With all the talk of Viacom (BET, MTV) and major TV/radio stations killing the true spirit of Hip Hop, the annual VH1 Hip Hop Honors ceremony is like a statement not to judge too quickly. Seriously when you are honoring Snoop Dogg or Missy Elliott it’s one thing. When you got Afrika Bambaataa getting the same award from one of the 2 biggest music TV channels as the Platinum-selling artists, that is saying something. It says that not all commercial entities are ignorant of their roots. As a matter of fact it says that some of these entities are willing to spend millions of dollars to glorify an era of music that is… well, far in the past. Being in the industry for 10 years is one of the prerequisites to even be eligible. This has been done for rock and other genres of music for a long time now. Just look at the Rock’N’Roll Hall of Fame. Now, for several years already, with the help of VH1 Hip Hop Honors is recognized as a music genre that’s been around a while. As a matter of fact it’s been around long enough to honor several artists every year.
Now, what is so unusual about the VH1 Hip Hop Honors? This ceremony has a Red Carpet filled with people like Grandmaster Melle Mel, KRS-1, Big Daddy Kane and much more and they totally belong here. They are not the celebrities who visit tiny stages of small-time shows to get respect for paving the way. They do far more than belong. Once a year VH1 makes sure that it is Ciara, Bow Wow and Lupe Fiasco that visit the grand event at Hammerstein Ballroom as guests, while Whodini, Tribe Called Quest and Busy Bee run this night.
It might not seem that significant to a today’s 14 year-old admiring the recent Young Joc hits, but just as with any other culture, Hip Hop culture got started in a very different way. There were no record advances, no flashy cars, MTV-worthy cribs and video honeys. If you had any money in the 80’s as a rapper it was because you did something illegal. Most rappers struggled financially more than today’s minimum wage, McDonald’s working, No Habla Ingles, fresh off the boat, 10 people in a 1-bedroom apartment, ignored by this society washouts. Yet they persevered and made this industry what it is today. Scratch that. They gave power to the industry. In the worst nightmares they would not imagine finger-snapping music. Hey, nothing wrong with having fun to high-pitched sounds of today’s club bangers. It’s simply nice that there is more to it when you think of Hip Hop. Unfortunately, after 30 years in the making, true Hip Hop classics are still being dropped by Jay-Z and Nas, while the industry is salivating as it is anticipating Dr. Dre’s Retox or the long-awaited Rakim’s album.
But back to the VH1 Hip Hop Honors. 2007 was another beautiful year. Was it the odd choice of Harvey Keitel giving the award to Snoop Dogg? Was it the very fact that Snoop Dogg came to NYC? Was it Missy Elliott struggling to find the right words to express her gratitude for this honor? Was it the oh, so rarely seen Tribe Called Quest in full cast? Perhaps I was Andre Harrell’s permanently attached smile as he was just on the 7th heaven all night long? May be it was Whodini’s joy and desire to share the knowledge as they stepped to the mic in the press room? Or Teddy Riley’s soft long sentences, describing the links between Hip Hop of today and ‘back in the day’? If not all that it must have been The Teacha, KRS-1, staying after to sit down and share some of his wisdom with people, as only Kris can do.
There were many moments unmatched in its beauty for any real Hip Hop head. Andre Harrell talking of artist ownership… Busy Bee passionately rushing to speak the truth about Hip Hop… Ice-T talking of his legacy of being a gansta. KRS-1 educating on the Temple of Hip Hop… Missy Elliott being awed… Salt-N-Pepper fighting as they were making up in front of everyone, sharing very honest and personal revelations from their past… Snoop Dogg being just as cool and smooth as he is on the big screen, making everyone laugh non-stop… Whodini proudly declaring that Hip Hop will be here ‘forever and ever and ever’… Charlie Ahern, director of movie Wild Style talking of the struggles of making the film back in the days and the roots of people…
Simply put this was the night of all of that and much more. It was a night of triumph of Hip Hop. It was time to honor those who made it simply possible for Hip Hop to exist. The night of those who shaped the music and are continuing to impact it more than a decade later (for some it’s been more like 2 decades or even longer). It was like having Plato at a philosophy ceremony. Like having Mozart in front of the classical music fans. Like having Janis Joplin at a Classic Rock meet. Only it was different and in many ways it was better. Hip Hop lives on and it is more alive now than ever. It became so big that most people complain that it has become too commercial. It has become something Kool Herc could never even imagine.
It has become history. And VH1 is here to mark that fact.