(December 6, 2020). Usually every year around this time, we learn the names of the next class of nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
But as with everything else in 2020, where change is rampant and old ways of doing business are constantly being reevaluated, the Rock Hall has adjusted its schedule going forward, and we now won’t know the Class of 2021 candidates until February – after the nominating committee first meets in January – with the names of the inductees to be revealed later that spring and honored in a ceremony in the fall (around November).
It’s a shift in schedule that isn’t trivial.
With the 2021 proceedings now beginning in and ending during that calendar year, it opens up the likelihood that artists whose first recordings happened in 1996 – per the 25-year eligibility rule – will be considered for this next class. Under the previous schedule, where the voting committee would have met this past September, only artists who began recording in 1995 and earlier would have been eligible.
It’s not too early to speculate about what this means for the new list of eligible musicians and their chances of being among the handful of artists who will be formally inducted next fall.
Many of the first-year eligibles for 2021 read like a Who’s Who of the mid-to-late 1990s, with alternative-leaning rock acts like Foo Fighters, Garbage, Deftones and Incubus all having released their first albums in late 1995, and with each album reaching prominence in 1996.
Big ‘90s rock bands have already paved the way with groups like Pearl Jam, Green Day and Foo-predecessors Nirvana already gaining entry. And with the number of quality “rock” groups becoming fewer over the years, groups like the Foo Fighters must seem like a much more attractive option to RRHOF voters these days.
On the other end of the genre spectrum, neo-soul crooner D’Angelo’s first album, Brown Sugar, was also released in ‘95 and spent most of its chart life during ‘96, with classic songs like the title track and “Lady” driving the album to platinum status. His 2000 followup, Voodoo, is among the most widely acclaimed R&B albums of its era. D’Angelo may be a long shot given how slim his catalog is (three studio albums in 25 years), but the singer out of Richmond, VA is now eligible and has long been considered a pioneer of neo-soul and one of the last great R&B crooners.
Even more under-appreciated names like Jewel, the ‘90s pop-folk superstar whose first album sold 12 million units and whose double-sided single “You Were Meant For Me”/“Foolish Games” was among the biggest hits of the decade; and The Chemical Brothers, the electronic dance music duo whose most recent Grammy win was in 2020, are being batted around as dark-horse choices.
But it’s the highest-profile name on the list of newly eligible artists that’s the most likely first-ballot inductee. It’s a name whose eligibility may have been secured by the RRHOF’s recently announced date-shift.
And, ironically, that name belongs to a rapper: Jay-Z.
Jay-Z released his first album, Reasonable Doubt, in June 1996. That album was labeled a hip-hop classic almost immediately upon its debut and it established the Brooklyn rapper as an undeniable force to be reckoned with in the rap game and – more importantly – in the music industry as a whole.
In the nearly quarter-century since, Jay-Z (born Shawn Carter in 1969) has accomplished in music what no other rapper and few other musicians, period, have – either before or after him.
Consider the following:
- His fourteen No. 1 albums are second only to the Beatles’ twenty in Billboard album chart history
- He was the first rapper inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2017
- He’s won 22 Grammys – more than any other rapper in history and tied for ninth overall with RRHOF inductees Stevie Wonder and U2.
- His concert tours are among the highest grossing of all rappers. His joint jaunt with Kanye West, the 2012 Watch the Throne tour, is now the fourth highest-grossing of all hip-hop tours with nearly $80M earned in 2011/12, while his joint On the Run tour with wife Beyoncé ranks No. 1 with more than $100M earnings in 2014.
- When Jay’s last solo album, 4:44, topped the Billboard 200 in July 2017, he extended his mark as the oldest rapper to achieve a No. 1 album at 47 years, eight months and three weeks of age, proving that rap is no longer just a young man’s game.
And while history has shown that commercial successes and milestones alone are not – nor should they be – an indicator of someone’s worthiness for Rock Hall consideration, Jay-Z’s presence at the top of many statistical lists over the past 25 years places him in a stratosphere that is too glaring to ignore.
Even when you consider the other seven rap acts that are already in the RRHOF, Jay-Z looms large. Those artists include – in order of their induction: Grand Master Flash & the Furious Five (2007), Run-D.M.C. (2009), Beastie Boys (2012), Public Enemy (2013), N.W.A. (2016), Tupac Shakur (2017), and The Notorious B.I.G. (2020).
Like all of those pioneers, Jay’s artistic merits are no slouch (of course, he has his haters who would beg to differ, but so do many of the artists above for various reasons). Rightly or wrongly, Jay is still often cited by critics as being one of the greatest rappers of all time. His smooth, sometimes slow/sometimes fast rap flow is one of the most identifiable in hip-hop.
As a rapper, the man of many past nicknames – most notably Hova and Jigga among them – has never lost his ability to use metaphor and clever wordplay to get his points across. Many of his famous lines have been immortalized in pop culture. The title line of “99 Problems,” for example, has been adopted as a universal go-to expression of exclusion with its “but a (blank) ain’t one” refrain.
And although sometimes levied as a criticism against him, Jay’s lyrical subjects have spanned everything from the hardcore, dope-slinging street stories of his young adulthood to his rise to unprecedented fame and fortune as the preeminent rapper in a post-Tupac/post-Biggie world; and from his violent past and the various rap beefs he navigated earlier in his career to all of the bennies (and pitfalls) of his relationship with his arguably even more famous wife, Beyoncé.
During his rise to billionaire status, one which has made him the fifth-richest African American and the wealthiest American musician according to Forbes’ 2019 numbers, Jay has remained relevant by expressing his world view on many socio-political issues, all the while never losing his knack for that clever turn-of-phrase that kept people interested.
And when you factor in the number of other artists’ careers the multi-hyphenate has influenced or launched as rapper-producer-industry exec-entrepreneur – including some future RRHOF candidates themselves (like Kanye West) – few can hold a candle to Jay-Z, who at 51 is now considered one of hip-hop’s more refined elder statesmen.
With rap’s now 13-year-old acceptance into the Rock Hall of Fame and with a younger, more diverse group of voters deciding who gets in, Jay-Z’s path to entry seems much easier than that of his early predecessors, although many of the seven previous rap acts who got in did so on their first ballots as well.
Outside the rap genre, Jay may even be more of a lock than the fellow first-ballot eligible Foo Fighters, the post-grunge alternative band that is the second-most likely inductees among 1995/96’s debut acts.
Foo Fighters should be a shoo-in as well, except the 11-time Grammy winning, Dave Grohl-led band out of Seattle has had its own share of critics – particularly among rock’s purists who say Foo Fighters lack that iconic set of hits that have transcended time or they’re not proper rock (of course, that last jab hasn’t stopped many acts from getting into the RRHOF in the past).
My guess is that both the Foo Fighters and Jay-Z will get in in 2021. The only question for Jay is will the new schedule make him 2021 eligible or will he have to wait until 2022.
Either way, and assuming no other previously eligible rappers – like LL Cool J, Rakim or Nas – precede him, Jay would be the eighth rap act overall – and only the third solo rapper after Tupac and Biggie – to be inducted into those hallowed halls in Cleveland.
Date change aside, it’s an inevitability that’s about as sure a bet as one can make when it comes to hip-hop and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
DJRob is a freelance blogger from Chicago who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.
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