I watched the VH-1 Hip Hop Honors 2005 show last night. Well, I watched most of it. I tuned out when Kanye West was performing, because I just don’t like his music. And I tuned out when Diddy Kong came onstage, because…well, I’ll get to that.
This year, taking a cue from Public Enemy’s blowout last year, they had the artists themselves perform, after some of their biggest hits had been karaoke’d by current performers (which had been the bizarrely compelling gimmick of last year’s show). So we got to see Nelly looking like a Mini-Me version of LL Cool J, in white sweats and a Kangol pulled down over his eyes, doing a serviceable version of “I’m Bad” and an acceptable “Doin’ It,” before the man himself came onstage and tore the walls down with “Mama Said Knock You Out.” (I wish he’d done “Goin’ Back To Cali” or “Big Ole Butt” instead, but oh well.) Funnily enough, he recalled not only his glory days but also his MTV Unplugged performance, because he was once again sporting big caked clots of roll-on in his pit-hair.
Ice-T and Snoop Dogg did okay for the West Coast, though Ice’s flow suffered somewhat from the relentless muting of all references to guns and drugs, all obscenities, and all uses of the N-word. Only when he delivered the first verse of the still-chilling “Colors” did he really morph back into the scarily intense figure I remember from the first Lollapalooza and a solo tour immediately afterward (the one where he did a 45-minute rap set followed by a 45-minute Body Count set).
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five put on a killin’ show, with Fat Joe filling in for Cowboy, who I guess is dead, because he wasn’t in the interview segments either. Melle Mel is just fucking gigantic now. But the best part about their show was the cameraman’s repeated cutting to LL in the VIP balcony with all the other honorees, on his feet, mouthing every word of each Furious Five MC’s verse. The true spirit of the show was embodied in that moment – a legendary rapper publicly idolizing his own heroes.
The Salt-N-Pepa segment was okay, but only okay, because Salt-N-Pepa were only ever just okay at their top-dollar best.
The segment I tuned in to see was the penultimate one, though, and it made the whole thing worthwhile. Big Daddy Kane’s inclusion in this year’s batch of honorees seemed a little weird to me. Totally, 1000 percent justified, but somehow out of place. The other guys and gals were hitmakers and pioneers, but Kane was a rapper’s rapper, a guy whose verbal skills were astonishing from his first single (“Raw”) to the time he decided to hang it up. The last track I heard from him, “Nuff Respect” on the Juice soundtrack, was as good as anything from Long Live The Kane or It’s A Big Daddy Thing (which is an even better album-as-album). I love Big Daddy Kane, and still play his tracks in my iPod, but I didn’t quite see how he fit in with Salt-N-Pepa, a salute to the movie Boyz N The Hood, and one more motherfucking tribute to Notorious F.A.T., if you see what I mean. Well, when his segment began, it all became clear. Kane was the high point of the show. He was saluted/karaoked by T.I. (who tried to do “Raw,” but failed; his Southern flow was no match for Kane’s late-80s New York relentlessness), Black Thought (who I’ve never liked much, but who did okay) and Common (who did pretty well – I like him now more than I have since Soundbombing 2). But then the man himself came out, and from his first words, the show was over. He did “Warm It Up, Kane” backed by the Roots and with one of his old backup dancers (I think it was Scrap Lover; Scoop Lover might be dead, too) plus one other guy by his side. Not only did he deliver the lyrics like it was 1989 again – and I say this as someone who saw Kane live in ’88, opening for Public Enemy with Stetsasonic and EPMD – he busted out his classic dance moves, too, including the split from which Scrap Lover pulled him up again by the back of his shirt and the climb-up-and-roundhouse-kick move. The crowd went apeshit, as well they should have done. King Asiatic Nobody’s Equal, indeed. It was the best live hip-hop performance I’ve ever seen on television, period.
I tuned out after that, as the show was almost over – all that was left was Diddy Kong’s 10,000th necrophiliac blowjob of Notorious F.A.T., and who the hell needs to watch that? I actually sort of felt sorry for him – he was playing the Chuck Berry role in the legendary/apocryphal anecdote about Jerry Lee Lewis setting the piano on fire. “Follow that, Diddy.” There was no way he could have, even if he wasn’t one of the shittiest, most uncharismatic performers/public figures alive. It was Kane’s night, and as a fan and a viewer, I couldn’t be happier.