessary” album and garnered radio play in the summer of 1988. just a few months after US surgeon general c. everett coop sent 107 million copies of a pamphlet titled understanding AIDS, to every household in the US. this effort remains the most extensive public mailing in history.

boogie down productions’ “jimmy” is a pivotal moment in hip-hop history, demonstrating the genre’s capacity to engage with pressing societal issues. through their innovative approach to music and social commentary, BDP set the tone for artists like bell biv devoe, ice cube, salt n pepa, and TLC to use their platform for advocacy and/or safer sex education.

“jimmy,” with its candid message about safer sex and HIV prevention, served as an essential intervention in 1988, utilizing hip-hop to reach young people. the song remains a powerful reminder of hip-hop’s role in public health awareness and the genre’s enduring impact on pop culture.


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