Since people liked the VMAs thing, it’s time for another one. Believe I’ll keep doing these things every time there’s a music-related televised event until the Voice fires me or I forget to pay my cable bill. I’m not entirely sure what the point of the VH-1 Hip-Hop Honors is. How are the honorees chosen? Do people vote on them like with the Baseball Hall of Fame? Are they chosen based on who they can get to show up to the induction ceremony like the WWE Hall of Fame? Do they think they’re really finding the most important people in rap history to honor with this thing, or are these just the people they thought were famous enough to put on TV and still capable of putting on an entertaining-enough show when they’re thrown out onstage? And does any of this diminish the pleasure of seeing these old guys on TV again, thrilled that people remember them, doing their best to live up to their former selves. No, probably not.
The thing about Hip-Hop Honors is that its aims are different from those of the VMAs. It’s not about dazzle; it’s (I think) about credibility. VH-1 isn’t really trying to educate the world about rap music, though it may actually end up doing that, at least for a few people. It’s trying to prove itself an authority, entertaining and still being relevant. It’s not an easy line to walk; they could easily end up doing something perfunctory and insulting or boring and sepia-toned if they stray too far in either direction. But there was basically nothing risible about Hip-Hop Honors, and I’m happy that they’re going to be doing this every year.
8:40: Apparently there’s a pre-show, and I’ve already missed most of it. MC Lyte is interviewing Kwame, Dana Dane, and Greg Nice on a gold carpet. A bad sign: VH-1 has had three days since the taping to fact-check, and they still spelled Kwame’s name Quame on the on-screen graphic.
8:45: Lyte interviews LL Cool J, who is rocking his circa-1985 look (warmup suit, fat gold chain) and looking awesome.
8:47: Lyte keeps asking people if they notice the gold carpet, which is getting old fast.
8:54: Aww shit, you know it’s a big night if Jason Kidd and Omarosa are there!
8:56: David Banner and Fat Joe, in sort of a touching moment, talk about their Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, somehow managing to do it in a way that doesn’t seem overly self-promotional.
8:57: In a pre-prison interview with Fab 5 Freddy, Lil Kim wears way too much makeup.
9:00: The first of many black-and-white skits where hosts Russell Simmons and the Reverend Run squabble entertainingly. Run is wearing that stupid priest collar again. Their onstage introduction is a clip from Krush Groove, which means this show’s intro is already roughly one million percent better than last year’s cracked-out Vivica Fox danceathon, even if Run is really just here to plug his reality show.
9:09: Russell Simmons trips over his words for the first time. I get the feeling that would keep happening if these guys kept appearing onstage. But no: this is the last we’ll see of them for an hour and fifty-five minutes.
9:10: Nelly is dressed like old-school LL and doing “I’m Bad.” It’s cute! Ciara is also there for some reason. They do “Doin It.” If you only have time to do pieces of four LL songs, maybe “Doin It” should maybe get the axe.
9:14: LL does “Mama Said Knock You Out,” which, I mean, is awesome.
9:19: I can’t decide if the VH-1 promo where some white guy reads the “Doin It” lyrics over plinky classy piano is an affectionate rib on rap music or if it just means that they really never took it seriously at all. Either way, it doesn’t really seem like they should be doing this right here. (And if there was ever any doubt that VH-1 expects a mostly white audience for this thing, this commercial break should dispel it. We see a Get Rich or Die Tryin’ ad, a sneaker commercial with Run and Rush, and a whole lot of white people.)
9:24: Ice-T in Ice-T video clip: “You’re never going to hear anything from Ice-T that’s corny or soft or pop.” My girlfriend: “Dude, you’re on SVU!” Still, it’s really cool to see them recognizing someone who’s not one of the canonical New York guys, and Ice absolutely deserves it. I’m still not holding my breath for Too Short or the Geto Boys getting honors next year, though.
9:27: I guess it was a no-brainer to get Snoop to come out and do “6 ‘N the Mornin’.” Still, meh. Ice just murders him, running out in all black with a bandana over his face, still sounding amazing.
9:29: Don Magic Juan is onstage. Someone needs to not let Don Magic Juan onstage ever again. Seriously, they don’t let Farnsworth Bentley onstage at stuff like this anymore, do they?
9:36: Spike Lee hasn’t significantly changed the way he dresses in nineteen years, which is pretty impressive. He’s toned it down a little, but he’s still rocking a vertical-stripe button-up with the top button buttoned in 2005.
