On April 7, at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will host their annual induction ceremony, ushering in a whole new class of artists into its hallowed institution. The slate this year is pretty stacked. Alt-rock icons Pearl Jam are getting the nod. So are 70’s stalwarts Journey, Yes and ELO, along with folkie Joan Baez, and Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers. Oh, and one of the greatest MCs to ever pick up a microphone, Tupac Shakur.
Much to the chagrin of Gene Simmons and his rockist cohorts, it looks like rap is going to take up a great presence in the museum on the banks Lake Erie in the years to come. Many people continue to argue and complain about the genre’s latent inclusion, but let’s be real, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was never strictly about pure rock. Take a look at some of the names from the very first class inducted back in 1986: James Brown, Fats Domino, Jimmie Rodgers, Sam Cooke and Ray Charles. That’s not to mention pop artists like Madonna, Donna Summer, ABBA, or Michael Jackson that received entry in later years too. The institution has always been far more diverse in its tastes than its moniker has advertised.
Tupac is the first solo rapper to be inducted into the Rock Hall, but he joins a collection of some of the most impactful hip-hop groups of all-time, including acts like Run DMC, Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five, Beastie Boys, Public Enemy and N.W.A. Not bad company, but there are plenty of big, important and impactful artists still on the outside looking in, waiting for their turn.
While this year’s class is already cemented, and with the most glaring name, Tupac, set to receive his due, I thought it’d be interesting to look at some of the candidates up for consideration in 2018. Standard Rock Hall rules apply, which means you had to put out your first record at least 25 years prior to be considered, which precludes ‘Pac’s nemesis Biggie, who will be eligible the following year in 2019. For what it’s worth Nas and OutKast both become eligible for consideration that year too, so prepare yourself for that debate.
In the meantime, let’s run through a list of ten rap artists who deserve to get a look during the next nomination committee meeting…
The Sugarhill Gang
The twin questions about who should receive the lion’s share of the credit for inventing rap and when that actually happened are thorny ones. The closest consensus we seem to reach is call the Sugarhill Gang’s 1979 single, “Rapper’s Delight,” the first major rap song. Not the first rap song mind you, just the earliest one to garner a significant amount of outside attention. For what it’s worth, “Rapper’s Delight” was recently added to the National Recording Registry for being, “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” While they didn’t exactly set the world on fire with the subsequent releases, the New York outfit deserve to make it into the Rock Hall for that fact alone. Call it the Bill Haley principle.
LL Cool J
Long before he hosted lip sync battles on cable TV, LL secured a spot as one of the most impactful MC’s in the history of rap through a string of multi-platinum releases. His debut record, “I Need A Beat” was the first official single released by Def Jam. His debut album Radio — produced by Rick Rubin — was the first official LP put out by the label as well, and the first one to go platinum. You want hits? He’s got those too: “Rock The Bells,” “Mama Said Knock You Out,” “Hey Lover,” “Loungin’,” and “Doin’ It’ to name a few. While Tupac absolutely deserves to make it into the Rock Hall, there’s an argument to be made that LL should have been its first solo MC.
2018 will be the Staten Island collective’s first year of eligibility, and they more than deserve a look. Their first album Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), which dropped back in 1993, is widely considered to be one of the greatest releases in rap history. Since then, the entire group, and it’s many members have been responsible for creating some of the most harrowing, beloved, and forward-thinking albums ever. There’s GZA’s cinematic opus Liquid Swords, Raekwon’s mafioso-inspired Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Ghostface Killah’s Supreme Clientele and Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version and Method Man’s collaboration with Redman Blackout! Behind it all of course is RZA, who’s grimy beats, inspired a generation. Cue discussion about whether Cappadonna should join them.
A Tribe Called Quest
This one feels like the most likely choice of all the artists on this list to actually make it past the nomination process and into the general voting block. The greatness of both Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders is unquestionable. Their debut album People’s Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm was the first-ever recipient of a five-mic rating from The Source. The credentials are there. That being said, while they deserve it on the merits, it’ll most likely be the publicity garnered after the passing of Phife Dawg, as well as their most recent, high-profile release We Got It From Here…Thank U For Your Service that will cause the nominating committee to punch their ticket. One thing you have to remember is that in addition to being a way to honor impactful artists, the Rock Hall is also a TV show, and Tribe, along with potential appearances from Busta Rhymes, Anderson .Paak and Andre 3000 will help drive ratings. You can already hear Kanye West’s induction speech can’t you?
