The Grammys’ 50th Hip-Hop Anniversary Celebration an Attempt to Rectify Rocky Past
By Daniel Paiz
There’s no secret the Grammys are largely out of touch with Hip-Hop and music in general. The Grammy’s 50th Hip-Hop Anniversary Celebration was an attempt to rectify their rocky past with the globally popular genre. There’s not one singular event or act that can make up for all the snubs and missed opportunities. However, Sunday night, February 5th, 2023, was a step in the right direction for the Grammys.
There’s not really a whole lot more the academy could have done in one night, as three of the biggest performances of the night were Hip-Hop or Hip-Hop related. First, Mr. Puerto Rico himself set the tone for the night as Bad Bunny opened the Grammys; a quick PSA that Reggaeton might not be considered part of Hip-Hop initially, but it’s undoubtedly linked. Going out of order to last there was Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, DJ Khaled, John Legend and more closing the show with an eight-minute epic rendition of “God Did”. To sandwich popular music with two big numbers from the same genre was unexpected; to unpack Questlove’s musical montage curation requires several deep breaths and wiping away some tears of joy.
Quick Recap of the 50th Hip-Hop Anniversary
There were so many performers that rocked the mic and represented different regions, different sounds, and different eras. If you are a Hip-Hop fan and you did NOT yet watch that performance, watch it right here, right now:
This is the only full video of the performance that’s been uncovered after some extensive searching. This is likely due to Viacom/CBS flagging everything online from the performance (another unnecessary slip-up, as even the Grammys website only has clips and not the whole thing). For a brief glimpse of the intro, click here. The energy was unbelievable when starting out with Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. The performance then transitioned to Run DMC, Salt N Pepa, Rakim, Public Enemy and more. There was a bit of a drop-off in energy when Lil Baby and GloRilla wrapped things up, but that’s more so due to the gap in years from the mid-2000s or so to the late 2010s.
Online backlash for who wasn’t involved was pretty quick to surface. But, there’s something important to remember for why you didn’t see every member of Geto Boys or some other memorable acts: everyone that you saw agreed to do it, and those absent turned down an invitation. Questlove details why you didn’t see everyone you wanted to Sunday night:
Questlove did his best to curate 50 years into less than 15 minutes of magic; the final result spoke volumes about how varied and different the history of the culture is. For the Grammys, they are still doing the knowledge and making up for past mishaps.
The Grammys have a history of undervaluing Hip Hop
There are a number of events or topics that come to mind when taking another trip down memory lane and observing what Hip-Hop has missed out on. 1988 resonates due the Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff (and others) boycotting the Grammys because, despite the creation of a Rap category (Best Rap Performance), its inaugural year it was relegated to the preshow ceremony. Kool Moe Dee that same year attended and let the world know Rap wasn’t a fad. Since then, there hasn’t been a lot of change.
There’s the fact that it’s been since OutKast won Album of the Year for Speakerboxxx/The Love Below that a Hip-Hop artist has won that same award (for reference, that amazing double album arrived on the scene in 2003). There’s also the fact that TWO Hip-Hop artists have won Album of the Year: Lauryn Hill, and OutKast. That is it. Kendrick Lamar has been nominated multiple times for this award and never won. To be fair, in the 2023 iteration, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers was unlikely to edge out Beyonce, Lizzo, or Adele for Album of the Year (yet somehow Harry Styles won? okay…). Speaking of Grammy snubs, it’s time to bring up Public Enemy and Nas.
Public Enemy has been nominated six times, mainly during the height of their career from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s. In 1990, one of Hip-Hop’s biggest tracks in its 50-year history, “Fight The Power”, was nominated for Best Rap Performance. It is very fitting that the anthem didn’t win, because that just adds another layer of luster to such an iconic song. However, one of Rap’s biggest acts of all time seems like it would’ve won at least one award. Alas, it was not meant to be.
That same fate almost befell Nas as well. That Queens emcee who made you look, knew that you could, and made a name for himself at a BBQ was nominated SIXTEEN times. Awarding a Grammy for Rap Album of the Year to Nas for King’s Disease II felt more like a correction of past misses than a celebration of that project. To be fair, KD II was a very good album, but it’s the third best album in the KD series.
Hip Hop categories still aren’t being televised during the broadcasted awards portion, other than Rap Album of the Year. This year’s awards show was an exception to the rule, and the question remains if this will be the new normal. If it is, hopefully that translates to winning general categories more than once every quarter of a century.
Steps for Further Growth
There are a number of ways to change things after this big performance. The voters have to come from a diversified group of people in terms of selecting candidates who make the music. Add in voters from different generations, who don’t other the music and culture. Add in people who are open to more than just who sells or streams the most. When people with mindsets similar to these bullet points are voting, then Hip-Hop might have a better opportunity.
Winning awards isn’t the main problem, it’s the lack of respect and the lack of understanding that this genre and this culture have left a global imprint. That imprint continues to grow today, with acts coming out of South Korea, Puerto Rico, Nigeria—name a part of the world and somebody is emulating Hip-Hop there in some capacity. Hip-Hop will continue to grow, evolve, and thrive like it has the past 50 years; the Grammys have to decide if they’re going to follow Hip-Hop’s example.