If there is one reason I tuned in to the sixth annual VH1 Hip-Hop Honors—a tribute to Def Jam Records—hosted by comedian Tracy Morgan, it was for the performances.
Since the annual special first aired, Hip-Hop Honors has demonstrated how even in hip-hop, classic rap songs of yesterday can and arguably should be redone by today’s well-known artists. Not just by borrowing a couple of lines from one song, but a full-on, word-for-word rendition replete with the original beat.
This is the only formula VH1 can use to get a long-term-memory deficient, popularity-obsessed, young audience to tune in to a show about a bunch of rappers who were big before they were born.
R&B and jazz artists have done this for decades, taking great, influential songs and finding ways to remake them while keeping the original’s integrity in tact. When Thelonious Monk released his classic 1944 ballad, “Round Midnight,” I am sure he was OK when, 13 years later, Miles Davis recorded his own classic rendition, and put it on an album entitled ’Round About Midnight.
Quality remakes find a way to pay homage without crossing the line into cheesy nostalgia. This is something Eminem and The Roots understood when they took the stage to perform the night’s first tribute, “Rock The Bells,” LL Cool J’s hit single from his 1985 album, Radio (Def Jam).