There really in no bigger honor. Being inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has become, in our society, the pinnacle of an artist’s career. Bigger than a Grammy, a Pepsi endorsement, or a sold-out Madison Square Garden Concert, induction into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is the cultural stamp of legend. This year, the induction ceremony takes place on Thursday, April 10 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Inductees are: Cat Stevens, Daryl Hall and John Oates, Nirvana, Kiss, Linda Ronstadt, Peter Gabriel, Andrew Loog Oldham, Brian Epstein and The E Street Band.
Hip-hop artists inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are currently few and far between. Only four so far have made it: Public Enemy (2013), Beastie Boys (2012), Run-DMC (2009), and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (2007). This year, NWA and LL Cool J, both game changing pioneers in rap, unfortunately did not make the grade.
That said, although not inducted yet, several hip-hop acts have been named by Rolling Stone as coming eligible for the honor. Eligibility begins 25 years after an artist or band’s debut album. Representing from the East Coast, The Notorious B.I.G.’s eligibility begins in 2019. His 1994 debut, Ready To Die, has gone quadruple-Platinum and has earned him a Grammy nod for “Big Poppa”. Rolling Stone also included the album as 133 on their list of 500 greatest albums of all time. Biggie has sold 17 million records, and is one of the biggest cultural rap icons ever, especially after death.
Genius duo OutKast also made the cut for eligibility for 2019. Their debut Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, was released in 1994, and through a blend of rap, funk, spoken word, jazz (and like a million other things), they’ve transformed hip-hop. Their 2004 Speakerboxxx/The Love Below won the Grammy for Album of the Year (the first and only given to a hip-hop group). OutKast has sold over 25 million records and won a total of six Grammys so far. These Southern playas are now co-headlining this year’s Coachella Festival in April.
And rounding it out from the West Coast, Tupac Shakur’s 1991 2Pacalypse Now makes him eligible for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016. Both a thug-life rapper and a revolutionary dreamer, Tupac’s stamp on hip-hop, music and American culture is legendary. He’s definitely on the shortlist. Further representing for the West Coast is rapper/producer Dr. Dre who becomes eligible in 2017. (We have definitely not forgotten about Dre).
Including hip-hop acts for Rock Hall eligibility has also caused controversy amongst rock’s elite. Kiss singer Gene Simmons, who is being inducted in this year’s ceremony, complained about the Hall’s inclusion of hip-hop artists; “You’ve got Grandmaster Flash in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?… Run-DMC in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? You’re killing me! That doesn’t mean those aren’t good artists. But they don’t play guitar. They sample and they talk. Not even sing!” Looks like Mr. Simmons needs a little lesson in hip-hop’s connection with rock and roll. Firstly, guitar playing is not the only criteria; just ask early Hall of Famers Billie Holiday, Michael Jackson and The Supremes. Secondly, it’s not “talking,” it’s “rapping”. There is a difference.
So, should hip-hop be considered as rock and roll?
First, a little history. It’s no mystery that the nominating process is shrouded in secrecy, and in favor of prestige, fame and big names, the selecting committee has often been accused of largely ignoring certain genres. According to rock and roll author Brett Milano, “Entire genres get passed over, particularly progressive rock, ‘60s Top 40, New Orleans funk and a whole lot of black music.”
This is quite ironic given that rock and roll first originated from black music in the 1950’s: a gumbo of blues, jazz, gospel, swing and country are its forerunners. Even more interestingly, the term “rocking and rolling” was first coined to describe the spiritual fervor of black church rituals. Cleveland, Ohio disc jockey Alan Freed popularized the term when he began playing upbeat rhythm and blues (at the time called “race music”), blues, and country music on the radio under the name “rock and roll”. (In part due to this, Cleveland, Ohio is now the home of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum). Freed helped bridge the gap of segregation among teens by playing African-American artists. As he said in the 1956 film, Rock, Rock, Rock, “Rock and roll is a river of music that has absorbed many streams: rhythm and blues, jazz, ragtime, cowboy songs, country songs, folk songs. All have contributed the big beat.” Hip-hop falls into this stream – this tradition of popular black originated music that keeps folks rocking and rolling.
Politics aside, it should be noted that the museum is becoming more inclusive of different acts through the years performing under the umbrella of rock and roll (including disco queen Donna Summer, inducted in 2013). We congratulate this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Famers and future inductees. Rock on!