On February 5th, 2023 at the 65th annual Grammy awards, in a groundbreaking performance, some of the most profound and influential names in hip hop took to the stage to deliver one of the biggest performances in hip-hop history. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the genre was a monumental moment for both musicians and fans alike. Why? The inaugural class of hip-hop artists who in 1989 boycotted the first Grammy ceremony to include a rap award, due to the fact that it was not being televised.
Adding to the sting, they referred to it as “ghettoizing” at the time. Female hip hop supergroup Salt-N-Pepa stated, Making matters worse, up until 2004 there was no award for best rap song. While the genre of hip hop/ rap has long been established since the 1980’s. To add insult to injury the first award for the best rap song in 2004 at the Grammys was given to Caucasian emcee Eminem for his song “Lose Yourself”. This was seen as a slap in the face to the vast majority of hip hop artists who are black. Therefore this 50th anniversary performance was seen as a full circle moment and a long time coming. “If they don’t want us, we don’t want them,” regarding the boycott back in 1989.
The Night Of The Hip-Hop Tribute
On the night of the hip hop tribute, a number of the performing artists had quite a bit to say regarding the long overdue acknowledgment of the genre and creatives that have built it and kept it around. Rapper turned TV star Ice-T said on the red carpet, “The Grammys didn’t even respect hip-hop for so long, and now to be here, to be honored like this, we’ll take it, absolutely,” to People correspondents Jeremy Parsons and Janine Rubenstein. “It’s only right,” Queen Latifah told Cox and E! on the red carpet before joining the performance. “We had to fight to get on the Grammys quite a long time ago, and so it’s great to be here to celebrate this in front of the entire world with people who were my mentors.”
How It Came Together
Back in December of 2022 The recording academy approached QuestLove about helping to right a long standing wrong. The legendary drummer, DJ, producer, culinary entrepreneur, designer, New York Times best-selling author and member of The Roots was the one who asked to fit 50 years of rap history into 15 minutes. On the Grammys red carpet he described it as a "family reunion." According to The New York Times, “for once, the awards show gave the genre a fitting spotlight.”
According to QuestLove he knew, “It was a lot of mountains to move to make this happen.” Mainly because, “It took a lot of cajoling for this particular generation to come to a function that has systematically treated them as stepchildren,” he said. He further explained, “I understand the historical significance of it, but you’ve got to understand that there is a new generation that has a seat at the table. Our job is to make it right. I know this reeks of a lot of overcompensatory acts, but just trust me, the old guard is gone and the new guard is the establishing guard. What should’ve been due to you 35 or 40 years ago is coming to light now.”
The Performances: Chapters One Two and Three
The Grammys performance itself was divided into chapters. Beginning with the start of hip hop in the 1980’s telling the story up to this point in time. The entire performance started with an introduction from LL COOL J . The star acknowledged all those not featured on the telecast. He said, “We wish we could have included every single hip-hop artist from 1973 to 2023 — I know, I know, I know,” as an attempt to get ahead of any criticisms based on the set list. From there the performance began. With narration from legendary frontman for the roots, Black Thought. The performance opened with 80’s great Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and the hit, “The Message”. Which seamlessly transitioned into a short yet memorable performance by the forever legendary Run DMC.
Followed by a remixed rendition of “Rock the Bells” by announcer LL Cool J and scratched by the incredible Dj Jazzy Jeff himself. Will Smith was asked to attend and originally was scheduled. But, there was a scheduling conflict with “Bad Boys 4”. Immediately following LL Cool J’s performance, Salt - N-Pepa came out performing their hit, “My Mic Sounds Nice''. Rakim followed up with his verse from the legendary hit, “Eric B. is President”. Chuck D and Flavor Flav slid in next with the 1988 classic, “Rebel Without a Pause”.
To begin the second chapter there was a short intermission of sorts with LL Cool J and Black Thought narrating the short interlude. Upon the beginning of the short second act of the tribute, there was a brief performance by one of the members of De La Soul. He performed his verse of the classic track, “Buddy”. What followed were performances by Scarface, who performed a verse from “My Mind is Playing Tricks On Me”.
The Second Chapter Of The Performance
The second chapter concluded with Ice-T rapping, “New Jack Hustler (Nino’s Theme). The transition from 80’s to 90’s hip hop continued on with performances by Queen Latifah. She performed, “U.N.I.T.Y. Then, Method Man performed his self titled hit, “M-E-T-H-O-D Man”. Immediately after Method man concluded his set, one half of the iconic southern hip hop duo Outkast, Big Boi, performed “ATLiens”. Hip hop heavyweight Busta Rhymes followed up by performing not one but two of his hits. He performed the 90’s hit “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See”. Also, he performed his verse the early 2000’s hit,“Look at Me Now”.
The second chapter was concluded by the one and only Missy Elliott. She took to the stage to perform the dance classic “Lose Control”. The Third and final chapter of the performances were narrated by Queen Latifah herself. The performances that followed were by heavy hitters of the most recent generation of hip hop stars. Closing out the early 2000’s era there were performances by Nelly & City Spud’s performance of the hit “Hot in Herre ''.
Followed up by Too Short’s track, “Blow the Whistle '' and then ending the era with a track that summed up a generation; Swizz Beatz & the Lox’s “We Gonna Make It”. The final performances were all newcomers to the hip hop scene. Rapper Lil Baby came out to perform, “Freestyle”. Female emcee GloRilla performed her hit “ F.N.F (Let’s Go)”. Philly rapper Lil Uzi Vert closed out the epic celebration by performing the party anthem “Just Wanna Rock''.
Hip Hop Is Here to Stay
The conclusion of the epic 15 minute history lesson left attendees and viewers raving about the Grammys performances. Viewers took to social media as soon as the telecast ended. Some comments caught by tweeters said things such as, 'This hands down the is THE best motherf***ing #grammys show to Air!!! Hip-hop cultureeeee winning.' according to tweeter @sheisTylerV. @hinadira tweeted, 'Hip-hop has literally impacted so much. Respect these artists and all of the pioneers. Y'all changed the world forreal.’
A writer for the New York Times who wrote a column on the 50th anniversary of the genre stated, “...the sound came from a people whose voices could never be silenced,”. Granderson continued, “This is why Black music is described as having an ‘uncapturable spirit’ . Hip-hop may be 50, but its lineage stretches back much further.” That Grammys tribute proved and meant a lot to a lot of people. Public Enemy hype man Flavor Flav said on the red carpet prior to the airing of the show, “This is to all those who said hip-hop wouldn’t last!”