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Where Hip-Hop Seeks Validation

Backseat Freestyle
Where Hip-Hop Seeks Validation
By Jayson Rodriguez • Issue #20 • View online
Welcome to Backseat Freestyle. This is my weekly hip-hop newsletter that I send out every Friday focusing on one big thing that happened over the past seven days. I also include links to what I’ve been listening to, reading and watching. If you’re a subscriber, thank you for your continued support. If you’re arriving to this issue by way of forward, LinkedIn or social media, please subscribe below. With that said, let’s get into it….

LL Cool J // Credit: Janette Beckman
LL Cool J // Credit: Janette Beckman
Front Seat
This is what’s driving hip-hop this week….
THIS PAST WEEK, JAY-Z AND LL COOL J were announced as Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees, marking the first time two rap acts would enter as a part of the same class. However, a closer look at how the two men will join the pop institution brings up questions over who is handing out recognition and what it means to accept it. Jay received his nod via the member voting process and will be inducted into the Rock HoF during his first-year of eligibility (a recording act becomes eligible 25 years after their debut). On the other hand, LL was bypassed six previous times despite a credible argument he should have been the very first hip-hop star honored. His ticket was finally punched by way of a special committee group designed to stop madness like this from occurring. I’ve heard the argument once you’re in the party it doesn’t matter how you got invited. But Todd Smith’s enshrinement will always be marked by an institutional correction. Is this the look we want hip-hop to have?
Back Seat
Respect my mind or die from lead shower.
WITH ITS CODED LANGUAGE, local references and intimate bond between rapper and listener, there’s perhaps no better indication of acknowledgment of achievement in hip-hop than what Nas said on Raekwon’s “Verbal Intercourse” record: Props is a true thug’s wife
To wade through witty wordplay and dense song composition and key in on details from gifted MC’s is a privilege and successful interpretation of their work breeds community and membership to fan tribes. 
That’s why the affirmations ringing throughout barbershops like “that shit is dope” when a new record is played or a head nod and dap given after a rapper exits the recording booth are so meaningful.  
Consider those a grassroots level reward. 
But as hip-hop has grown from Bronx blocks to outposts like Ghana, Puerto Rico, Germany, Australia and beyond, demanding to be documented, it’s spawned a cottage industry of recognition along the way. There’s the familiar like the BET Hip-Hop Awards; the long-forgottens like The Source Awards, Hip-Hop Honors, The Ozone Awards and the traditional institutions like the Grammy Awards. Each suite is/was designed to reward contributions, The Source with authentic zeal, Ozone with aim at overlooked Southern contemporaries, etc. 
Outside recognition comes with judgement. They deem this worthy. The events are often tense, during and after, depending on the outcome. The voting process is murky and questions abound.
As an attendee of many of these functions in the past, I can say, the ones put together by us and for us, are no less important but operate with a different value proposition. Peer recognition is affirming. That shit is dope. The events are celebratory, during and after. There’s a nod in agreement by all over what makes things hot and so it’s rewarded for just reasons
Outside recognition comes with judgement. They deem this worthy. The events are often tense, during and after, depending on the outcome. The voting process is murky and questions abound.
Typically, frustration beckons over how voters missed out on something the community has often times already crowned. We were just waiting for the outside body to gift the artist the hardware. When it doesn’t happen, it tends to be memorable. 
ODB bumrushed the Grammy stage. 
“I don’t know how you all see it, but when it comes to the children, Wu-Tang is for the children,” Dirty said. “We teach the children. Puffy is good, but Wu-Tang is the best. I want you all to know that this is ODB, and I love you all, peace.”
Kanye West stormed the VMA stage. 
“Yo, Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I'mma let you finish,” Ye said. “But Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time! One of the best videos of all time!”
Macklemore sent a text. 
“You got robbed. I wanted you to win. You should have,” he wrote. “It’s weird and it sucks that I robbed you.”
That Macklemore, as a white rapper, saw the perspective of recognition was coming by way of the white gaze, was notable. Another way to view this, as my brother timmhotep aku tweeted, is the white music criticism framework. There’s opposing entry points when we try to parcel the merits of rap.
(Macklemore befell a harsh judgment for something that wasn’t his fault. Maybe it was the second half of the text where he said he wanted to say what he said on stage but froze. There’s other reasons he fell off, but, yeah, he prolly caught a raw deal.) 
Still, the weight of that responsibility isn’t as crushing as the fiefdoms that formed by those in charge and what resulted in its wake.
That brings us to LL Cool J and The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. 
By almost any measure of the Rock Hall’s criteria (influence, cultural contribution and longevity), LL is not only a lock but a standard bearer beyond genre. 
So, what gives?
Institutions like the Grammys and the Rock Hall have the unforgiving mission to exist as a baseline for multiple forms of music, inserting their governing bodies as a barometer of guidance (along with setting education and history priorities, a whole ‘nother essay) and a beacon of taste.
Still, the weight of that responsibility isn’t as crushing as the fiefdoms that formed by those in charge and what resulted in its wake.
