On Tuesday, October 13, 2009, VH-1 aired its 6th Annual Hip Hop Honors show. In the past the honor has gone to acts that range from the Sugarhill Gang to Public Enemy to MC Lyte to A Tribe Called Quest. This year's show was a bit different because there was only one honoree: Def Jam Records. The pioneering label is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary this year and VH-1 saw fit to recognize the feat.
The show opened up with host Tracy Morgan and his best (or worse) Baptist minister routine, outlining some of the history of Def Jam and the evening's theme, which is honoring Def Jam Records. Being one of the first artists signed to the label, it was only fitting that LL Cool J was the first to kick off the reflective commentary, speaking about how he got his deal and the process of creating his first song. The Roots and a "special guest" do a rendition of "Rock The Bells". As it turns out, the "special guest" was in fact Eminem, which drew a uproarious round of applause from the crowd. Throughout the course of the broadcast, there would be several more documentary style clips of various people talking about the Def Jam way of life including Russell Simmons, Rick Rubin, Lyor Cohen, and Kevin Lyles among others spliced between the performances.
There were performances that spanned over Def Jam's 25 years of existence. DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Roots backed Public Enemy and the StreetSweeper Social Club in a performance of "Rebel Without A Pause". In a pairing of mentor and mentee, Scarface and Ludacris performed "Guess Who's Back" and "Southern Hospitality". KRS-ONE, Wale, and Gym Class Heroes put a new age spin on the Beastie Boys' "No Sleep 'Till Brooklyn". The Regulator himself, Warren G performed his 1994 hit song "Regulate" with Trey Songz filling in for Nate Dogg, who I would assume is still recovering from the two strokes he's suffered in recent years.
Film and music video director, Brett Ratner shares a funny story about the shoot for Redman's "Tonight's Da Night" video where he calls Ratner's mother a hoe and tells him to use her in the video, which leads into the performance of Red and Meth's "Da Rockwilder". The chemistry between the two is always apparent in their live shows, and this time was no different. After a quick wardrobe change, Meth came back out and went into his hit "I'll Be There For You" with Mary J. Blige. Onyx hit the stage to perform a guitar-heavy (perhaps too heavy) version of their 1993 hit, "Slam". Ja Rule dug his way from underneath the rock of obscurity he's been under to team up with Ashanti to deliver a quick 1-2 punch of "Down Ass Chick" and "Always On Time"
The legendary (and I use that term loosely) Oran "Juice" Jones showed up to belt a few bars from his 1986 song, "The Rain". For the benefit of those of you scratching your head and wondering why, Juice was signed to OBR Records, which was a subsidiary of Def Jam that catered to R&B acts. I believe I was flashed during a wardrobe malfunction (or two) when Rick Ross came out and performed his 2006 breakout single, "Hustlin'". During the late 90's, one of the biggest artists Def Jam had was DMX. It was good to see the Yonkers MC up on the stage and rapping his "Party Up (Up In Here)" song from 1999's "...And Then There Was X", but I think it would have been better if he'd gone with "Ruff Ryders Anthem" or "Get At Me Dog". The Roots and DJ Jazzy Jeff backed up Kid Rock, EPMD, Foxy Brown & Fabolous, Ghostface Killah & Chrisette Michele, and Wale as they closed out the show with a medley of "I'm Bad", "Crossover", "I'll Be", "Back Like That", and "Touch The Sky" respectively.
Honestly, I think the show could've gone on longer. There was no mention of 3rd Bass or Slick Rick. More time could've been dedicated to the R&B acts of the past like Dru Hill and Montell Jordan. In the aftermath of the show, I read a few gripes about the distribution of stage time on a few social networks (e.g. why did Ross get more time to perform than EPMD?), and also about the absence of certain artists (e.g. where's Jay-Z?). For the record, I believe he's out on the road, and the powers that be probably think more people would rather see Ross and his side-boob action than Erick Sermon and Parrish the Microphone Doctor. Aside from that, I'd say the show was entertaining. There was no real opportunity for anyone to have a Kanye West moment, and I'm assuming the security was tight enough to keep any would-be Lil Mama's off the stage. It's nice to be able to look back on the accomplishments of a hip-hop record label while they are still in existence. Twenty-five years and counting. Hopefully with the proper leadership, Def Jam will continue to stick around for another twenty-five years.
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