Roots drummer and bandleader Questlove was given a nearly impossible assignment in pulling together Sunday night’s (Feb. 5) generation-spanning, all-star tribute to hip-hop’s 50th anniversary at the 2023 Grammy Awards. How do you represent a wholly American art form that has spread from coast-to-coast and around the globe without leaving out someone’s favorite MC?
Welll, according to a series of posts from Quest on the day after, he did his best, but there are some good reasons he couldn’t get everyone’s No. 1 in there. “general ?s answered about last night: (some are asking if we are playing erasure games so uh….yeah I don’t play that so—in answering the questions of “why wasn’t dada there?),” he tweeted.
The answer(s) were simple, he added, “1. already booked 2. declined our offer straight up 3. or a third option im not gonna get into.” A fourth reason, he noted, was that the team made the decision to wait for a two-hour taping of a special slated to take place in August that will give the team more space to fill in the blanks. “We decided to eschew those who passed away, & give flowers to the living — for starters I learned with VH1 Honors not all rappers are good MCs and bad karaoke is a danger slope,” he said. “And WAY too many legends passed so someone’s estate was gonna be heated.”
The Roots timekeeper said in an interview that his original cut for the special segment ran to nearly a half hour, something the Grammy brass said was obviously untenable. So he had to cut it down to around 12 minutes for the heart-racing final version. In the end, the impassioned, mind-bending medley roped in everyone from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Run-DMC, LL Cool J, Salt-N-Pepa, Rakim and De La Soul’s Posdnous (Kelvin Mercer), to Scarface, Ice-T, Queen Latifah, Public Enemy, Outkast’s Big Boi, Method Mad, Missy Elliott, Busta Rhymes, Nelly, Too Short, Swizz Beatz and the Lox, as well as new schoolers Lil Baby and Glorilla.
“This went through a crazy evolution. all my suggestions were 20 min presentations with Breakbeats/Graf Legends/Dancers/DJ/Beatboxers,” Quest continued. “You’ll be shocked how fast 25-40 secs goes by and you don’t even get the halfway mark of 1995l remember 1973 to 2023 was the goal… we were aware of playing our biases out (if it were me alone? idda just skewered to my teenyears). at one point I said ‘we should do ALL women!!’ —that idea didn’t get too …..far (we didnt have time to do a ‘Some Kind Of Monster’/Kumbya thing to make that a reality).”
The notoriously methodical drummer said he had some criteria he wanted to follow (“alive? harmonizing? turntablism? fighting shape? NYC? LA? BAY? ATL? NAWLINS? HOUSTON? MIDWEST [checkmark emoji] born before 1960? born after 1995? Superlyrical? Stylistic? Original? generally known by at least 2 generations?”). But if your pick wasn’t there there might be a reason.
One, he revealed, was that two “crucial” acts canceled 10 minutes before air. “Cancellations that mighta made it look like we were biased in our choices. but just understand we literally tried to SQUEEEEEEEZE everyone in,” he promised.
As for why there was not much representation from the new generation of 2010’s rappers, Quest explained that as well. “Because they said ‘no’, or they walked out… I’m sure there were all types of circumstances, but Ice-T as the Only L.A. representative, in Staples Center, in Los Angeles… is WILD!! Great performance otherwise.” Questlove answered, “welp: I asked like 10 legends so….sometimes you gotta go with the one who wants you. again might not be your preference but most of hip hop has side gigs. Acting was the main issue. lotta movies being shot.”
In a pre-show interview with the New York Times, Quest further detailed the crazed rush to get the set together, revealing that the two who dropped out at the last minute (Lil Wayne, Future) and the “damn near Jerry Maguire levels” of cajoling he needed to employ to get Missy Elliot — “world famous for the word ‘no’” — to perform. Plus, he noted, there are a number of major acts (Drake, Jay-Z, Public Enemy) who have for years accused the Recording Academy of not giving hip-hop its proper due at the awards.
See Questlove’s tweets and the full performance below.