What does everyone, both on this list, and in the Hall have in common? They’re all from either New York or Los Angeles. If the nominating committee wanted to inject some regional diversity into the mix, you’d almost have to give the Geto Boys the first look. Hailing from the Fifth Ward of Houston, Texas, the group made up by Willie D, Bushwick Bill and Scarface paved the way for a massive wave of Southern rappers that damn near took over the genre in the years to come. Their 1991 album We Can’t Be Stopped is a classic, featuring one of the most iconic covers of all-time. The single from that record, “Mind Playing Tricks On Me,” remains one of the best tracks from any genre released in that decade. We know Questlove, a voting member of the committee, is a fan. Talking to Rolling Stone, he called it “an awesome, complex display of paranoia,” that, “managed to add a third dimension [to Geto Boys’ sound].”
Eric B. & Rakim
Many people hold tight to the opinion that Rakim is the greatest MC of all-time. He’s almost certainly the best of the 1980s. Together with DJ Eric B., the dynamic duo from Long Island created one of the most highly-regarded works in the history of rap, the 1987 album Paid In Full. Eric B. & Rakim were actually nominated once before, back around 2011, but failed to make the final cut. Damn you Neil Diamond! In all honesty, it might be a good thing that they were passed over then. In 2016, they announced that they were reuniting for their first new tour in over two decades. It’s true that they may have shown up for the ceremony seven years back, but it wasn’t a foregone conclusion either. At least now, if they were picked up and voted in, as fans, we know for a fact that we’d get to hear and see them rip into “Eric B. Is President,” and “Paid In Full” live together.
No, I’m not joking. Despite what you may think about him, despite the puffy pants and questionable business decisions, MC Hammer deserves to be considered. His third album Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em was the first rap album to ever be certified diamond. It ultimately ended up selling something like 22 million copies, holding down the No. 1 spot in the charts for a staggering 21-consecutive weeks in 1990. You know the old saying, “A rising tide lifts all boats?” Hammer’s efforts raised the profile of rap to entirely new levels, while cementing its commercial viability in the larger musical marketplace. For that reason alone, he should get a look.
It’s hard to fathom now, but there once was a time when Ice-T was considered the most controversial musical artist in all of music. His 1991 album O.G. Original Gangsta remains one of the defining records of the gangsta rap subgenre. Its success led to his inclusion as the only rap act on the first-ever Lollapalooza festival lineup that same year with his group Body Count. What really got the conversation flowing however was the song “Cop Killer.” Even though it was very clearly a protest song, protected by the first amendment, the imagery drove Conservative politicians up the wall and sparked a national firestorm. The NRA was particularly upset by it. If you’re considering an artist’s ability to grab a hold of the zeitgeist — and really, why wouldn’t you? — Ice-T belongs in the discussion.
Boogie Down Productions
Boogie Down Productions were responsible for so many firsts in rap that’s it’s almost hard to keep track of them all. The group helped set table for hardcore rap with their 1987, debut album Criminal Minded, a record that also sparked one of the first major beefs in the genre, the so-called “Bridge War” between them and MC Shan and led to what many consider to be the first live rap battle. They also turned in one of the earliest and most poignant example of social consciousness rap with the follow-up By All Means Necessary. At the center of it all is KRS-One, of the most gifted lyricists of all-time. As a pure rapper, KRS’s skills are nearly unparalleled. His influence on the next wave of MC’s to follow in his wake is nearly impossible to quantify.
If Eric Clapton can be in the Rock Hall for his work in the Yardbirds, and Cream AND his solo career, Dr. Dre should be the first multiple inductee in the rap genre. The Apple Music executive is already in because of his work with N.W.A, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his impact on the world of music. His 1992 solo debut The Chronic is a masterpiece. The sequel, 2001, is almost as good. Hell, his most recent effort Compton was one of the best releases of 2015. That’s not even to mention his work behind the boards with Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Tupac and 50 Cent. The entire landscape of rap would look and sound totally different today if not for the contributions of the good Doctor.