The Huxtables Meant More to Hip-Hop Than Bill Cosby Ever Could
A little bit of hip-hop and a whole lot of soul
“Jammin’ on the one.”
On an early episode of The Cosby Show, that’s the line Theo Huxtable told Stevie Wonder he’d use at a party. To my young ears, it sounded old and dated — the kind of phrase that would sit in the company of “jive turkey” and “foxy momma.” The episode aired in 1986, before I was born, and more than a decade had passed when the episode first graced my TV screen, but it was an instant favorite. “Jammin’ on the one” and Stevie Wonder singing “I Just Called To Say I Love You” with the Huxtables stuck with me; a little bit of hip-hop and a whole lot of soul.
It wasn’t just that one episode; the Huxtables stuck with me in general. Watching the fictional family on Nick at Nite was like viewing a fantasy, a goal. It was a family that seemed worth mimicking: a doctor father, a lawyer mother, and five Black kids of different shades and personalities. Growing up, The Cosby Show was more than a show; it was a glimpse into the ideal future. A future of fun, a future of family — a future where you could be Black and successful.
The great Questlove was also impacted by the Huxtables’ session with Stevie. He saw more than Black excellence; he saw the magic of sampling. Stevie recorded and sampled Rudy’s strange giraffe noise, Vanessa’s flirtatious “Robert,” Denise’s shy “I don’t know what to say,” Claire’s angelic “la,” Cliff’s “baby,” and Theo’s “jammin on the one.”
In the fourth chapter of his book Mo’ Meta Blues, Questlove cites this episode as the most influential moment in hip-hop history. “Why do I say that this episode changed hip-hop forever? Simple: It was the first time that 99% of us who went on to be hip-hop producers saw what a sampler was,” he writes. “Go look at the episode, you can find it on YouTube or Netflix. At one point Theo says ‘jammin’ on the one,’ and before you knew it, Stevie Wonder had sampled it and inserted it into a ‘song.’ It’s not an exaggeration to say that this episode was the incident that truly sucked me into hip-hop production. It was the first time I saw anything like that, and I’ve surveyed the rest. It was the first time J Dilla saw a sampler. It was the first time Just Blaze saw a sampler. There…