9:39: A really cool video clip on this history of the Furious Five, with a Cowboy tribute and everything.
9:44: Grandmaster Flash does a fun-if-pointless DJ routine with Jazzy Jeff and Kid Capri.
9:45: Furious Five performance! I’m impressed that they managed to get all these guys back together; I thought they’d hated each other for years. Cowboy is confusingly replaced with Fat Joe. Melle Mel is scarily diesel, like he’s spent the last twenty-two years lifting weights without taking any breaks to eat or sleep or, um, practice rapping. But the only one who has really aged badly is Kid Creole, who has weird thinning hair and bugged-out eyes. The set holds together pretty well until everyone gets a bit sloppy on “The Message” (which includes an absolutely unnecessary “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” interpolation).
9:57: In their video package, Salt-N-Pepa mention Hurby “Luv Bug” Azor without bringing up the whole controlling-and-exploitative-svengali thing (though, to be fair, they had like two minutes to present their entire history). I wonder if he’s watching this.
10:00: This performance is the first time Salt-N-Pepa have performed in seven years, the first time that the original members of En Vogue have performed together in ten years, and the first time all seven of them have ever performed together onstage. That’s all quite impressive; it’s almost a shame that all this is just happening so VH-1 can show them performing a pretty good rap song from eleven years ago. En Vogue looks and sounds amazing, Salt-N-Pepa look good in a sort of attractive-teacher way, and the Roots sound pretty great playing this. But “Whatta Man” and that’s it? No “Push It”?
10:11: Nia Long and, for some reason, Anthony Anderson introduce Boyz N the Hood. Were Ice Cube and Cuba Gooding really too busy?
10:14: John Singleton appears to be made out of rocks.
10:16: All night, they’ve shown video packages and then followed them immediately with live performances. Now there’s a weird moment when the Boyz N the Hood video package ends, everyone waits for a performance to start, and then the “Milkshake” beat comes in. (They’re cutting to a commercial, but it’s still pretty funny.)
10:22: Turtle from Entourage is onstage? Is he going to introduce Saigon? No. No, he’s going to introduce Kanye.
10:24: Kanye is doing “Gold Digger” on a glass riser in the middle of the crowd, and I love it when people do that. He’s also rocking a spectacularly ugly sweater, doing that dance where he jerks backwards, and running out of breath one verse in.
10:28: VH-1 runs a big promo to introduce Swann, the winner of their freestyle contest, all leading up to Swann spitting an unbelievably lame one bar. Thanks, Swann!
10:37: Big Daddy Kane tribute! VH-1 sort of proved that they’re for real by honoring Kane here. He hasn’t been in any movies or had any recent hits; he’s just one of the greatest rappers of all time, and apparently that’s enough. T.I.’s accent is way too thick for him to hit all the precise lines on “Smooth Operator,” but he seems totally amped to be onstage. Black Thought attacks “Set It Off” really hard and still somehow looks boring. Common struggles hard to keep up with the “Raw” beat, but he does manage an impressive backspin. Kane looks a little tired and heavy, but he just wrecks “Warm It Up, Kane” absolutely destroying everyone onstage with him and then running through a beautifully flawless dance routine with Scoob and Scrap (though Noz says it’s not Scrap). It would’ve been classy if Jay-Z showed up, but he doesn’t. I flaked out on Kane’s show at BB King’s on Thursday night because I was tired, and apparently I fucked up badly.
10:42: Inevitable Diddy appearance.
10:44: Genuinely touching Biggie tribute video; rappers still sound truly awed when they talk about him. Nas says something about a remix of “Gimme the Loot” that he was supposed to be on, and that’s the first I’ve heard of that.
10:53: The idea of a Biggie tribute with Faith Evans and Lil Cease and Kanye and Ludacris sounds just terrible, but it ends up coming together really well. Faith and a gospel choir sing her part of Jay-Z’s a dream, Luda sounds amped and doesn’t fuck up on the “Juicy” verse, and Kanye comes out dressed as Biggie (with the cane and everything) to do “Hypnotize,” which is pretty funny. Only Lil Cease really blows it, all huffy and out of breath on “One More Chance.” I wonder if Lil Kim would’ve agreed to the pre-show interview if she knew Cease was going to be on this. Biggie’s son looks eerily like him, grinning and high-fiving Diddy in a weirdly familial and nice end to a show that turned out way better than I expected.