I have been a fan of rap music since about 1985. Back the, everyone thought it was just a fad. I wonder where those critics are now, seeing as how rap is still hot, thirty years later. I bet they’re not making disco comparisons today.
Interestingly, the first Grammy for Best Rap Performance was awarded to DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince in 1989 for “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” The first Grammy for Best Rap Album was not awarded until 1996, however; Naughty by Nature beat out the other nominees—2Pac, Bone Thugs n Harmony, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and (ahem) Skee-Lo—to take home the award.
But what if the Grammy were as with it as I was? Who would have won in those earlier years?
1985: The Nominees
In 1985, rappers were just beginning to create and release full-length albums, generally on small, privately owned record labels. Most of them didn’t get a lot of spin, and many of them are forgettable. So there really aren’t a whole lot of choices for nominees. Only two real contenders this year:
L.L. Cool J, Radio (Def Jam Records)
Radio was not only the first full-length album released by Def Jam Records, it was also the first album by L.L. Cool J, released when he was only seventeen years old. Rick Rubin, co-founder (with Russell Simmons) of Def Jam records, produced the album. Among its best tracks are “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” and “Rock the Bells.”
Run D.M.C., King of Rock (Profile Records)
Though this album was produced by Russell Simmons, it was not released on Def Jam. It was the second album by Run-DMC, the follow-up to 1984’s Run-DMC. The most significant single was “King of Rock.”
This is a tough call as both albums are considered old-school hip-hop classics. Run-DMC were definitely the kings of hip-hop at the time, but L.L. hit the ground running and has never really stopped. To make my decision in a completely nonscientific way, I’ll look at the two best songs. “Rock the Bells” still rocks, but “King of Rock,” with the trademark Run-DMC vocal back-and-forth, sounds dated. For that reason …
The Imaginary Grammy goes to
L.L. Cool J, Radio