36

This morning N.W.A. was announced as a 2016 inductee (coverage by Rolling Stone) into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In case you are not familiar, N.W.A. (the name stands for "Niggaz Wit Attitudes") was a seminal West Coast gangsta rap group in the late 80s, whose debut album Straight Outta Compton went triple platinum and reshaped the rap genre, signalling the rise of West Coast rap and the rivalry with East Coast. It included the controversial hit "Fuck Tha Police". Founding members of the ensemble included pioneering rapper Easy-E, as well as Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, who went on to launch successful solo rap careers and are today household names (Dre is also an executive at Apple, his startup Beats Music having been acquired for $3 billion in 2014, and Ice Cube has parlayed his rap success into a Hollywood actor career). A hit biopic film of the group's history called Straight Outta Compton was released this year and became the highest grossing music biopic ever. A meme based on the promotional poster for the film has been used widely used on the internet, including by President Obama. As far as influence and cultural relevance of musical acts in the genre of rap go, there can be no doubt that N.W.A. is among the top.

However I was surprised, because I thought the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was for acts in the Rock and Roll genre, whereas N.W.A. is a rap act. It'd be one thing if it were one of the "rap/rock" crossover acts, but N.W.A. is pure gangsta rap, not near any genre intersection. Why would they be included in a list of influential Rock and Roll acts?

The Rolling Stone piece doesn't address the issue, except to say that they're the fifth rap act to be inducted. The first was Grandmaster Flash in 2007. The Wikipedia article for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame doesn't really go into it either, except to say that Fox News ginned up controversy over irregularities in the 2007 induction, making the case that the vote was fixed. But the question of whether the act should've been eligible for consideration at all is not mentioned.

I hope this goes without saying, but let me add that I can imagine this may be viewed as a controversial or racially divisive question. I do not intend it to be so, and any such implications should be construed as ignorance on my part, not intentional race-baiting. I would be similarly confused if the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame started inducting Country/Western or Gospel acts, or if the Hip Hop Hall of Fame inducted a purely rock act, without any implied judgment about the relative merits of one genre over another.

  • It could be argued that there's a place for acts that, while not rock themselves, have had a significant influence on rock (in its broad sense). Certainly this could get some blues artists in, and if your definition of rock is broad enough to include rock/rap crossovers or nu metal, then rap pioneers coudl be argued to have an influence. – Chris H Dec 18 '15 at 9:34
  • Because the committee that selects artists to be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame decides to induct rap artists. This committee is private and self-governing and really answers to no one. Just about all of its decisions are controversial and raise some objection or other from fans, critics, and bands. – user546 Dec 18 '15 at 18:26
  • Context is important, as is defining terms. This all comes down to context. In the context of Rock and Roll hall of fame, Hip-Hop is a sub-genre of Rock-n-Roll. Just as one could argue Doo-wop and Death Metal are. It's a very broad term. – DA. Dec 23 '15 at 20:23
  • 1
    I do agree that rap has influences from rock blues and jazz however I think the rock hall of fame dilutes itself by adding rap. Rock was influenced by other genres to turn into what it is. I don't see the blues or jazz hall of fame adding the Beatles. Why should rock hall of fame add rap? – Ryan-Stevens-34 Apr 11 '16 at 13:13
  • 1
    @Ryan-Stevens-34 why does "rap" dilute it any more/less than the other genres it's allowed in? Is Cat Stevens "rock and roll"? Tom Waits? ABBA? Jimmy Cliff? Miles Davis? I'd argue the diversity in genres doesn't dilute it but rather broaden and strengthens it. – DA. Apr 13 '16 at 19:06
30

It's probably worth mentioning what "rock and roll" actually is. There are two definitions of "rock and roll".

The first definition is a genre popular of music that originated in the early to mid 1950s and ended in 1959, because of the following events:

  • The drafting of Elvis into the army (1958)
  • Little Richard retiring to become a preacher (1959)
  • The arrest of Chuck Berry (1959)
  • The scandal of Jerry Lee Lewis marrying his underage cousin (1958)
  • The death of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper in a plane crash (1959)
  • The payola scandal that rocked (no pun intended) the music industry, taking down a number of well-known rock and roll DJs, including Alan Freed, with it (1959)

Under this definition, "rock music" is a genre of music that began with "rock and roll" and branched out in a number of different ways. This definition also implies that the vast majority of the artists in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame shouldn't be in there, because they're not, strictly speaking, "rock and roll". They're a different rock sub-genre, like metal or grunge or surf rock or punk.

The second definition has the same start date, but essentially doesn't end, and instead somehow becomes the same as the all-encompassing genre of "rock", spawning all the sub-genres. It should be noted that early 1960s rock sounds fairly different than the rock and roll that ended under the assumptions of the first definition, as surf rock, and soul, the two biggest subgenres to originate around that time.

With the two different definitions of rock and roll established, there are certainly other acts that aren't "rock and roll" or "rock" that are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


Blues

  • Albert King
  • Bobby "Blue" Bland
  • Jimmy Reed
  • John Lee Hooker
  • Muddy Waters

Reggae

  • Bob Marley
  • Jimmy Cliff

Jazz

  • Charlie Christian
  • Miles Davis

Disco

  • Bee Gees (they were soft rock in the early 70s, but it's safe to say their disco stuff got them in)
  • Donna Summer

Pop

  • Abba
  • Madonna
  • Michael Jackson

And then there's the question of other genres, like Soul, Funk, Rhythm and blues, etc. Are these "rock and roll"? What about soft/folk rock, like Crosby, Stills, & Nash or The Byrds or James Taylor? Are they "rock and roll"?

