Nathan S. 's avatar

Help Me Build the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame

Posted by Nathan S. on 10/17/13 | Filed under Opinion, Rap Nerdery, Hall of Fame

This week it was announced that LL Cool J and N.W.A. have been selected to join the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame, which is awesome, except for the fact that it's the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame.

What the fuck hip-hop? Why can't we get this shit together? Hip-hop has literally become one of the most influential musical genres in the world, it's a multi-billion dollar industry, but we still can't get our own building? We can't have our own Hall of Fame? We couldn't just do our own inductions? Why are we so dependant on the Grammys and Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame to validate our culture, when most of the people on those selection committees aren't members of that culture? Why does LL Cool J have to battle for space in the Hall of Fame with Pearl Jam? FUCKING COME ON.

But instead of just complaining, I'm taking action. Even if it's just in my own small, interwebs way I'm not waiting for anyone. I'm starting this shit myself, and I know RefinedHype Nation has my back. That's right, the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame starts now.

First things first, listen, I know it's going to be impossible to talk about building a Hip-Hop Hall of Fame without debating specific artists. As you'll see, we have to use actual examples to figure out how to do this right. But for now, I want to focus far more on the criteria we'd use, and what system makes the most sense, than the specific artists who would make it. Once we have a system in place, I'll post a ballot everyone can vote on.

Speaking of which, let's really dig in. Here's what I'm thinking...

The Categories:

Every year we'll induct nine artists total into the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame under the following:

5 Rappers

Did you ever say words into a microphone? Then you qualify as a rapper. Should we designate one "Pioneers" slot for someone who did the bulk of their rapping before...something like 1986, when the first hip-hop albums started to go platinum? The Requirements may take care of that automatically (see below), but I want to make sure someone like Grandmaster Caz doesn't get left out.

2 Producers/DJs

Did you ever produce a hip-hop record and/or put in work behind the turntables? Then you qualify. Hopefully this covers everyone from Grand Wizzard Theodore and DJ QBert to Dr. Dre and Kanye West.

2 All-Purpose

I might need to come up with a better name for this category. What I'm getting at are all the people who were absolutely criticial to the culture, but never (or rarely) actually made a song. We're talking everyone from moguls like Russell Simmons to someone like Ralph McDaniels, fashion pioneers like Dapper Dan and b-boys like Crazy Legs. Since it's so wide open it might end up being the hardest category to select people for, but I still feel like it needs to be in here.

The Requirements:

Like sports, stats matter. It has to mean something that Jay Z has more number one hits than any rapper ever. It just does. But stats have to count for less in the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame than they do in sports. It just doesn't make sense to compare sales of Jay Z' 1996 debut album to sales of Rakim's 1987 debut album, when even in that short amount of time hip-hop became an exponentially more powerful commercial force overall. And by the same token, how could you compare sales of Jay Z' debut album to sales of Kendrick Lamar's 2012 debut album when even the biggest albums in 2012 didn't sell as much as average albums in '96?

Instead, while it's more subjective, I think the dominate eligibility criteria has to be impact. Did this person change and influence hip-hop as a culture? Is it impossible to have a conversation about hip-hop without bringing up their name? When we frame eligibility like that, suddenly it makes sense that DJ Kool Herc deserves a spot right next to Jay, if not above him, even though Herc never sold a single album. Impact is the only way to have a Hall of Fame that accurately reflects hip-hop culture.

Important Notes:

1) There is no distinction or special category for groups, they all fall under the "Rapper" category, so some artists may be inducted mutliple times. For example, Dr. Dre's in there as a producer and as a member or N.W.A., Ice Cube's in there as a rapper and member of N.W.A., etc. (Does DJ Yella make it in as a producer? His name might not be as well known, but he co-produced every N.W.A. album, Eazy's debut album, some of the first Bone Thugs album, etc.. So N.W.A. may be an automatic first year selection under the Rapper category, but Yella might be a more borderline case as a Producer.)

2) Unlike sports, which demand an athlete has been retired for a certain number of years before they're eligible, any artist is eligible for the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame anytime. It just doesn't make sense in music to tie eligibility to age. If you can make the case that, say, Drake has already done enough to be inducted, then he can be inducted.

3) I want to take a moment to acknowledge that, no shit, I'm not the first person to come up with this idea, and others have given it a far more invested try. Most notably, James JT Thompson launched a Hall of Fame television show in the mid '90s that, unfortunately, had to close when it couldn't find funding. He's apparently giving it another go with a physical building in Manhattan now. And the BET Honors has done something close to a Hall of Fame for a few years now, but that hasn't really done the job either. Here's hoping someone else finds a way to make it work and it really becomes a part of the culture. In the meantime, I'm plowing ahead with the RefinedHype Hip-Hop Hall of Fame.

A Closing Note:

Again, I promise we'll have multiple rounds of voting and an induction, that's going to happen. But you can't pick out what color to paint your house Hall of Fame until you've laid down the foundation. So for now, please, let's focus on the process. Should there be more or less than nine people inducted every year? Are those the right categories? Should we divide picks up by era? Are criteria should be considered? These are all questions that need to be answered before we start debating whether Havoc deserves a spot as a producer. 

Allright RefinedHype Nation, have at it. Together we can truly build a Hip-Hop Hall of Fame, even if that Hall of Fame only exists on the interwebs. And remember, if you build it, they will come....

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