Hip-Hop Turns 50. The Grammys Celebrate the Milestone Despite Its Complicated History With the Genre
Hip-hop has had a contentious relationship with the Grammys, but tonight’s 50th anniversary performance was a much-deserved celebration of the genre. The loaded showcase achieved performance co-curator Questlove’s previously stated goal to span the breadth of hip-hop’s 50 years. The Recording Academy has been criticized in the past for controversial award selections in the rap categories, but this performance was a decision that few hip-hop heads could complain about.
Trailblazing artists from the genre’s past five decades performed, including Big Boi, Black Thought, Busta Rhymes with Spliff Star, De La Soul, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Missy Elliott, GloRilla, Grandmaster Flash, Ice-T, Lil Baby, The Lox, Method Man, Nelly, Public Enemy, Queen Latifah, Rahiem, Rakim, RUN-D.M.C., Salt-N-Pepa, Scarface, Swizz Beatz, and Too $hort.
Black Thought opened up the set, and was followed-up by Eighties legends such as Grandmaster Melle Mel, the Furious Five, Rakim, Public Enemy, and Geto Boys. Queen Latifah transitioned the set into the Nineties with “UNITY,” followed by Method Man, Big Boi, and Busta Rhymes. Missy Elliott roused the crowd with “Lose Control,” and was followed by Nelly, Too Short, and Jadakiss. Lil Baby pushed the set further into the modern day with the help of GloRilla and Lil Uzi Vert. LL Cool J then shouted out hip-hop as a whole, celebrating that the genre elevated “from the Bronx, to Tik Tok, to the whole world.”
The set was devised by Questlove, who announced the performance in a video. “I’m really really thrilled to announce that there’s gonna be a special segment on the Grammy telecast, this Sunday night, honoring hip-hop’s 50th,” he said in the clip. “Can you believe 50? It’s going to be an absolutely amazing moment with some of the biggest names from the genre coming together to celebrate hip-hop history — its past, its present, its future.”
Earlier on Sunday, Questlove told our Delisa Shannon that his impetus for curating the set was to create his “best mixtape ever,” noting that his original setlist was 21 minutes and had to be cut down to 14. He also teased “a bigger meal” coming down the line related to the performance.
Right before the set, Dr. Dre accepted the Recording Academy and Black Music Collective’s inaugural Global Impact Award, which was also named after him. “I’m extremely moved by this award,” he remarked during his acceptance speech. He also pondered, “Where would a lot of people in this room be without hip-hop?,” adding that he “loves” that the award is named after him and will inspire future musicians.
On Thursday night, Dre, Lil Wayne and Missy Elliott received honors at the Black Music Collective dinner. Wayne noted, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I ain’t shit without you,” during his acceptance speech, while Elliott acknowledged her emotions. “I’ve won a lot of awards and I feel the same way — anybody that knows me knows that I’m always crying,” she said during a tearful speech.
Several other high-profile celebrations of hip-hop’s 50th birthday are planned for this year, including the Hip Hop: Conscious, Unconscious photo exhibit at Fotografiska New York, and the upcoming Fresh Fly Fabulous exhibit at New York’s FIT. Nas and Mass Appeal are also celebrating the genre’s 50 years by releasing several documentaries on Showtime, and legendary producers including DJ Premier and Swizz Beatz will helm 10 Hip-Hop 50 EPs.
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