(February 6, 2023). The Grammys’ romp through 50 years of hip-hop excellence was easily the highlight of Sunday night’s 2023 ceremony, with everyone from Grandmaster Flash and Run-DMC to Method Man and Public Enemy, and from Salt-n-Pepa and Queen Latifah to LL Cool J and Busta Rhymes (the best performance of all, period) showing up to represent the culture.

Few performances in awards show history have been so memorable, so on-point and, quite frankly, so energizing as the tribute that took place on the Grammy stage at Staples Center in Los Angeles Sunday (February 5, 2023). Even older friends who are normally agnostic when it comes to the Grammys arose from their slumber to text me about how hyped they were after watching it!

While it was mostly a nostalgic event for old-heads (and an educational one for youngsters), relative newcomers like Atlanta’s Lil Baby and GloRilla also got in on the act.  More iconic figures like Rakim, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Rick Ross and Quavo (of Migos) were in the room and apparently taking in the moment, but they didn’t perform—likely because they were slated for other performances that night (Quavo gave a touching tribute during the “In Memoriam” segment to fallen nephew and Migos bandmate Takeoff—reportedly after a heated fallout with Migos’ other member Offset—while Jay, Wayne and Rosay both performed during DJ Khaled’s critically acclaimed “God Did” to close out the proceedings).

The 65th annual Grammys aired on CBS on Sunday, February 5, 2023.

But it was the 50th Anniversary celebration that had old-timers like yours truly fully immersed from start to finish and, in the end, proclaiming that it may have been the best Grammy performance ever!

Of course, such a boast lacks perspective as many of us have not seen every Grammy performance to be able to back up that kind of claim, but “Hip-Hop 50” had to be one of the best celebrations of a music form the Recording Academy—as well as the rest of mainstream America—was very slow to embrace in rap’s early years.

The fact that the super-medley of hip-hop classics by the artists who made them was heavily skewed towards the genre’s earlier years might have been a sign that the current powers-that-be were trying to atone for the sins of their forefathers, as NARAS didn’t even recognize rap as a category until 1989, some 16 years into the music form’s history.

At least rap didn’t suffer the one-and-done fate of its musical predecessor, disco, which enjoyed a one-year Grammy category stint in 1980 before the genre was declared “dead,” an outcome that many were predicting (if not hoping) for a hip-hop genre that has been thriving for the better part of its last four decades and which has been the most consumed form of music in America for the past six years.

Yet even with its rich set of historic performers Sunday night, there were some glaring omissions from the Grammy stage (yes, even with LL Cool J’s disclaimer during the set’s intro that they wouldn’t be able to fit everyone in a short, 14-minute Grammy segment).

Casting people like Drake aside (the Canadian rapper is currently protesting the Grammys for its relegation of Black artists to niche categories), having pioneers like the surviving members of NWA (Dr. Dre was on hand to receive an inaugural Global Impact award that will henceforth be named after him), KRS-One (of Boogie Down Productions), and the surviving members of A Tribe Called Quest would have helped round things out.

White rappers were noticeably missing from the night as well, including superstar Eminem, newcomer Jack Harlow, and Def Jam pioneers the Beastie Boys.  In fact, the Beasties were the first rap act to top the Billboard album chart in 1987.  They blew down the barriers that allowed hip-hop to accumulate 250 such No. 1 albums since then.

Speaking of pioneers, that first Grammy award winner in the rap category—Will Smith (as DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince)—was also missing, understandably so given his last appearance at a major awards show in 2022, although he apparently was invited and his partner Jazzy Jeff was on hand to perform with LL Cool J.

While some groups were fully represented, like De La Soul and Bad Boys’ The Lox, with Sheek Louch, Jadakiss, and Styles P being their former label’s only reps (people like P. Diddy and Mase were absent), other groups only had partial representation.  

Wu Tang’s only rep was Method Man, Geto Boyz was repped by Scarface, and Big Boy was there for OutKast.  Public Enemy only needed Chuck D. and Flavor Flav to make their statement as one of the most important countercultural forefathers of the genre.  Black Thought was on hand for The Roots (although the group’s Questlove spearheaded the event—and gets a well-deserved kudos for putting it all together).

