By the time the 17-year-old from Queens dropped out of high school to release his first album, 1985’s “Radio,” hip-hop had already been born. There were DJs such as Kool Herc in the 1970s. Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” — one of the first rap singles — introduced the world to the genre in 1979. The next year, Kurtis Blow became the first true commercial success with “The Breaks.”
But LL Cool J — long before he became a charismatic cool guy on TV — was hip-hop’s first true superstar. “Bigger and Deffer” catapulted his career in 1987. He displayed a wide range, as the type of guy who could be both battle rapper and a big softy, the emcee who gave us “Rock the Bells” and rap’s first ballad, “I Need Love.” He had bigger hits in the 1990s and beyond. More than 30 years after he began, he’s apparently still working on new music.
“My late grandmother passed some wise advice to me: ‘If a task is once begun, never leave it ’til its done. Be thy labor great or small, do it well or not at all.’ That adage has guided everything I have ever done in my life and I couldn’t be more grateful because it has led me here,” he said in a statement about the Kennedy Centers Honors. “To be the first rap artist honored by the Kennedy Center is beyond anything I could have imagined. I dedicate this honor to the Hip Hop artists who came before me and those who came after me. This simply proves that dreams don’t have deadlines. God is great.”
LL Cool J also stands out as the youngest recipient, tying with Stevie Wonder, who was also 49 at the time he was recognized.
Artists are recognized “for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts,” reads a news release, and the “primary criterion in the selection process is excellence. Honorees were recommended by the Center’s Special Honors Advisory Committee, and past recipients. The winners are confirmed by the center’s Board of Trustees executive committee.”
So, now that the seal has been broken, who could be next? (Keep in mind they aren’t awarded posthumously.) Here’s a list of those worthy of consideration:
Considered one of the founding fathers of hip-hop, the trio revolutionized the musical landscape with 1986’s “Walk this Way.” The Post’s Geoff Edgers wrote about that moment:
It’s 1986. Rap music is explosive and on the rise but still misunderstood and barely represented in the mainstream. The leading innovators are Run-DMC, a trio from Queens who sport black leather jackets and unlaced Adidas sneakers. Two albums into their career, Joseph “Run” Simmons, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels and Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell are already minor stars and musical revolutionaries.
Their third album, “Raising Hell,” was a massive commercial success and solidified hip-hop’s place as not just a passing fad. They would go on to put out four more albums. (Jam Master Jay was murdered in 2002.)
Like LL Cool J, Queen Latifah is known more these days for her acting than rapping chops. But unlike LL, she’s won acting Golden Globe and Emmy awards, and an Oscar nomination. She also helped pave the way for other female rappers, and showed early on that she could make the transition from music to all-around entertainer, with her groundbreaking sitcom, “Living Single.”
You could easily argue that without Compton’s Dr. Dre, a rapper and even more prolific producer, there may never have been N.W.A’s massive success in the 1980s and early 1990s, or Snoop Dogg, or Eminem, or West Coast gangsta rap and everything that arose out of it. Oh, and his foray into the headphone industry has turned him into almost-a-billionaire.
Jay-Z couldn’t get a record deal in the 1990s, so he sold records out of the trunk of his car. He went on to start Roc-A-Fella Records and became not just one of the best-selling musicians of all time but consistently ranked as among the best rap lyricists of all time. Oh, and aside from being the one of the richest men in hip-hop, he’s still putting out music that generates plenty of buzz, including 2017’s 4:44.