Throughout the first three decades of hip-hop, female MCs were largely relegated to secondary roles within the hyper-masculine culture of rap. On Saturday night, however, the b-girls were front and center, striking their best posse poses in defiant unity.
At the taping for the third annual VH1 Hip-Hop Honors at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom, the ladies — led by honoree MC Lyte — collectively shined, showing support for one another and easily stealing the spotlight from their male counterparts.
Lyte, the lone woman honored at this year’s ceremony, is the second female act — following Salt-N-Pepa, who were recognized last year (see “Kanye, Snoop, Common Join Ice-T, LL, Big Daddy Kane At VH1 Hip Hop Honors” ) — to be highlighted by the Hip-Hop Honors. Her all-female tribute ensured that a much-needed woman’s touch was added to the proceedings, which were hosted by Ice-T.
Lil’ Kim, Remy Ma and Da Brat collectively paid tribute to MC Lyte — the first solo female hip-hop artist to earn a gold single (1993′s “Ruffneck”) — by joining forces to perform crowd-rousing renditions of the Brooklyn queen’s greatest hits, including the scathing “10% Dis” and “Paper Thin.”
Decked out in ’80s regalia, a raucous Lil’ Kim bounced along the stage in a Sergio Tacchini tracksuit, exchanging verses with a doorknocker-earrings-rocking Remy Ma, to the delight of the audience. Da Brat, clad in denim, later joined the duo onstage — as did Lyte herself, along with actress Regina King and Yo-Yo, who introduced the segment.
“It’s a man’s world, says who?” Yo-Yo said after the performance. “We make this thing go round and round too.”
Although it was clearly ladies night at this year’s event, there was still plenty of love doled out to the fellas. The man of the evening, without question, was legendary lyricist Rakim, of Eric B. and Rakim fame. The God MC took to the stage, commanding the microphone as if it were 1988 all over again.
Rakim performed a number of songs from his classic catalog, including a new track from his forthcoming album that drew a strong response from the crowd. Common introduced the set, calling the rapper “the best MC to ever touch a microphone.” Talib Kweli, who performed Rakim songs along with the Roots’ Black Thought, added, “I’ve been preparing to pay homage to Rakim all my life.”
The techno-infused style of Afrika Bambaataa and the punk spin of the Beastie Boys were also acknowledged, as were gangsta-rap pioneer Ice Cube and entrepreneurial wizard and Def Jam founder Russell Simmons, who was introduced by one of his more famous pupils, Sean “Diddy” Combs.
Tribute was also paid to the Wu-Tang Clan — Ghostface Killah and frequent Wu collaborator Cappadonna were notably absent — marking the first 1990s group to be recognized by the Hip-Hop Honors. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Young Jeezy and Lil Eazy-E honored Ruthless Records and N.W.A founder Eazy-E. In one of the more touching moments of the evening, the late rapper’s widow, Tomika Woods-Wright, was noticeably moved watching the younger E’s performance.
The show, which also featured Big Daddy Kane, Outkast, Fat Joe, Fabolous, Xzibit and Lil Jon among its performers and presenters, kicked off this year’s Hip-Hop Week in New York. A number of hip-hop events will take place in the city this week — including exhibits at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Museum of the City of New York, as well as an EPMD reunion concert — leading up to the telecast of the 2006 Hip-Hop Honors, which airs October 17 at 9 p.m. on VH1.