BROOKLYN, New York — Usually when hip-hop heads new and old gather to celebrate someone being recognized as a [url id="http://www.vh1.com/shows/events/hip_hop_honors/_2009/?source=mp_carousel"]"VH1 Hip Hop Honors"[/url] inductee, it's a pioneering act like [artist id="932"]LL Cool J[/artist], Rakim or Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.
However, on Tuesday night (October 13), during the telecast of the sixth-annual production, the Tracy Morgan-hosted event broke new ground, honoring an entire record label.
And it was only right that the label was Def Jam, the most influential rap imprint in history. The 25-year-old label was founded by Rick Rubin and cultivated by the likes of Russell Simmons, Lyor Cohen and so many other prominent figures in hip-hop. LL Cool J was the face of the label for so many years, so it was fitting that his music kicked off the event.
The Roots started things off with "Rock the Bells," but the Philadelphia band's frontman, Black Thought, wasn't alone. Thought ripped through the first verse before he gave way to a surprise guest: Slim Shady. [artist id="502642"]Eminem[/artist] has long been a Todd Smith fan, and he didn't disappoint when he got his chance to prove it to the world.
"Now I'm worldwide known/ Whether you like it or not/ My one-man band is Cut Creator/ When he's on the fader/ What's my DJ's name?"
"Cut Creator!" the crowd yelled as they finished the line.
Kid Rock also paid homage to Uncle L with "I'm Bad." The Detroit rocker was decked out in a red Troop tracksuit with matching Kangol bucket hat. Rock also manned the turntables during the night, splitting House DJ duties with Ed Lover.
The second performance of the night was from one of Def Jam's signature groups, [artist id="939"]Public Enemy[/artist]. Chuck D immediately captured the crowd's attention with the opening lines of "Rebel Without a Pause": "Yes, the rhythm, the rebel." Chuck still has one of the most recognizable and commanding voices in all of music, not just rap.
Flavor Flav came out wearing a white tuxedo jacket, matching top hat and a black bow tie. PE arguably had the performance of the night with help from the Roots, S1W and the Coup's Boots Riley. The Long Island-bred rap chiefs were just born for the stage and had the entire crowd on their feet.
Another bricklaying squad for the house that Russell and Rick built was, undoubtedly, the Beastie Boys. KRS-One, Wale and the Gym Class Heroes did a rocking rendition of "No Sleep Till Brooklyn." The song was well-received at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where the event was held — marking the first time the show took place outside of Manhattan's Hammerstein Ballroom.
Travis McCoy, who wore a black T-shirt with the names DJ AM and Roc Raida in the shape of the Run-DMC logo, took on the first verse. The Blastmaster, who is a former HHH honoree himself, took verse two and ended by saying, "Adam, get well soon," referring to Adam Yauch, who is currently battling cancer. Wale finished off the song and later in the night paid tribute to new jack Def Jam artist Kanye West by wearing a backpack and performing "Touch the Sky."
Throughout the night, Simmons and Rubin traded pre-taped memories of their days as '80s music hustlers. Cohen, who has a reputation for being temperamental, also testified about his experiences at the legendary label, even briefly poking fun at his militant demeanor. Former Def Jam executives Kevin Liles and Julie Greenwald also shared stories about their time at the House that Russell Built.
When Def Jam alumni Onyx performed their monstrous cut "Slam," it felt like the group had stepped out of a time capsule: They looked almost exactly the same and still had the insane energy that made them famous.
Sticky Fingaz climbed on top of a large speaker toward the side of the stage, forcefully delivering his closing verse — one of the most memorable in Def Jam's catalog. Rather than descend from the speaker after the performance, Sticky just climbed into the balcony seats for his exit.
Other performers included Rick Ross, Fabolous, Foxy Brown, Redman, Method Man, Mary J. Blige, EPMD, Ghostface Killah, Chrisette Michele, Warren G, Trey Songz, the reunion of Ashanti and Ja Rule, Ludacris and DMX — many of whom teamed up with the Roots for a show-closing medley of Def Jam hits.
(Check out photos from the "VH1 Hip Hop Honors" red carpet right here!)
Offstage, friends-turned-foes Ja Rule and DMX had their own reunion of sorts. The two came up together through Def Jam and, along with Irv Gotti and Jay-Z, helped breathe new life into the label in the late '90s before the gravel-voiced MCs began dissing each other on records. As X was walking out Ja was returning to his seat, and the pair saw each other, hugged and talked for a few moments.
Chris Rock, Eve, Jazzy Jeff and director Brett Ratner were among the many notable names in attendance.