Best Of '99: Lauryn Hill's Grammy Wins Signal New Era For Hip-Hop

Music industry figures and her colleagues sing praises of hip-hop songstress and her art after historic night.

Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at

1999's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally

ran on Friday, Feb. 26.]

LOS ANGELES — Lauryn Hill's Grammy triumph goes beyond personal achievement.

Her five wins at the Grammy Awards Wednesday night have her colleagues and industry experts rejoicing for the hip-hop songstress and the music from which she was born. Her success signals a broader acceptance for rap, the once-maligned musical style that developed in America's inner-city streets.

"I'm really proud of Lauryn Hill," said gangsta-rapper Ice-T on Thursday (Feb. 25). "It was a great thing, and nobody deserves it more. [Her] album is quality, Lauryn is on there doing her thing, and like I said, it couldn't have been a better person to win it."

In addition to setting a new record for the most awards ever won by a female artist, Hill's Album of the Year nod for her solo debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, marked the first time a hip-hop artist has nabbed the honor. While accepting the award, Hill seemed surprised that an artist of her genre won the night's top honor.

"This is so amazing," she said. "This is crazy, because this is hip-hop music."

Hill may be overstating the case. Nonetheless, her victory culminates hip-hop's movement from pop music's margins to its center-stage.

In addition to suffering the contempt of critics and music business insiders throughout its more-than-20-year history, hip-hop — particularly the gangsta-rap subgenre — has battled stereotypes and been plagued by controversy. Such rappers as Ol' Dirty Bastard, Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur have had problems with the law. Police and parents' groups have vilified these performers and other hip-hop musicians as bad role models.

This disdain has no doubt contributed to the long road the genre had to take to the top honors at the music industry's biggest awards night.

With her spiritual bent and broad musical palette, Hill may be taking rap into a new era. In addition to the Album of the Year prize, she snagged the Best New Artist award, while her

"Doo Wop (That Thing)" (RealAudio

excerpt) single scored Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song. Miseducation also won Best R&B Album.

Both onstage and backstage, Hill won praise from other artists and music industry bigwigs throughout the night and sparked talk of rap's coming of age in the eyes of the mainstream.

Michael Greene, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, said backstage that he was pleased with Hill's win. "I want to say that I was incredibly delighted that Miss Lauryn Hill won Album of the Year," Greene proclaimed. "Let's leave it at that."

After praising Hill, Greene recognized hip-hop's dominant role in today's youth culture. "Hip-hop and rap are the only legitimate rights of passage for youth today," he said. "It is the voice of rebellion, even more than rock 'n' roll. As long as kids believe it is, it will continue to be a major force in the music industry. I don't see that changing."

Singer Sheryl Crow, who won Best Rock Album for The Globe Sessions, went so far as to announce on the telecast, "I want Lauryn Hill to produce my next album."

In the past, artists and others in the industry have criticized the academy for failing to give hip-hop as much attention as the pop charts seem to warrant, since hip-hop and rap efforts account for 10 percent of album sales. A spokesperson for rapper Jay-Z — who won Best Rap Album for Vol. 2 ... Hard Knock Life — said Wednesday that the rapper did not attend the Grammys because of the academy's "disrespect" for rap.

Two of the three rap categories are not included in the televised portion of the ceremony. The award for Best Solo Rap Performance, which went to Will Smith for his "Gettin' Jiggy wit It," was among the 13 awards presented during the three-hour show out of a total of 95.

An academy spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

Backstage, rapper Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott called Jay-Z's boycott "just a Jay-Z thing. For rap to even be a category now, that's a good thing," she said. "I think rappers are getting recognition anyway, because DMX, not [country artist] Garth Brooks, got No. 1 out the door. People will realize that rap is here to stay, no matter what they want."

Responding to Greene's comments Thursday, Ice-T said he appreciated the sentiment but maintained that three categories are not enough to satisfy hip-hop's multiple forms.

"What [Greene] said right there, that was a very powerful statement," Ice-T said. "That was fly, but from the hip-hop artist's perspective, when you get into hip-hop, hip-hop is about at least three different levels. You've got pop hip-hop, you've got hardcore hip-hop, and you've got what I would call R&B hip-hop. Well, it's really about 10 different levels.

"It's not one music. You can't compare a Will Smith record to a Wu-Tang record, you just can't. They're totally different creatures."

Ice-T was among the artists awarded a Grammy in 1990 for his work on Quincy Jones' album, Back on the Block, which won Album of the Year. That album — featuring such rappers as Big Daddy Kane and Melle Mel as well as jazz stars Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis — was a fusion of hip-hop, jazz and R&B.

"Although I have a Grammy at home, I know why I got it — it was an award to Quincy Jones," Ice-T said. "Giving rap awards in the Grammys is like giving out punk-rock awards. And rap is such an avant-garde art form, it's still ... a little too raw for the Grammys."