Kool Moe Dee & Melle Mel Brought the Block Party to the World in 1990 (Video)
With just a few days until the 58th annual Grammy Awards, there may not be a more fitting time for a retrospective on a particularly noteworthy Grammy moment in Hip-Hop history. The year was 1989, and as the world was still getting acquainted with the blossoming New York City youth culture that had an entire movement behind it, the one and only Quincy Jones was celebrating a cross-generational perspective on the music that culture was emanating. Only two years after the very first Grammy for Best Rap Performance was bestowed upon DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince for “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” Jones would be responsible for another momentous occasion in Rap music, this time in the form of the first Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. The award was given to Big Daddy Kane, Ice-T, Kool Moe Dee, Melle Mel, and Jones for their hit collaboration “Back on the Block,” the title track of Jones’ album, which went on to win several Grammys in 1991, including Album of the Year.
Beating out Digital Underground (“The Humpty Dance”), DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince (And in This Corner…), Public Enemy (Fear of a Black Planet) and West Coast Rap All-Stars (“We’re All in the Same Gang”), Jones et al presented to the world a united Hip-Hop front, one comprised of pioneers and relative newcomers from different parts of the country during a time when much of the mainstream media was still convinced that Rap music was a fad on its way out. However, as history has proven, their Grammy win came within the context of what has since been deemed the “Golden Era,” and with an astonishing 11 nominations for Kendrick Lamar at this year’s ceremony, it’s evident grumblings of a fad were nothing but a laughably short-sighted misstep.
In 1990, Jones, Melle Mel, and Kool Moe Dee brought “Back on the Block” to blocks around the world, including Switzerland, where they performed at te Montreaux Jazz Festival. With a past performance roster which includes names like James Brown, Miles Davis, Etta James, B.B. King, Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone, and others, the Festival is one of the most highly celebrated events of its kind and this particular performance was likely many of the attendees’ first experiences witnessing Hip-Hop culture in living color. As such, there was some introductory dialogue within the performance, particularly in relation to teaching the audience the cultural heritage shared by Be-Bop and Hip-Hop. And, soon enough, it becomes a bona fide dance party.
There was also an official music video for the song, which features some stark imagery that continues to reverberate in today’s racial climate