Hip-hop has been taking a lot of heat lately for its so-called “negative” lyrics and images, but VH1’s Hip-Hop Honors embodied the Zulu Nation’s original mantra for what hip-hop was all about: “Peace, love, unity and having fun.” Public Enemy were honored at the first Hip-Hop Honors in 2004, and they came out to last night’s event in New York City to show support. Chuck D plugged his latest brainchild — female contingent Crew Grrl Order — on the red carpet and talked up a new label for the ladies. “SHEdigital, the first all-woman digital recording label — it’s run by women,” Chuck said. “I believe it’s an unprecedented first.” Speaking of unprecedented, PE’s producer Hank Shocklee revealed he’s writing a book about the making of their seminal 1988 classic It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.
Inside the Hammerstein Ballroom, the folks up front looked like they were hired to be there, going wild and rapping line-for-line along with each set, paying tribute to pioneers who were popular when many of them were toddlers. “You can call Missy Elliott a lot of things,” actress Kerry Washington said while introducing the first honoree of the night. “Visionary, genius, hot girl and a force. She stands among the guys.” Timbaland strutted across the stage while Eve and Keyshia Cole performed Missy’s “Hot Boyz,” before Nelly Furtado, in a skintight black dress and fully exposed gold bra, broke out the “Get Ur Freak On” remix. Ciara showed off her flawlessly long legs and equally flawless choreography on “Lose Control,” and in her signature Adidas jacket, Missy stood grinning and clapping from the audience.
As Diddy took the stage, the crowd began to chant “Bad Boy” so loudly, it felt contrived, but the label impresario was clearly honored to introduce the Teddy Riley New Jack Swing tribute. “Teddy let you know how it felt to be from Harlem. His swagger was impeccable. He’s the reason I started wearing shades,” Diddy said. Doug E. Fresh warmed up the set before T-Pain took over with Guy’s 1987 number-one hit “I Want Her.” In a three-piece suit, Kool Moe Dee kept the crowd in ’87, delivering his classic “How Ya Like Me Now” as if twenty years haven’t passed. Then Ne-Yo and Keyshia Cole went head to head with a sexy duet of Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time,” the best song off of 1992’s Dangerous. To top it off, Teddy Riley and Aaron Hall performed renditions of “No Diggity” and “Rumpshaker.”
LL Cool J looked like a Bedazzled rock star as he introduced a tribute to Charlie Ahearn’s 1982 movie Wild Style. The older set gave it all they’ve got — Chief Rocker Busy Bee, Grandmaster Caz, and KRS-One sped through freestyles and new verses. Next, Chris Rock introduced fellow Brooklynites Whodini. Nick Cannon rapped with four guys in nerd gear (thick glasses, argyle sweaters) dancing behind him, and Nelly performed “One Love” before Whodini came out singing their 1984 hit “Friends” and the crowd sang along like they’ve all been stabbed in the back before. At the end of “The Freaks Come Out at Night,” Jermaine Dupri breakdanced onstage.
Suddenly, it got gangsta. Reservoir Dog Harvey Keitel introduced Snoop Dogg. T.I. took the stage with former Cash Money Hot Boy B.G. hollering, “187 on an undercover cop!” Pharrell performed “Nuthin’ But a G Thang” with Tha Dogg Pound’s Daz, then the always pimped out Ice-T Crip walked onstage performing “Gin & Juice” while Keyshia Cole waved her hand in the air, rapping along from her seat, “We don’t love them hoes!” As Ice-T sauntered offstage, he called out, “Crips in the muthafucking house tonight!” Befittingly, Snoop then took the stage in a blue plaid button down, rapping “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat” before Pharrell joined him for “Drop It Like It’s Hot.”
For a total change of pace, Common hit the stage with A Tribe Called Quest‘s sweet rap ballad “Bonita Applebum.” Pharrell and Lupe Fiasco joined him for “Electric Relaxation,” and the Tribe tribute was in full swing when Busta Rhymes stormed the stage like a Dungeon Dragon for his verse on the classic crew cut “Scenario.” Busta was rocking a cartoonish neon-pink and green outfit straight out of his early Leaders of the New School days. “He’s bezzerk!” a guy in the audience screamed. “Best moment of the night!”
Soon, all four members of Tribe — that’s right, even the mystery member Jarobi was in the house — were onstage with their fists pumping along with “Check the Rime” and “Award Tour.” Although it didn’t sound quite as fresh as it did back in the early Nineties, the music felt just as fun.