Rappers Delight Exhibit on Hip Hop and Rap at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Rapper's Delight Retrospective

Rock n’ roll is difficult, some might say impossible to define.

Ice Cube did as good a job as any at the 2016 Rock Hall Induction Ceremony when he said, “Rock & roll is not an instrument, rock & roll is not even a style of music. Rock & roll is a spirit…Rock & roll is not conforming to the people who came before you, but creating your own path in music and in life.”

The master rapper and lyricist from the group that gave the world “Fuck Tha Police” just about summed up an entire movement. Color us unsurprised.

Rapper’s Delight, an exhibit on the history of hip-hop, is more than a monument to rappers past: it’s a peek into the future. This year we inducted Tupac Shakur, and rap’s prominence is only rising. We don’t know what the future of rock holds, but if the innovations of groups like N.W.A. and Public Enemy are any indication, that future is bright.

The Roots of Rap

Hip-hop’s roots go as far back as the early influence inductees. Blues singer Bessie Smith sang about everyday Southern life in direct, plainspoken lyrics that we now see as a portent of rap. Early Influence inductee Louis Jordan is considered by some to have made the first rock and roll record with his hit “Saturday Night Fish Fry,” which he delivered in the style of early rap.

Inductee James Brown is the Godfather of Soul, but he’s also a forefather of rap. His funky songs have been sampled by the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, Public Enemy and Jay-Z. Blondie experimented with rap in the early Eighties. (You can see a handwritten draft of “Rapture” on display in Rapper’s Delight.) The Red Hot Chili Peppers always displayed an overt hip-hop influence. As far as rock and roll goes, hip hop’s roots run deep.

On Display

The similarities between rock and hip hop don’t stop there. On display at the Rock Hall you can find sketches of stage designs and hand-drawn posters advertising Ice-T at Lollapalooza 1991. The do-it-yourself aesthetic is unmistakable, as present in the underground hip hop scene as it was in Riot Grrrl’s Pacific Northwest or CBGB’s.

It goes without saying that the costumes are equally spectacular. Jam Master Jay’s gold chain, Kelis’ sneakers (worn in the iconic “Milkshake” video), Ice-T’s Body Count t-shirt, Notorious B.I.G.’s custom leather jersey. We could go on.

Beneath the Surface

You can come to the museum to see one of Flavor Flav’s enormous clock necklaces, but would you know the meaning behind it? The rapper explained, saying,

The reason why I wear this clock is because it represents time being the most important element in our life," he said. "Time can't afford to be wasted, but not only that, but God only gave us one life. Each minute we live, we got to live each second to our best value. Time brought us up in here, and time can also take us out.

Yeah, you can look at a rapper’s clock and think it looks cool, or listen to their album and think it’s good for partying. But there’s always something beneath the surface, be it biting social commentary or a whole outlook on life.

The swagger is about more than attention-grabbing. These artists are philosophers whose manifestoes are punctuated by bass drops and set to a thumping beat.

Additional artifacts previously owned by Tupac Shakur can be found in the 2017 Inductees Exhibit.