From the moment Taylor Swift walked the stage in a combination of black lace and sequins, reinventing the emotional center of Carole King’s vulnerable âWill You Still Love Me Tomorrowâ as an empowered woman confronting a potential lover at the inevitable player / pain reality on an unexpected synth track, it was obvious that the 2021 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductions would be a night of strength in music. That Gary Clark Jr inducts Charley Patton with a reminder of the power of the blues in all music, Patti Smith on video for “Peter Pan prodigy” Todd Rundgren or Angela Bassett’s sincere tribute to Tina Turner’s courage to emerge at 40, an age where most women are cast, to become a stadium-sized rock & roll headliner at 50, this night paid homage to the icons who made it to their conditions, built careers with sweat and intelligence, love of the game and making music that lasts.
And what a ride in Cleveland, Ohio’s Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse! Sir Paul McCartney dropping an “F-Bomb” to welcome the Foo Fighters into the “% # & @ ing Rock & Roll Hall of Fame!” Drew Barrymore delusional as herself pre-pubescent, falling in love with her debut record – Beauty & the Beat – while threading towels around her body and hair, then covering her face in a white mask to recreate this album cover as she featured the Go-Go. Carole King reminding people that just as she constantly told young female songwriters to stand on her shoulders, she stood up and was inspired by Miss Aretha Franklin; then Jennifer Hudson delivered a “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman”, both gospel fervor and sexual healing.
Over the course of a five-hour night, trapped at claustrophobically closed tables on the floor, an evening passed without a moment worthy of cringe. The discourses reached higher truths and inspiration. Go-Go Kathy Valentine declaring, “… we are who we are, because our music has found a place in the hearts of our fans. By recognizing our success, Rock Hall celebrates the possibility, the kind of possibility that creates hopeful dreamers By honoring our historic contribution, the doors of this establishment have opened wider and the Go-Go’s will advocate for the inclusion of more women.
Like the Go-Go’s, LL Cool J – inducted by Dr Dre, who took a look at the extent of LL’s reach and impact – inclusion was a long time coming. Speaking of humility, of grace, he rebalanced the scales by proposing, âA lot of people, when I told them that I had been inducted, they said to me, ‘Isn’t it time? You see, what people don’t realize is that I wasn’t thinking about the people who voted against me. I was thinking of the people who voted for me. It was love … “
LL Cool J, shining in silvery leather with a massive sparkling crystal pop-up necklace, stole the performances with a slamming medley that’s as punchy as it is precise. His charisma alone pierced through the crowd; then halfway through “Going Back To Cali”, Eminem took the stage for a serious scrum on “Rock The Bells”. Toe-to-toe, they showed the hollow point ballast of rappers fighting against each other in rhyme. Pivoting with a solo “I’m Bad”, the 6-time RRHoF-nominated rap pioneer moved on to a sweet soul ballad as Jennifer Lopez appeared in Dolce & Gabbana low-rise pants, a high-waisted thong and a backing-up. black throat with an electric blue coat behind her for “All I Have”, which merged Block brio’s Jenny with LL’s smolder for a slow burn that ignited “Mama Said Knock You Out” with dancers in white tracksuits filling the aisles.
In a world of great debate about who should be in Rock Hall, LL Cool J – one of Grammy’s most effective hosts – concluded his speech with this, âThe Last Thing I’ll Say Is, Rock and Roll , hip-hop love you. We borrow your beats. We sample them. We turn them into hits. And we know where we’re coming from. We know where things are coming fromâ¦ We love you and we appreciate you.
After the words of former President Barack Obama, Dave Chappelle stepped onto the podium to suggest hip-hop counterbalance in an effective truth-leveling speech about Jay-Z’s impact – and whose reality is the rapper / mogul and what he means in a divided world. After making an apologize / don’t apologize joke, Chappelle educated the largely white audience on what inherently escapes even the most aroused.
âIt’s an incredible honor to induct this next man into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame,â the controversial comic began. “But I need everyone in rock & roll to know that even though we honor him he’s ours. He’s hip-hop. Forever and forever and someday … I could talk about his business acumen. I could talk about his musical achievements. But I think what’s most important for everyone in this room to know is what it means to us, what it means to us. ‘it means for its culture.
Citing his origins in the Marcy Projects, his early days in the sale of crack cocaine, Chappelle made the truth real with this: âAmerican Pie is not made of apples. It’s made of whatever you get your hands on … With success comes co-optation. And he never let himself be taken.
âThe way a white person might hear their music is not the same as Marcy’s. Well, he said, ‘This Jay is everyday.’ He told us he would never change … He will always remember us. We are his point of reference, which he will show us how far we can go if we seize the opportunity. For that we will always love him … And as important as this war is to some, you must understand that he has the hearts of his people. We love him more than you recognize or even realize because he embodies the potential of what our lives can be and what success can be.
Jay-Z, who was only graced by a star-studded montage of Obama, Beyonce, Rihanna, Rick Ross, Chris Rock, LeBron James, Lin-Manuel Miranda, DJ Khaled, Tyler Perry, Questlove, Halle Berry, Samuel L. Jackson, David Letterman, Common, HER, Pharrell, Trevor Noah, and more Carter lines, gave a speech that was a course of inquiry into modern hip-hop. Visibly moved, he berated Chappelle for “trying to make me cry in front of all those white people,” but honored those who have come before – and offered a sense of hip-hop power as he recounted President Obama’s call for help strengthen getting the vote in Atlanta, Miami and Ohio. Women. Black. The punks. Outliers.
Corporate as Rock Hall may be – and sponsorship and nomination opportunities were everywhere – when you step down, one thing was true: If the Ahmet Ertegun Lifetime Achievement Award from Clarence Avant for fighting without releases black talent and supporting politicians, Billy Preston who brought gospel grace and urban funk to the Beatles, Stones and our own music, Randy Rhoads groundbreaking hard rock bordering on classical music, Kraftwerk including the influence was bleeding from electronic dance music to hip-hop, Jay-Z or LL Cool J’s hip-hop projects that explode the genre, the indie / punk veteran GoGo or Germs Pat Smear in Foo Fighters or the irascible Rundgren was not music conjured up by industry or artists nurtured by American companies.
At its best, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a custodian of what happens when social forces meet determined creators who refuse to listen to what the “costumes” say. They keep coming, conjuring, embracing what they feel and building what they want. Along the way, they set people on fire, create paths for other dreams, often just as unthinkable.
Beyond Christina Aguilera singing “River Deep, Mountain High”, Foo Fighters backs McCartney for a galloping “Get Back” where Carole King honors Danny Kortchmar, Russ Kunkel and Leland Sklar of the Section by repeating their original Tapestry recording with a tender “You ‘ve Got A Friend”, the magic shone the brightest. Beyond hardships, disappointments, shipwrecks and losses to be elected, the inductees – present or not – represent beacons to anyone, as the saying goes. Sapphire in Cameron Crowe’s ‘Almost Famous’ climate speech, “ever liked a band or a little piece of music. It hurts so much.”