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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. 

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

2005

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

2012

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)

JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

2013

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!” 

Macklemore

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

2014

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

2017

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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