Perhaps there are bigger fish to fry. Racism is still alive; they just be concealing it, after all. Or more likely, I’m dazed by the fact that Alabama did the unthinkable, entirely thanks to black people, so I’m feeling greedy. Yo no sé.
But the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recently announced its 2018 inductees, a list that includes Nina Simone, Bon Jovi, the Cars, Dire Straits, Sister Rosetta Thorpe and the Moody Blues. A fine group of performers, some of whom you love and some of whom you probably hate. It’s music and it’s subjective. But their accomplishments are undeniable. In fact, inquiring why it took so long for all of those people to get in would be fair.
Also nominated but not selected for 2018? One James Todd Smith, better known to the world as LL Cool J. Including 2018, he’s been on the ballot four times. How in the hell has he NOT gotten in?
I realize that we don’t care about Grammys or Oscars or Halls of Fame or any accolades, especially in hip-hop. Or so we say. According to Phife Dawg (RIP) on the song “Award Tour” from 1993’s Midnight Marauders album, “I’ll never let a statue tell me how nice I am ... ”
Meanwhile, in 2017, Q-Tip felt a way about being snubbed by the Grammys. So even if we as a community pretend we don’t care, validation is validation and acknowledgment is acknowledgment, and we all like it—especially for hip-hop, which has had to fight and claw its way into being respected by the mainstream gatekeepers DESPITE being the predominant musical form of the USA and, really, the world. I mean, everybody loves Tupac.
Now, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is not devoid of black artists. They ain’t stupid. Artists from Sam Cooke to Gladys Knight & the Pips to Aretha Franklin to Bo Diddley to Jimmy Cliff to Bob Marley to the Jackson 5 to Michael Jackson all grace the annals of the Hall of Fame. And while I’m sure there was a time when black artists struggled for that acknowledgment, we are all up and through there now.
EXCEPT for the world of hip-hop, where, despite the genre’s contributions to the WORLD, the only current inductees are Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, Run-DMC, Public Enemy, N.W.A and Tupac. A fine list of people who fit the criteria for the Hall of Fame’s inductees: “Artists—a group encompassing performers, composers and/or musicians ... demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent [who] have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll.” Obviously, the use of rock ’n’ roll is the widest general definition, considering the various acts and individuals included therein.
But THEREIN lies my own confusion about the exclusion of LL Cool J. As a cultural icon and embodiment of everything the Hall of Fame exists to showcase, LL should have gone in when Run-DMC did, basically. As a solo act, especially. Every other act belongs there, but so does LL. While LL isn’t the best at ANY particular realm of hip-hop, what he DOES have is the longevity tab on lock. We STILL know this man. He’s still relevant—maybe not as a musical artist, but for what you can do with your hip-hop celebrity.
But even musically, he gave us Mama Said Knock You Out, Mr. Smith and Bigger and Deffer. He has seven No. 1 rap singles. Four top 10 U.S. singles in a time before hip-hop was entirely embraced by the country. He’s got classic songs and, more important, is the REASON so many of those early rappers even decided to pick up microphones. He’s been influential.
In hip-hop, he’s one of the most well-known stalwarts of the most famed hip-hop label that’s ever existed. He leveraged his hip-hop bona fides into commercials, movies and television. He took hip-hop to the boardrooms and got that corporate money there. He got FUBU into a Gap commercial.
How influential does an artist need to be to get that recognition, IF we’re recognizing artists for those reasons? I have no idea if LL Cool J cares. I’m sure he would like to be inducted, since it is a great honor and at this point of his career, musically, that’s about all he has left to accomplish. Maybe it’s not that big a deal to him, but since he’s been nominated, NOT being inducted must be a little annoying, especially on this fourth go-round.
I’m sure that at some point he’ll get in, as will artists like Jay-Z, Biggie, Puffy, Nas, DJ Kool Herc, DJ Premier and others, on sheer influence on hip-hop alone. I also think that Rakim belongs in there because he was YEARS ahead of his time and his influence cannot be measured even if he doesn’t get universal credit for it. But it would be a shame for him not to get in soon, especially considering the other hip-hop acts that are in, as they’re his contemporaries in the art form. Tupac is moving into the ’90s. I can’t see a world where LL doesn’t make it, and I hope the Hall of Fame doesn’t, either.