For years, the Rock Hall was the personal playground of its lead exec, Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner, and the announcing classes were a metric to determine his personal fandom or vendettas. 
The Grammys have circled the course so many times their actions should be set to the Benny Hill theme song. They’ve expanded categories, folded categories. They created sub-committees. This past year they decided to over-nominate the olds. And for good measure, allegations of corruption
Historical designation is serious business. And it calls for serious ways of doing business.
Tl:dr: these places ain’t shit. 
I’m being facetious, of course. 
Not about the politics of these orgs and the machinations of how they operate. They ain’t shit. 
But historical designation is serious business. And it calls for serious ways of doing business. That these organizations continue to operate despite enduring eras of ineptitude speaks to an opportunity to correct how they go about their business. 
The Rock Hall is under new leadership. Former MTV and iHeart exec John Sykes is leading the charge and he’s been adamant in interviews this past week that LL should have been included years ago and he’s not apologizing for how the superstar rapper got his ticket punched. While some, like my colleague Keith Murphy disagree, and I have mixed feelings over it, I’ll take the resolution in Sykes’ vision above all. 
I often refer to the mantra that success tells us what we know about ourselves and failure informs us of where we need to grow.  
When it comes to validation and shortcomings, many of the greats—rap or otherwise—stew over losses and come back stronger, with a grander (or continued) artistic innovation and ultimately earn the accolade they so desired. Kanye did it. Drake did it. Kendrick did it. Just to name a few.
That same challenge is at hand for the Grammys and Rock Hall. 
We’re waiting.
Music, reads, podcasts and videos (music and more) I’m checking for.
Last week, I wrote about A$AP Rocky’s fascinating impending rollout after he was named a headliner for two festivals without nary a dint of new music. He’s zagging when others are zigging. But I gotta give it up for J.Cole because if you are gonna zig make it flawless: doc, Slam cover, LA Leakers freestyle. His new album, The Off-Season, is here. An early favorite, “,” is what Jermaine does best: wading through small feelings to find bigger impact. [Listen]
Not to be outdone, Nicki Minaj caused a stir on the internet with just an Instagram post hinting at a release. She topped it off with an IG live Thursday night followed by her breakout mixtape, Beam Me Up Scotty, arriving on DSPs for the first time. The surprise? A new track featuring Lil Wayne and Drake. New YM next? [Listen]
We need to talk more about what Method Man has been spittin’ the past three years or so. He did it again on “Next Chamber,” featuring Raekwon and Willie The Kid, the first single from Peter Rosenberg’s upcoming debut album, Real Late. He elevates some records that might not otherwise get shine. [Listen]
Sak pasé! Kodak Black taps into his roots with the Haitian Boy Kodak EP. Wondering if he’ll ever straighten out, because the talent is there to further bloom. [Listen]
Speaking of rollout, my brother Bonsu Thompson gave it up to Cole for having the best week ever. [Read]
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Death Row, this cool interactive tour of the label’s history launched. [Read]
Variety sits with Swizz Beatz and Timbaland to talk about the future of Verzuz. This is one of the first pieces I’ve read that looks ahead more than back, with the cofounders talking about the strategy behind the celebration series. [Read]
Iamdoechii’s “Yucky Blucky Fruitcake” rise is the story of rap right now. Find out why. [Read]
Chris Rock covers Esquire. The narrative in profiles on him have been steadfast over the past 5 years and it almost feels like he’s refining the story as he works toward his auteur stage in life. [Read]
Live Nation is putting their own twist on NBA Top Shot. [Read]
A Soulja Boy Q&A? Yes. The internet icon speaks to Paper. [Read]
The Passion of the Weiss put in the work for this piece of Mac Dre’s killing, by Donald Morrison. [Read]
This is an interesting pairing, The Fader x Mark Ronson team up for a podcast and the debut guest is Questlove. [Listen]
This is a no-brainer pairing, Shea Serrano x Jinx team up for a podcast and the debut topic of No Skips is 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’. [Listen]
Dave Chappelle, yasiin bey and Talib Kweli’s new pod, The Midnight Miracle launched. It’s going to be behind a paywall but the unearthed the first one for free. [Listen]
There’s a lot to learn from MC Serch’s appearance on Drink Champs. Related: The Power Behind N.O.R.E.’s ‘Yo, Do You Remember’ Question. [Listen]
Internet Money recruited Don Tolliver, Gunna and Lil Uzi Vert for “His & Hers,” a woodsy, trippy and spacy visual directed by Cole Bennett. You’ll see what I mean. And, I’m ready for that Don Tolliver album. [Watch]
I love everything about this Migos “Straightenin” joint, the record and video feel like an ill reset before Culture 3 arrives. [Watch]
I’d contribute to a GoFundMe/Patreon/OnlyFans to watch the BTS footage of this video shoot with Jim Jones and Cam’ron. [Watch]
Back in the day: Once upon a time I was a captain for a Nike flag football league populated by New York City influences. One of the better players from Nike Football Society, Jason “Mess” Wallace decided to dedicate a podcast series to that era. I was joined by fellow captains Sunni Smith and my brother, Sean Malcolm. [Listen]
Backseat Freestyle is written and produced by Jayson Rodriguez for Smarty Art LLC. If you have any comments, questions or want to discuss sponsoring a newsletter issue, feel free to email me: And follow me elsewhere:
Twitter: @jaysonrodriguez
Instagram: @jaysonrodriguez
YouTube: jaysonrodriguez
YouTube: smartyartllc
Podcast: coming soon

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Jayson Rodriguez

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