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Rap’s Odd Grammy Past: Hip-Hop at the Show from Run-D.M.C. to Lauryn Hill

After decades, event is finally taking genre seriously in 2018; how artists have fared as performers and nominees, including Will Smith’s 1989 boycott

Rap's Odd Grammy Past

Though they weren't nominated, Run-D.M.C. performed at the 1988 Grammys; 11 years later, Lauryn Hill swept the awards.

David Mcgough/DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images; Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect

The big story of the 2018 Grammys? The ceremony is finally getting serious about hip-hop. The awards have always had a strange history with rap, going back to the Eighties, when the voters were convinced (along with most of the music industry) that all this rap stuff the kids were into was a fad. For years, hip-hop artists were allowed to play but not to take home trophies. But this year, all major categories are dominated by rap. Album and Record of the Year are both Kendrick Lamar vs. Jay-Z battles, along with surprise nominee Childish Gambino. From MC Hammer to Lauryn Hill to ODB, here’s a timeline of how far hip-hop has come at the ceremony. 


3/2/1988- RUN-DMC poses in full regalia that they popularized- heavy gold chains, hats, sunglasses, and Adidas track suits. They have just received the Grammy Awrds. PH: Ezio Petersen

Ezio Petersen


Run-D.M.C. do an electrifying “Tougher
Than Leather” even though they’re not up for any Grammys. 

DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince

DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince pose for a portrait at First Avenue nightclub in Minneapolis, Minnesota on March 12, 1990. (Photo by Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince win the first hip-hop Grammy, but they refuse to attend because it’s not included on TV. Other rappers boycott the show too, and the industry is shocked at how the rap community sticks together on this issue. 

Tone Loc

UNITED STATES - MARCH 18: Tone-Loc (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images


Tone Lōc is the first MC up for Best New Artist – but Milli Vanilli wins. 

MC Hammer

Photo of MC HAMMER; Simple Truth (Photo by Mick Hutson/Redferns)

Mick Hutson/Redferns


MC Hammer is the first rapper up for Album of the Year and Record of the Year. He loses both, to Quincy Jones and Phil Collins, respectively. 

Arrested Development

American alternative hip hop group Arrested Development at the 35th Annual Grammy Awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, United States, 24th February 1993. They won Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for their song 'Tennessee' as well as Best New Artist. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Archive Photos/Getty Images


Woke Southern crew Arrested Development become the first hip-hop act to win Best New Artist – the first time any rap act wins in a major category. 

Ol Dirty Bastard

A unidentified member of the group Wu Tang Clan is taken off the stage after jumping on the stage and taking the microphone as the Grammy was about to be give to Shawn Colvin for the Song of the Year Category during the 40th Grammy Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York 25 February. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) Timothy A. Clary (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)



Enter the Wu! Ol’ Dirty Bastard rambles onstage while Shawn Colvin is making a speech. But ODB has no beef; he just wants to say he bought an expensive new outfit and announce, “Wu-Tang is for the children!”

Lauryn Hill

41st Annual Grammy Awards - Pressroom lauren Hill holding her five Grammy Awards at the 41st Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.

Getty Images


Lauryn Hill is the big winner, taking home five awards, including Album of the Year, for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. During a fiery live performance, she changes the hook of “Lost Ones” to “It’s funny how hip-hop change a sitchu-aaa-tiooon!” For her acceptance speech, L-Boogie brings a Bible up to the podium and reads from the Psalms. 

Eminem, Elton John

From left, Elton John and Eminem at The 43rd Annual Grammy Awards at The Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA., Feb. 21, 2001. (photo by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)

Frank Micelotta/Getty Images


Eminem does “Stan” with Elton John, ending with one of the most awkward semi-hugs ever; Em loses Album of the Year to Steely Dan (who are even slimmer and shadier). 


The 46th Annual GRAMMY Awards - Show Andre 3000 of OutKast performing 'Hey Ya!' (Photo by Rick Diamond/WireImage)

Rick Diamond/WireImage


OutKast win Album of the Year, becoming only the second hip-hop act ever to take this prize (after Lauryn Hill).

Queen Latifah

The 47th Annual GRAMMY Awards - Show Queen Latifah, host (Photo by M. Caulfield/WireImage for The Recording Academy (View ONLY))

M. Caulfield/WireImage for The Recording Academy


Queen Latifah becomes the first rapper to host, 16 years after the 1989 boycott. 

LL Cool J

The 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards - Show LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 12: Host LL Cool J speaks onstage at the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards held at Staples Center on February 12, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Kevin Winter/Getty Images


LL Cool J takes over as host for a five-year run, becoming the
 greatest host of all time by a mile. Whitney Houston dies suddenly the weekend of the ceremony, hours before a Grammy gala she had planned to attend. LL handles the tragic situation like a champ, beginning with a brief prayer: “Heavenly Father, we thank you for sharing our sister Whitney with us.” An all-time Grammy moment of grace under pressure. 

Chuck D, LL Cool J

LL Cool J (R) and Chuck D perform on stage at the Staples Center during the 55th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California, February 10, 2013. AFP PHOTO Joe KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)



The show ends with a tribute to the Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch. LL gets joined by Chuck D; during a climactic “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” LL shouts, “MCA forever!” 


Rappers Ryan Lewis (L) and Macklemore accept the Best New Artist award onstage during the 56th GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on January 26, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images


Macklemore beats Kendrick Lamar for Best Rap Album. To his credit, Macklemore sends him a text that night: “You got robbed.” 

Chance the Rapper

Recording artist Chance the Rapper accepts the Best Rap Album award for 'Coloring Book' onstage during The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on February 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for NARAS)

Kevin Winter/Getty Images for NARAS


Chance the Rapper wins Best New Artist, four years after dropping his classic Acid Rap. The most glorious music moment of the night: A Tribe Called Quest, who join Busta Rhymes in a politically charged performance that blows up as Q-Tip chants, “Resist, resist, resist.” It’s a reminder of everything that hip-hop – and music – can mean in times like these. 

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