Rock n’ roll has a hall of fame. So why doesn’t rap?
A funny thing started happening nearly a decade ago. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame began inducting rappers into their ranks, alongside fabled rock legends like the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and the Rolling Stones. What started with Grandmaster Flash in 2007 eventually spread to the induction of other seminal groups, including Run DMC, Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, and just recently, N.W.A.
Those are monumental artists and critical founding fathers of hip hop, but why are there only five included? Part of the reason is that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is dedicated to rock, not rap, so any induction of rappers is viewed as a favor. And, a lot of rockers are opposed to it. Indeed, legendary Kiss bassist Gene Simmons has been outspoken and vocal about the inclusion of rappers, mainly because the genre is so different.
Earlier this year, Simmons blasted the induction of N.W.A, sparking a war of tweets with N.W.A cofounder Ice Cube. But are the genres really so different? Cube quickly started mixing racial issues into the debate. “Who stole the soul?” Cube tweeted. “Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Chubby Checker help invent rock & roll. We invent it. Y’all reprint it.”
“I stand by my words,” Simmons blasted back. “Respect NWA, but when Led Zep gets into Rap Hall of Fame, I will agree with your point.”
Led Zeppelin wasn’t even inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame until 1995, while Black Sabbath didn’t even make it in until 2006. That’s part of a strange, confusing process around the induction process, with the entry of rap groups raising even more questions about the exact methodology.
Cube argued that N.W.A embodies the rock n’ roll spirit, and rap is just as game-changing. Simmons has long hated rap, though his stance against their induction wasn’t necessarily disrespectful. More, a question of categorization. Not to mention, a distinct lack of guitar.
“A few people decide what’s in and what’s not,” Simmons told Radio.com in 2014. “And the masses just scratch their heads. You’ve got Grandmaster Flash in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? Run DMC in the Rock & 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.”
All of which raises a serious question: why is Ice Cube even demanding inclusion into a society dedicated to rock n’ roll? Hundreds of rappers embody the rock n’ roll spirit, but aren’t even close to getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. So, why not create a Hip Hop Hall of Fame?
“Hip hop needs its own hall of fame, on this level.”
Actually, Ice Cube addressed that very issue briefly in an interview with Bloomberg this week, noting that the list of rap pioneers goes far deeper than five groups. But he also pointed to the need for a separate, rap-focused hall, one that doesn’t seem to exist. “Hip hop needs its own hall of fame, on this level. And you know, we’ll put in a couple of rock and roll acts,” Ice Cube joked.
Could that happen? After digging a little bit, we found at least one organization pursuing this goal: the non-profit Hip Hop Hall of Fame Foundation, which has already outlined plans to build something in New York City (rendition shown at top). We’re not sure if that will ultimately come to fruition, though here’s a description of the ambitious plan from their site:
The Hip Hop Hall of Fame Museum & Entertainment Complex will be located in the heart of New York City in Midtown Manhattan. The complex will include the Hall of Fame Museum, retail gift store, sports bar, restaurant, concert lounge, arcade, and television studios. The facility will serve 1,000,000 visitors, fans, tourists, and students annually. It will produce 300 jobs, internships, host 200 annual live events and educational programs for people of all ages. The socio-economic impact in NYC is estimated over $350M annually.
Ambitious, yes, and others may be thinking of something similar. There doesn’t appear to be any construction happening, though organization remains active. Currently, the Foundation is preparing to deliver a comprehensive, ‘Who’s Who’ guide to hip-hop culture and music. “The book will be delivered in time for Christmas, and become a major educational resource and digital archive for fans, students, and educators in keeping with the Hip Hop Hall of Fame’s non-profit Chartered Museum & Educational Institutions mission which is to preserve, archive, exhibit, educate, and showcase hip hop music and culture from around the world,” stated JT Thompson, who actually created something called the Hip Hop Hall of Fame Awards TV Show that debuted on BET in the 1990s.
Meanwhile, a bona fide Hip Hop Hall of Fame remains unbuilt, though its construction would end any debates with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Beyond those squabbles, a Hip Hop Hall of Fame could cement the legacy of a genre that has, at times, been bigger than rock itself.