Photo: Krists Luhaers

The Grammys Celebrates Hip Hop’s 50th Anniversary

In a 14-minute performance, loaded with luminaries from the music genre’s past and present, the Grammy Awards celebrated the 50th anniversary of hip-hop on Sunday night (2.05.)

More than 20 of hip-hop’s biggest artists took their turns in the arena for an over-the-top cross-generational hip-hop medley that was one of the highlights of the 65th awards ceremony. Music Industry professionals and fans in attendance (like Jay-Z, Taylor Swift, Lizzo, Jennifer Lopez), were mesmerized by the genre-specific pioneers and rising stars who showcased their skillz side-by-side during “music’s biggest night.” Never before have the likes of Public Enemy shared the stage with Lil Baby, or Grandmaster Flash gig in the same room as GloRilla. Curated by The Roots’ Questlove the five-decade anniversary was done with magnificent taste and multi-generational appeal.

The complete list of artists who appeared on stage during the hip-hop tribute included:

Black Thought: Black Thought, who co-founded The Roots with Questlove in 1987, introduced the performance medley with rhymes about how hip-hop debuted 50 years ago “and took the world by storm.”

Grandmaster Flash: Credited with pioneering crossfades, Grandmaster Flash set the tone of early Eighties hip-hop. Considered hip-hop’s most important DJ, he performed two of his early hits, 1979’s “Flash to the Beat” (with MCs Melle Mel and Scorpio) and 1982’s “The Message” (with MCs Rahiem and Barshon), both tracks that served as blueprints for the next four decades of rap.

Run-DMC: Run-DMC catapulted to fame thanks to heavy MTV play of tracks like 1985’s “King of Rock,” which the trio’s two surviving members, MCs Run and DMC, showcased triumphantly at the Grammys.

LL Cool J: After the Beastie Boys and producer Rick Rubin championed LL Cool J as a teenager, the perennially Kangol-wearing MC quickly became one of the Eighties’ deftest lyricists and continued his reign decade after decade. At the Grammys, he performed his 1985 breakthrough hit, “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” (which he cowrote with Rubin), and 1986’s “Rock the Bells” with an assist from the perennially underrated DJ Jazzy Jeff.

Salt-n-Pepa: MCs Cheryl James and Sandra Denton reunited as Salt-N-Pepa for a performance of “My Mic Sounds Nice,” from their 1986 debut Hot, Cool, & Vicious. It became the first gold, then platinum album by women who rap.

Rakim: Rakim rapped his first single with DJ Eric B, “Eric B Is President.” The hip-hop duo is often revered as one of music’s greatest as leaders of the genre’s Golden Era. 

Public Enemy: Hip-hop’s original rebels, Public Enemy, comprised of rapper Chuck D and hype man Flavor Fav, soundtracked Black discontent with vigor, particularly with their second album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. “Rebel Without a Pause” was the first single from it.

De La Soul : The rap trio whose jazz-infused work came to define underground hip-hop, performed the song “Buddy” at the Grammys.

Scarface: The member of the legendary Houston hip-hop group the Geto Boys performed “My Mind’s Playing Tricks On Me” on the biggest stage in music.

Ice – T: The gangsta rap icon, who gained both underground and mainstream success, got the crowd excited when he launched into “New Jack Hustler (Nino’s Theme),” the 1991 hit that was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance.

Queen Latifah: The rap pioneer who paved the way for women in hip-hop stunned the audience as she performed “U.N.I.T.Y.,” the 1993 hit single with a potent message about uplifting and protecting Black women. 

Method Man: “M.E.T.H.O.D. Man” from the Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter The 36 Chambers album made Method Man the first breakout solo star from the Staten Island group. “I’ll Be There for You/You’re All I Need to Get By” with Mary J. Blige (and his later work with Redman) helped push him further into fame, and he’s since become a movie and TV star, too.

Big Boi:  One-half of Atlanta’s legendary Outkast, Big Boi’s rapid-fire flow and memorable wit, which he displayed on the Grammys stage during a solo performance of “ATLiens,” offset Andre 3000 to legendary effect on seminal albums such as Stankonia and Aquemini.

Busta Rhymes: The New York rapper started out as the star of Leaders Of The New School, then broke out as a soloist with his show-stealing “Scenario” verse. Since then he’s entrenched himself as an imaginative, tongue-twisting lyricist on classics like “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See,” and “Touch It,” with his hypeman Spliff Star by his side the whole time.

Missy Elliott: Missy Elliott is one of hip-hop’s greatest innovators — flipping beats, playing choruses backwards (literally), and taking rap into the club. Rolling Stone ranked her “Miss E … So Addictive” number seven on its list of best rap albums, and “Get Ur Freak On” as the eighth best song of all time. Onstage, she launched into a high-powered medley that included “Get Ur Freak On” and “Lose Control.”

Nelly: The St. Louis rapper put the Midwest on the mainstream map with effortlessly catchy hits like 2000’s “Country Grammar” and “EI.” At the Grammys, he performed his career-defining 2002 smash “Hot in Herre,” produced by the Neptunes and built around a sample of go-go legend Chuck Brown.

Too $hort: One of rap’s raunchiest voices going back to the Eighties, Too $hort made his mark early on with albums like 1988’s Life Is… Too $hort — and kept minting club classics well into the 21st century. “Blow the Whistle,” the song he performed during the hip hop tribute, was a hit in 2006.

Swizz Beatz & The Lox: The Yonkers-born Lox, the trio of Jadakiss, Styles P, and Sheek Louch, are beloved for the gritty lyricism they unleashed on beloved albums such as We Are The Streets, their Ruff Ryders debut buoyed by Swizz Beatz’ surging production. All three men have since embarked on solo careers, with Jadakiss becoming “Mr. Verzuz,” and took the stage to show off the best of their skills.

Lil Baby: Since dropping Perfect Timing in 2017, the young rapper has been on what feels like a prolonged run, with songs like “Freestyle,” “Bigger Picture ” and “Drip Too Hard” (with Gunna) showing off his mesh of catchy melody, dexterous lyricism, and grim depictions of the Atlanta streets.

Lil Uzi Vert: Even by hip-hop’s bold standards, the boundary-pushing Lil Uzi Vert feels like an outlier. Songs like “XO Tour Llif3,” “The Way Life Goes,” and now “Just Wanna Rock” have made the Philadelphia (or Mars) native a Gen Z favorite.

GloRilla: The rapper, who skyrocketed out of Memphis, took the hip-hop world by storm since she released her viral megahit “F.N.F (Let’s Go).” Team-ups with rap heavyweights like Cardi B and Moneybagg Yo quickly followed, and less than a year after her first major release, she’s center stage at the Grammys.

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Author: Al Denté

Photo: Krists Luhaers