Perhaps the most glaring omissions, though, were the female hip-hop legends.  Aside from missing Sequence, the first female rap group to exist on record, and Roxanne Shanté, the woman who spawned a thousand Roxanne Wars during the mid-1980s, there was no MC Lyte, no Lil’ Kim, no Da Brat, no Foxy Brown, no Eve, no Trina. The rap trio JJ Fad (of 1988 “Supersonic” fame) blasted the Grammys for excluding them from the tribute.

Yes, Salt-n-Pepa, Queen Latifah and Missy Elliott were there, but they were hardly the full embodiment of female hip-hop (and they certainly don’t represent its raunchier, more sexually awake undercurrent made famous by Kim, Foxy and some of the others).

Nikki Minaj, arguably the biggest female hip-hop star of the past 15 years, is also currently protesting the Grammys for its niche categorization of her songs, so her absence was expected.  But no Megan Thee Stallion or Cardi B (who was in the room)?

It certainly would be unfair to ask the Grammys to ascribe to women in hip-hop the kind of significance that the genre itself has historically ignored or marginalized, but the women I’ve named were major players in the game, groundbreaking femcees that made it possible for people like Minaj and Cardi B to exist today.

And speaking of today, the celebration zipped through the young artists repping the TikTok era, with only Lil Baby, GloRilla, and Lil Uzi Vert holding up the 2020s mantle.  

Perhaps this was appropriate considering the more nostalgic element that was the tribute’s focus, but could it have also been a statement by the organizers about the current state of hip-hop, which has certainly seen its share of criticism in the recent past for being too violent, too misogynistic, too trap-oriented?

And finally, no critique would be complete (or even honest) without noting the dearth of West Coast representation on the Grammy stage.  Ice-T, the California artist who once rapped about killing cops before going on to play one on TV for more than two decades, was there, as was Too $hort.  

But Snoop Dogg was noticeably absent, as were the surviving members of NWA (some groups would have taken a miracle to get back together again given the bad blood between them).

Southern hip-hop was also light in its presence on the stage, which was particularly telling given it has been the predominant sub-genre of hip-hop for the last five years.  Aside from Lil Baby and GloRilla (from Atlanta and Memphis, respectively) and Big Boi (Atlanta), there were no other big names from the south.  No T.I., no Trick Daddy, no Master P, no Juvenile, no Lil Wayne…no Uncle Luke.  Lol

Lol…what?  They’re all pioneers!

Still, the performance was highly amped and the normally culturally insensitive Grammys have, ironically, set the bar high for the more culturally aware awards shows that are sure to follow suit with their own 50th anniversary tributes later this year (I’m looking at you, BET!).

Sure the Grammys cannot fully repent for its sins of the past with its questionable treatment of hip-hop and its latecomer status when the genre was well into its developmental years, but they certainly surprised on Sunday, in a very pleasant way!


Risk-taker DJRob (he/him/his), who rarely uses emojis in his articles’ titles, is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.

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By DJ Rob

3 thoughts on “<strong>Hip-hop’s 50th anniversary celebration at The Grammys was </strong>🔥🔥🔥<strong>, but these omissions were glaring (and telling)</strong>”
  1. “Never thought that Hip Hop would take it this far”. My opinion probably holds no weight here, but I feel that after 50 years, a timeline documentary covering history, demographics, corporate influence, greed, theft, wars (beef), and collaborations would have been more appropriate. Why do we continue to lean on these organizations to validate US? My generation witnessed MTV refusing to even acknowledge or play Black music/videos period. Thank God for BET’s Video Soul. Even they were hesitant about rap music at first. In closing my statement here, I am reminded of rapper Common’s I used to love her-Hip Hop. Re-create the Source Awards/Vibe Awards where we celebrate us fully, and control the narrative!

    1. The Source was founded not by us, but by a white guy named David Mays, while Vibe was founded by another David (Salzman) in partnership with Quincy Jones. I don’t know that “we” were controlling the narrative of those awards shows and publications, in fact, the narrative may have strayed too far into negativity (especially during the 1990s) with those companies often perpetuating division and hatred within the hip-hop community.

Your thoughts?