Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five was the first hip hop band inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame in 2007. Since then, Run DMC, Beastie Boys, and Public Enemy have all been inducted. What’s more, they have been inducted before rock legends like 2015 inductees Stevie Ray Vaughan and Lou Reed, among many others.
As great an achievement as it is for hip hop in general, questions of their merit in relationship to the Rock Hall of Fame must be asked. Mainly, do hip hop artists belong in the Rock Hall of Fame?
As a guitarist who has studied and played jazz music for about ten years now, I have learned to respect the evolving nature of music, and the unique nuances of each musical genre. What’s more, I have grown to appreciate the art that happens when different genres of music fuse together. Miles Davis was one pioneer of this cause. When he realized the potential that jazz had when fused with rock, he hired guitarists with a rock tone and volume (think John Scofield) and blew the walls clean off of music, opening the doors for musical fusions of all kinds. Still, Miles is considered a jazz artist, and not a rock musician. It is interesting, then, that few debate his value as a member of the Rock Hall of Fame.
During my days as a performing jazz musician (I use that term loosely), my mates and I discovered the wonders of Freddie Hubbard. One tune in particular caught our ear. It is called “Red Clay”. The tune may be heard below this post. Once the intro ends, and the meat of the piece begins, it has a heavy, driving bass line, which blends nicely with organized, yet free roaming drums, systematic rhythm guitar, and wonderful horn lines that pierce through the air. No doubt it is jazz, but it certainly rocks.
Take the horns out of that Freddie Hubbard tune, and you have a canvas for great hip hop. One band, A Tribe Called Quest, recognized that. When I started playing “Red Clay” to our drummer, he immediately recognized it as one sampled by A Tribe Called Quest on their tune titled “Sucka Nigga”, also posted below. With this in mind, I suggest that a certain logic exists which qualifies the right hip hop artists as legit members of the Rock Hall of Fame. My logic, using this example, is that Freddie Hubbard’s style of jazz often had a funk and rock flavor to it. If, then, A Tribe Called Quest sampled that music for one of their tracks, then they are incorporating rock into their music. Further, if they do it well (which they did), then they should be recognized, to some extent, in the adjacent genres of jazz, funk, and even rock. Therefore, hip hop artists, when utilizing rock or rock-related music as their canvas, qualify for the Rock Hall of Fame, in my book, assuming of course they do it over an extended time period and with superior quality. Of course, they must also meet other criteria, discussed later.
Another classic hip hop band that I am a huge fan of is the Roots. To me, there is no question that hip hop groups like the Roots are legitimate contenders for the Rock Hall of Fame. What I think especially qualifies them is their instrumental skill. They do not simply sample tight beats, they make them with stellar musicianship and a solid understanding of music theory, and, they create it with their own instruments. To me, the Roots are more like a funk-rock band, with the vocal communication coming via rap, than a true hip hop artist, but that’s just me.
Questlove, well respected and accomplished drummer of the Roots, who is incidentally the house band for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, had what I think is a thoughtful take on this issue. After Gene Simmons of Kiss voiced his disapproval of hip hop in the Rock Hall of Fame, Questlove responded in an interview with Rolling Stone, stating the following
“There’s a checks-and-balance system,” he said when asked about Simmons’ perspective on rappers being recognized in the Hall. “The world would be so boring if everyone got along. It’s supposed to piss your parents off. Now they’re the parents.” (hiphopdx.com):
To elaborate on Questlove’s point, take musicianship out of the equation. Think of rock as a genre, and the atmosphere created by listening to it. It has always been the in-your-face, badass style of music that is best enjoyed with the volume turned up to 11. Rock music was, as Questlove said, the music that pissed your parents off. Now, hip hop has assumed that position. What’s more, when it is done well, it simply rocks.
There are indeed many ways we can justify hip hop into the Rock Hall of Fame. I do think some criteria must be met, however, for it to be in the Rock Hall of Fame. Tupac, for example, while ground-breaking and legendary, was simply not rock. From a musical perspective, I cannot find anything he did that can overlap into rock music. His beats were purely electronic, and were not even composed by him. For a hip hop to qualify in my book, they must meet the following standards:
- The artist must compose his/her own background music, beats, canvas, etc., or at least have a “staff” member with whom they collaborate for most of their music.
- The artist’s style must be viewed by a majority of people as having some influence from rock music. For example, a person rapping over funky beats and rhythms that are created with a bass, guitar, and an entire drum kit. Hip hop artists that fit this style, in my opinion, are Jurassic Five, Arrested Development, Pharcyde, and the Roots, to name a few.
- The artist must extend the rock-influenced style throughout their careers.
- The artist must do the above with a high level of perceived public success.
A final note that is worth making, I think, is that the rock sampling/creation must be done well and with taste. I am sorry, but Puff Daddy rapping over Led Zeppelin somehow doesn’t qualify as Hall of Fame material to me.
There is obviously subjectivity on whether or not an artist would qualify on these points. Further, other points need to be considered such as the influence the artist has over other musicians and creative innovation, but these are points that any rock musician would have to qualify for as well. Currently, the Rock Hall of Fame has the following definition for eligibility. I personally think it is too broad, but that is just my opinion:
To be eligible for induction as an artist (as a performer, composer, or musician) into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the artist must have released a record, in the generally accepted sense of that phrase, at least 25 years prior to the year of induction; and have demonstrated unquestionable musical excellence. We shall consider factors such as an artist’s musical influence on other artists, length and depth of career and the body of work, innovation and superiority in style and technique, but musical excellence shall be the essential qualification of induction.
I think hip hop has a place in the Rock Hall of Fame. I do think a line must be drawn however, for it to be justified in a hall of fame dedicated to rock music. For the rest of the influential hip hop artists that simply do not meet the criteria for rock, let them be placed into the Hip Hop Hall of Fame, which is coming to the streets of New York in 2017.
Enough of what I think, though. The purpose of this poll is to discover what do you think? Do you think *hip hop music qualifies for the Rock Hall of Fame? You decide.
*Note: This is not a rap vs. hip hop debate. For the sake of simplicity in this poll, all music considered rap or hip hop is classified as hip hop.
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Check out Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay. Tell me this does not rock.
Now, see how A Tribe Called Quest adapted this funky tune.