The Recording Academy and CBS pay tribute to the pioneers and legends of hip-hop with a two-hour special featuring performances by Queen Latifah, Will Smith, Public Enemy and more.
As hip-hop marks its 50th anniversary, the Recording Academy has teamed up with CBS to present “A Grammy Salute to 50 Years of Hip-Hop,” a musical extravaganza that honors the culture’s history and achievements. The two-hour special, which airs on Sunday night from 8:30-10:30 p.m. ET/PT, with live and on-demand streaming on Paramount+, showcases the diversity and dynamism of hip-hop through a stellar lineup of rappers, beatboxers, dancers, DJs and presenters.
The special, recorded at Inglewood’s YouTube Theater on Nov. 8, features performances by some of the most influential and acclaimed artists in the genre, spanning different eras and regions. Among the performers are: Queen Latifah, Common, Public Enemy, Rakim, Doug E. Fresh, MC Lyte, Rick Ross, Jeezy, Jermaine Dupri, YG, Too Short, E-40, De La Soul, Akon, Black Thought, Nelly, Gunna and Chance the Rapper. Each of them delivers a verse or two during medley performances that highlight the variety and richness of rap music.
One of the highlights of the night is the reunion of Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff, who were the first hip-hop act to receive a Grammy award for hip-hop in 1989 with “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” Questlove, the renowned drummer of the Roots, introduces the duo with a heartfelt speech, recalling how they inspired him as a fellow Philadelphian and how they broke barriers as the first hip-hop group to perform at the Grammy Awards. He then welcomes them to the stage as “the incomparable, the amazing, the legendary, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince!”
With Jazzy Jeff behind the turntables on a raised platform, Smith starts the show with “Brand New Funk,” a track from their 1988 sophomore album “He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper.” Dressed in an all-red outfit with a Philly’s cap, Smith takes the audience on a trip down memory lane, accompanied by backup dancers for “Gettin’ Jiggy With It” and “Miami.” His wife Jada Pinkett-Smith and children Willow and Jaden cheer him on from the crowd. The duo also performs the iconic theme song of Smith’s TV show “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” and wraps up their set with “Summertime,” their highest-charting single, which won them their second Grammy in 1992 for best rap performance by a duo or group.
“A Grammy Salute to 50 Years of Hip-Hop” is a fitting tribute to the culture that started in the Bronx in the 1970s and spread across the world, influencing generations of artists and fans. It is also a testament to the power and relevance of hip-hop, which continues to evolve and innovate as a musical and social force.
Celebrating the Women of Hip-Hop
The special is more than just a tribute to its final act. It honors the pioneers of female hip-hop, who start the show with a mix of legends and newcomers. Latifah, who shows up several times during the program, teams up with Monie Love for their 1989 hit “Ladies First.” Then, they take us back to the roots of hip-hop: Sha-Rock’s rhyme from Funky 4+1’s “That’s the Joint,” J.J. Fad’s “Supersonic,” Roxanne Shante’s “Roxanne’s Revenge” and MC Lyte’s “Cha Cha Cha.” They also add some contemporary flavor, with Remy Ma spitting “All the Way Up” and Latto dropping “Put It on Da Floor.” As a fitting finale, all the MCs join Latifah for “U.N.I.T.Y.,” a powerful song that challenges the inequality and disrespect that women face in society.
The Rise of the Dirty South
The focus then shifts to the south. “When hip-hop began 50 years ago, it was all about the East Coast and West Coast,” says host Chloe Bailey. “But then, the dirty South came into the picture.” Organized by Jermaine Dupri, who Bailey calls “the eternal mayor of the ATL,” the performance highlights the rappers who shaped and popularized Southern hip-hop. Jeezy, T.I. and Three 6 Mafia perform some of their smash hits, while UGK’s Bun B pays homage to the late Pimp C during “Int’l Players Anthem.” GloRilla and Boosie Badazz join the party before 2 Live Crew’s Uncle Luke wraps it up with “Scarred” and “I Wanna Rock.”
The Legacy of Public Enemy
Public Enemy gets its own spotlight, rightfully so, with an introduction from presenter LL Cool J. The Grammy Lifetime Achievement nominees are accompanied by Questlove on the wheels of steel during some of their iconic songs, such as “Fight the Power,” “Bring the Noise” and “Don’t Believe the Hype.” Flavor Flav and Chuck D deliver the same fiery passion that they’ve had since their debut in the mid-1980s.
The Diversity of the West Coast
The medleys continue. Seth Rogen presents a West Coast segment, which features the most diverse lineup of the night. With DJ Battlecat on the mixer, Warren G starts it off with his classic “Regulator” before handing the mic to Luniz for “I Got 5 on It.” The hits keep coming, with Lady of Rage, YG, Tyga, Rody Ricch, DJ Quik, Yo-Yo and Cypress Hill performing some of their best songs. The medley ends in the Bay, with Too Short’s “Blow the Whistle” and E-40’s “Tell Me When to Go.”
The special, which also includes clips of Lin Manuel-Miranda and Jelly Roll talking about how they fell in love with hip-hop, salutes the Native Tongues, a loose group of artists in the 1980s and ‘90s that embraced progressive ideas and jazz-inspired beats. In a library setting, the performers sit at tables waiting for their turn to take the lead. They showcase the best of the movement: Common’s “I Used to Love H.E.R.,” Arrested People’s “People Everyday,” Digable Planets’ “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like That),” Black Sheep’s “The Choice Is Yours,” Talib Kweli’s “Get By,” Latifah’s “Wrath of My Madness,” the Pharcyde’s “Runnin’” and De La Soul’s “The Bizness” with Common.
The Masters of the Mic
Actress Regina Hall introduces a performance from Big Daddy Kane, Black Thought and Rakim, while Akon leads the way for an international segment with versions of “Locked Up” with Styles P and “Soul Survivor” with Jeezy. Blaqbonez shows up halfway through for “Like Ice Spice,” surrounded by dancers who dressed like Variety cover star Spice with a red afro, green tube top and cutoff jean shorts, just as she wears in the video for “Munch (Feelin’ U).”
Doug E. Fresh pays tribute to the fallen stars of hip-hop culture with his beatboxing skills, naming DMX, Nipsey Hussle, Tupac Shakur, Mark the 45 King and De La Soul’s Trugoy the Dove. Machine Gun Kelly sets up the next group of artists with a personal story. “The best thing that ever happened to me besides becoming a dad is hip-hop,” he says. “It was there for me when I was sad, when I was angry at the world, and most importantly, in the seventh grade when a girl decided to dance with me to ‘Hot in Herre’ by Nelly. Thank you. To me, hip-hop has always been the soul of the party, and the party is just beginning.”
And the party goes on, with another medley, this time led by 2 Chainz for “Birthday Song,” which is fitting for the occasion. Gunna, Coi Leroy, Nelly and Rick Ross join him on stage before Chance the Rapper brings 2 Chainz back for the upbeat “No Problem,” with the other rappers coming back on stage.
The Final Words
The night ends on a hopeful note from Harvey Mason Jr., who reflects on the event and puts it in the context of the culture that brought them here. “Now it’s not a coincidence that we’re all here at this time with so much stress and so much division and pain in the world, but this music is the cure,” he says. “This music is the healing. This music is the universal language that even the most divided of us can comprehend. But it also has the power to challenge and change. It has the power to cut through even the loudest noise and unify. And so let’s recognize that there is no music without hip-hop right now. The music industry isn’t what it is without hip-hop. Tonight, we’ve celebrated, but more importantly, we’ve permanently secured the legacy, the impact and the contributions of this music, of our music, to the culture and to the world forever.”