Hip-Hop Legends From The Last 50 Years Gave The Most Iconic Tribute Ever

Last night (February 5), the Grammy Awards celebrated Hip Hop’s upcoming 50th birthday. LL Cool J, one of the culture’s first superstars, introduced the special concert, in which he also performed. During the presentation, LL pointed to August 11, 1973, and the Bronx back-to-school jam at a rec center, made possible by DJ Kool Herc and his sister, Cynthia Campbell.

The concert followed LL presenting his friend and collaborator Dr. Dre the first-ever Grammy Global Impact Award, now named after the N.W.A. co-founder-turned-mogul. The ensuing concert was curated by The Roots’ Questlove, who joined his band behind the drums. The result was an iconic moment featuring well over 15 songs from a who’s who of legends that go back to the culture’s genesis into today. The performance showed Hip-Hop’s 50-year impact throughout the generations, regions, and styles.

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That performance and the rest of the 2023 Grammys are the subjects of episode #99 of Ambrosia For Heads’ What’s The Headline podcast:

That discussion, recorded hours after the Grammys ended, is packed with thoughts and analysis, including Kendrick Lamar’s three wins of the night, JAY-Z’s show-ending performance alongside DJ Khaled, Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, John Legend, and Fridayy, and Chris Brown’s social media diss to Robert Glasper after losing the “Best R&B Album” award to Black Radio III. At 1:08:50, the podcast begins reporting on the Hip Hop 50 event. There, the AFH team compares the concert to Arsenio Hall’s epic concert finale and a similar freestyle event for Yo! MTV Raps.

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The performance opened with pioneers, including The Furious Five’s Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five. The Rock & Roll Hall Of Famers, who were once at odds, powerfully reunited for the moment. Their performance of “Flash To The Beat” and “The Message” went to a neighboring stage, where Run-D.M.C.’s Rev Run and D.M.C. performed “King Of Rock.” D.M.C. rocked a Beastie Boys shirt in honor of his friends. LL wove in “I Can’t Live Without My Radio.” Then, DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Roots then played “Rock The Bells,” a routine that’s been a staple of DJ Jazzy Jeff’s DJ gigs for decades. Notably, Questlove told Entertainment Tonight that The Fresh Prince (aka Will Smith) was invited, but was unable to attend due to the production schedule of Bad Boys 4.

Salt-N-Pepa performed their 1986 “My Mic Sounds Nice” routine. In a custom Dapper Dan-style leather suit, Rakim entered to perform an updated, self-asserting version of “Eric B. Is President.” Notably, Rakim did the set solo, alongside some dancers. Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Flavor Flav reunited to do “Rebel Without A Pause.” LL and Black Thought took the spotlight among the crowd to do the “(Untitled) El Shabazz” routine from Radio as JAY-Z, DJ Khaled, Doja Cat, Pharrell Williams, Steve Stoute, and others looked on in admiration. Posdnuous of De La Soul led the charge of “Buddy” with his verse, before Scarface displayed his “Mind Playin’ Tricks On Me” verse from the Geto Boys classic.

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The performance then segued into the 1990s in grand fashion. Ice-T entered the stage in front of The Roots to do “New Jack Hustler (Nino’s Theme).” Queen Latifah then countered with her Grammy-winning song “U.N.I.T.Y,” before Method Man did his title song, bringing the crowd up another notch. Like Scarface atop the decade with his Geto Boys spots, Big Boi showed the mid-1990s Southern impact, doing his famed verse from “ATLiens.” Busta Rhymes, flanked by Spliff Star, hit the stage next to perform “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See.” Busta, a 30-year constant in Hip-Hop, pivoted to the 2010s, with his high-speed “Look At Me Now” verse.

The medley stayed in the 2000s with Missy’s “Lose Control,” a song that shows its ties to Hip-Hop’s Electro-Funk beginnings. Next up was Nelly’s “Hot In Herre,” Too Short’s “Blow The Whistle,” and The LOX appearing together for Jadakiss’ “We Gonna Make It.” DJ Drama backed the L-O-X, before bringing Lil Baby for “Freestyle,” Lil Uzi Vert for “Just Wanna Rock,” and GloRilla for “F.N.F. (Let’s Go).” Drama used his powerful voice to add to the excitement and energy.

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The background of the performance included a list of a cross-section of Hip-Hop artists, including Little Brother, Uncle Luke, Aesop Rock, Spice 1, Masta Killa, and Ed O.G. & Da Bulldogs, among many others. “I’m honored to be in the eye of the storm from fruition to completion,” Questlove told ET, as someone who watched Hip-Hop blossom in real-time. “You could never tell eight-year-old me that I would part of curating something really magical. It’s like a family reunion to sit there and watch all these acts hug each other, and build each other,” he said, before alluding to Hip-Hop’s competitive spirit. “I made a mixtape,” said the Grammy-winning producer and drummer-turned-DJ. “I wanted to be all inclusive, so my first draft was 27 minutes with over 100 artists and they laughed me out the office.” He called the finale 14-minute version, “Some of the most beautiful music ever created by some of the most beautiful people, ever.”

Access Hollywood captured some of the concert footage:

Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” (a B-Side to “Tramp”) was nominated for “Best Rap Performance” at the 1989 Grammy Awards. The Next Plateau Records song lost to DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s “Parents Just Don’t Understand” in the first year of the award. Six years later, the New York trio won their first award for “None Of Your Business,” yet another Hurby Azor production. In 2021, the group received a Lifetime Achievement Award. Run-D.M.C., Public Enemy, and Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, have all received Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Grammys as well. LL has won two “Best Rap Solo Performance” Grammy’s for “Mama Said Knock You Out” and “Hey Lover.” Like LL, Jazzy Jeff, The Roots, Salt-n-Pepa, and Queen Lah’, Missy, Nelly, Ice-T, Big Boi, Drama, Meth’, and Lil Baby have won Grammy’s previously. De La also have an award alongside the Gorillaz. Busta Rhymes has never won a Grammy, despite 12 nominations. The LOX and Uzi are also nominated without a win. Too Short, Rakim, and Scarface have never been nominated for a Grammy.

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From the stage, Queen Latifah touted, “Hip-Hop will live everywhere, forever!” The powerful statement comes from someone whose career began with Hip-Hop and has taken flight to become a mogul.

In less than a month, De La Soul’s first six albums will be legally appearing on streaming platforms for the first time. Last Friday (February 4), the trio re-released “Eye Know,” now with a feature credit to Otis Redding, whom producer Prince Paul and the group sampled in the 1989 original 3 Feet High and Rising version.

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AFH readers can catch regular discussions about the culture on our What’s The Headline. The podcast also features interviews with Rapper Big Pooh, Cormega, Meyhem Lauren & Daringer, Diamond D, Joell Ortiz, AZ, Blu & Mickey Factz, Kurupt, Evidence, Skyzoo, Pharoahe Monch, Prince Paul & Don Newkirk, Statik Selektah, Lyric Jones, The LOX, MC Eiht, Havoc, Duckwrth, photographer T. Eric Monroe, and Lord Finesse.