How Questlove Pulled Off the Grammys’ Crowd-Pleasing Hip-Hop Tribute

Will Smith, once dubbed the Fresh Prince, was unstoppable. Lil Wayne and Future dropped out of school at the last minute. Countless other famous rap stars were never even invited, due to time constraints and the inevitable schedule. However, with a decade-long, regionally representative, 15-minute climax on Sunday night, the Grammys did something that has proven to be a struggle. for the show since 1989: It pleases hip-hop fans.

Placing Grandmaster Flash next to GloRilla, LL Cool J with Lil Uzi Vert dancing TikTok and DJ Drama on the same stage as Flavor Flav, the show’s producers celebrated the hip party’s upcoming 50th anniversary- First hop with a matching party. Wide and unwieldy tributes combine deep cuts with pop hits and recognizable icons to overlooked innovators.

Questlove, Roots drummer and rap ambassador for the American mainstream, said: “It took a lot of work to make this happen.

Tapped over Christmas by the Grammys as curator, DJ and connector for the center segment, Questlove, 52, an avid fan above all, understands better than most resentments depth that many hip-hop legends feel towards the Grammys, after years of being aware of. disrespectful.

“It took a lot of coaxing to get this particular generation to function as a stepchild in a systematic way,” he said.

Many artists ended up on stage, including LL Cool J, Salt-N-Pepa and DJ Jazzy Jeff, was even part of the first class of hip-hop artists in 1989 Boycott the first Grammy Awards with a rap awardbecause it wasn’t televised, what they called “slums” at the time.

“I explained to them all that I understood its historical significance,” continued Questlove, “but you have to understand that there is a new generation that has a seat at the table. Our job is to get it right.” He recalls telling his idols, “I know this is a lot of over-compensation, but trust me, the old guard is gone and the new guardian is the one to protect. is setting. What should have been because of you 35 or 40 years ago is coming to light.

And it worked – almost comprehensively. There are “major coups,” Questlove said of the bookings for LL Cool J, Queen Latifah, Method Man and Ice-T, each currently starring in a TV show. Grandmaster Flash, at the insistence of a Questlove rap-nerd, uses his old-school drum machine (aka “beat box”) in addition to his record-breaking abilities. come more. And they locked down Lil Uzi Vert for the youth-focused finale with a personalized phone call last week.

“Perhaps the greatest coup was convincing Missy ‘Misdemeanor’ Elliott, who is world-famous for the word ‘no’,” added Questlove, comparing his persuasion techniques to “near qualifications.” Jerry Maguire’s degree.”

Smith – who has barely appeared on stage, let alone televised, since slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars – was also scheduled to be there. “Will Smith was in 99.4%,” Questlove said, but the actor is expected to join “Bad Boys 4.” The drummer asked Smith to bring it back with DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’s “Brand new Funk.”

Even Public Enemy got involved. The group that once strongly stated that they don’t care about “Fucking Grammy,” from “Terminator X to the Edge of Panic,” appeared on stage, even though they were asked not to perform that particular song. . “It was the only battle I lost,” Questlove says of the song. (The Ice Cube, formerly of the NWA, was also unavailable for the “___ Tha Police” moment, Questlove added.)

Of course, some artists are more clearly absent than others. No MC Hammer, Puff Daddy, Lil’ Kim, 50 Cent, Eminem, Nicki Minaj, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West or Drake. forced to boycott the program he himself. (Jay-Z, who rapped to the audience, performed later on the show with DJ Khaled.) But it always happens.

“I knew that 12 minutes to tell a story that would last 50 years would be difficult,” Questlove said, fondly recalling “the 12 Angry Men-style battle that took place with producers Jesse Collins and Fatima Robinson . “But for my hip-hop generation, it always starts with lists and debates – that’s the fun part.”

On the TV show, LL Cool J trumps those criticisms from the start. “We wish we could include every hip-hop artist from 1973 to 2023 — I know, I know, I know,” he warns. (Harvey Mason Jr., executive director of Recording Academy, said in an interview that a “full two-hour celebration” of hip-hop, hosted by the Grammys, was planned for August. .)

Those who have taken the stage, including Run-DMC, Rakim, Outkast’s Big Boi, Busta Rhymes and Lil Baby, need to represent not only hip-hop’s different eras but also its regionalism , Robinson, a veteran producer and choreographer, said in an interview.

“I started dancing in clubs around ’88, ’89, and we never thought hip-hop – that I – would still be here to do this,” she said. “I think I’m doing this as a hobby, it’s a fad. But I never knew I would make a career out of it. I’ve known Puff since he was a DJ at a club and drove an awesome Jetta. I’ve known Jay-Z since he was a big promoter for Big Daddy Kane and we performed on high school football fields because we didn’t even have a venue.”

“It’s American culture, hip-hop,” added Robinson. I think people showed up for that.

However, only two rap albums have ever won a Grammy for album of the year, with the most recent coming almost two decades ago, in 2004, when Outkast took home the top prize for “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.” . And while a survey of a single cheerful genre might not heal all the wounds left between the Recording Academy and Black artists – especially after a night out with Beyoncé. lost fourth best album trophy to the fourth white artist — the management behind the Grammys wants everyone to know they’re working on it.

“This show, and this hip-hop 50th anniversary segment, is a tribute to that genre of music, but it’s also an acknowledgment that we’ve come a long way as an academy. ,” Mason said before the Grammy Awards. “We don’t always honor that genre in the right way. But that was then – this is now. It’s a new day, it’s a new academy.”

“What we’re doing,” he added, “is we’re trying to be better.”

Introducing Black Thought

Grandmaster Flash, “Flash to the Beat”/“The Message”

Run-DMC, “King of Rock”

LL Cool J and DJ Jazzy Jeff, “I Can’t Live Without My Radio”/“Rock the Bells”

Salt-N-Pepa, “My Mic Sounds Great”

Rakim, “Eric B. As President”

Chuck D and Flavor Flav of Public Enemy, “Rebel Without a Pause”

Black Thought and LL Cool J interject, “El-Shabazz (Skit)”/“Rump Shaker”

De La Soul’s Posdnuos, “Buddy”

Scarface, “Mind pranks me”

Ice-T, “New Jack Hustler (Nino’s Theme)”

Queen Latifah, “UNITY”

Method Man, “Method Man”

Outkast’s Big Boi, “ATLiens”

Busta Rhymes, “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See”/“Look at Me Now”

Missy Elliott, “Lost Control”

Nelly, “Hot Here”

Too Short, “Blow the Whistle”

The Lox and Swizz Beatz, “We Gonna Make It”

Lil Baby, “Freedom”

GloRilla, “FNF (Let’s Get Started)”

Lil Uzi Vert, “Just Wanna Rock”


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