The Grammys Celebrate 50 Years of Hip-Hop in a Joyous Performance

In what could be seen as an elaborate mea culpa to rap music after decades of friction and perceived disrespect, the Grammy Awards dedicated an extended, centerpiece performance on Sunday to the forthcoming 50th anniversary of hip-hop, going from Grandmaster Flash to Lil Uzi Vert in about 15 minutes.

Featuring a taste of some two dozen songs from across decades, regions and movements, the medley — curated by Questlove of the Roots and narrated by his bandmate Black Thought, plus LL Cool J and Queen Latifah — included deep cuts, smash hits and fan favorites in a rapid-fire fashion. The performance celebrated the half-centennial of the genre, which many in the industry have dated to Aug. 11, 1973, when DJ Kool Herc threw a back-to-school party with his sister in the rec room of an apartment building at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx.

Opening with Grandmaster Flash performing his traditional record-scratching and drum-machine techniques, the first of three segments breezed through the late 1970s and 1980s with appearances by Run-DMC, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Salt-N-Pepa, Rakim and Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Flava Flav. (Jazzy Jeff — along with the Fresh Prince, a.k.a. Will Smith — and Salt-N-Pepa were among the first-ever Grammy nominees in a rap category, though both groups boycotted the ceremony in 1989 because the award was not being televised.)

Representing the next waves, including early gangster rap, Southern hip-hop and 21st-century pop crossovers, were artists like Queen Latifah, Big Boi of Outkast and Missy Elliott, who performed her 2005 hit “Lose Control,” which peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. In a showstopping moment, Busta Rhymes transitioned from “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See,” his 1997 single, to his 2011 verse on Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now,” a feat of vocal speed, verbal dexterity and breath control.

Moving toward the present day in the high-energy third act, Nelly, Too Short and the Lox made way for the current crop of rap stars, including Lil Baby and GloRilla.

Concluding the set was Lil Uzi Vert, hitting viral dance moves alongside LL Cool J, to his Jersey club-influenced TikTok hit “Just Wanna Rock,” as clear an example as any of how unpredictably hip-hop has evolved.

Here’s the full set list:

Grandmaster Flash, “Flash to the Beat”/“The Message”

Run-DMC, “King of Rock”

LL Cool J and DJ Jazzy Jeff, “I Can’t Live Without My Radio”/“Rock the Bells”

Salt-N-Pepa, “My Mic Sounds Nice”

Rakim, “Eric B Is President”

Chuck D and Flavor Flav, “Rebel Without a Pause”

Black Thought and LL Cool J interlude (“Rump Shaker”)

Posdnuos of De La Soul, “Buddy”

Scarface, “Mind Playing Tricks on Me”

Ice-T, “New Jack Hustler (Nino’s Theme)”

Queen Latifah, “U.N.I.T.Y.”

Method Man, “Method Man”

Big Boi of Outkast, “ATLiens”

Busta Rhymes, “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See”/“Look at Me Now”

Missy Elliott, “Lose Control”

Nelly, “Hot in Herre”

Too Short, “Blow the Whistle”

The Lox and Swizz Beatz, “We Gonna Make It”

Lil Baby, “Freestyle”

GloRilla, “F.N.F. (Let’s Go)”

Lil Uzi Vert, “Just Wanna Rock”

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