What makes these artists and genres "rock and roll" but rap not? I don't think anything does, really. I think the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is really more about popular music than "rock and roll" or "rock", per se; it just started with the 1950s rock and roll era and moved forward.

But we can also look toward the Rock Hall for more information. First, you have their article entitled "Planet Rock: Hip Hop is Rock and Roll". As further evidence, look towards the eligibility requirements for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:

To be eligible for induction as an artist (as a performer, composer, or musician) into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the artist must have released a record, in the generally accepted sense of that phrase, at least 25 years prior to the year of induction; and have demonstrated unquestionable musical excellence.

We shall consider factors such as an artist's musical influence on other artists, length and depth of career and the body of work, innovation and superiority in style and technique, but musical excellence shall be the essential qualification of induction.

Note that there is no stipulation of genre. All influential artists who have demonstrated unquestionable musical excellence are considered. Also, looking at that page, you'll see

Ballots are then sent to an international voting body of more than 600 artists, historians and members of the music industry.

I think this is the most important insight. 600 people decide what "rock and roll" within the scope of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is. They have opened it up to fans to vote, but the top 5 artists by fan vote count for one ballot each. So, essentially, fan votes don't count, and 600 people choose what "music excellence" is and how "influential" and "innovative" an artist was.

This is why you have sub-genres that are seemingly left out of the Rock Hall, like progressive rock (as @JohnnyBones pointed out), electronic music, glam rock, art rock, and others. You also have countries left out, since almost every artist in the Rock Hall is from the U.S., the British Isles, Canada, or Australia; all English-speaking countries. And as you pointed out in your question, an executive decision was made to include the first rap artist, despite the fact that not enough of the 600 people were behind it. Whatever the 600 people say is "rock and roll" is rock and roll in terms of the Rock Hall.

  • In the first part of your answer, you argue that rock exists as a broader term, referring not just to Chuck Berry era music 1950-1959, but also to all cultural descendants of that style, such as punk and metal and grunge. Do you mean to imply that rap music is also a descendant? – ziggurism Dec 18 '15 at 4:55
  • 4
    I'd say so, yes. Look at the breaks that were used in early hip-hop records. Most of them were from 70s funk or soul or disco records. "Rapper's Delight", the first big hip-hop single, sampled the disco song "Good Times" by Chic. Musically, the only new thing about "Rapper's Delight" was the way the vocalists were delivering their vocals; the rhythm track already existed. – Joe Kennedy Dec 18 '15 at 14:54
  • For a little more context, I just came across Wheat Williams' excellent answer to the question "why do genres exist?" here musicfans.stackexchange.com/q/1026/1564. He argues that the very concept of musical genres was invented by marketers and radio stations to segregate people by race and age so that they could advertise more effectively. In this context, asking "why include rap with rock music" is somewhat akin to asking "why do black people belong in white spaces?", a question with some fairly overt racist connotations. – ziggurism Dec 18 '15 at 15:45
  • Abba are not from an English-speaking country. – Peter Taylor Dec 20 '15 at 14:35
  • Jimi Hendrix used the term 'rap' to describe spoken word sections in his music. Rap as vocal technique was used by blues performers in the pre-rock era, so hip hop at least comes from a common wellspring. – Robert de Graaf May 11 '16 at 5:10
5

The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame covers a multitude of "popular" music that is legendary and groundbreaking. Their inductees range from Jelly Roll Morton to Metallica. The Hall seeks to induct artists who have influenced the evolution of music, and there is no doubt NWA (as both a group and individually) have changed the face of music.

<Soapbox>
They seem to have a stick up their rear about Prog Rock for some reason. Still waiting for giants like Yes and ELP to get in; I'm not sure how anyone can say Chris Squire's bass playing didn't influence everyone who's picked up a bass since 1969.
</Soapbox>

  • 3
    To be fair, isn't that what prog rock is all about? Being perceived as 'too cerebral for the masses'? :) – DA. Dec 23 '15 at 20:26
  • 1
    The second paragraph seems to be a comment at best, rather than a genuine part of the actual answer, though. – Major Tom Apr 11 '16 at 13:46
3

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame does not seem to be exclusively for acts in (a narrow definition of) the Rock and Roll genre. https://rockhall.com/exhibits/the-roots-of-rock/ highlights inductees in both Country and Gospel genres. Donna Summer, Bob Marley, James Jamerson are all in there too.

What seems to have happened is that in its first year - 1986 - the induction process was quite focused on rock and roll and a family of closely surrounding genres. As the years go by, inductees start to include a wider range of artists in genres more distantly related to the work of those early pioneers.

  • 3
    From a UK perspective, it is bizarre to see rap artists represented, but very few electronic artists - even Kraftwerk aren't in there! - but maybe that reflects a difference between the UK and US markets. – user16 Dec 17 '15 at 15:52
  • 1
    No maybe about it - Electronica has a very small listener-base in the US compared to other genres. – Charles Boyung Dec 17 '15 at 21:25
  • 2
    @topomorto it likely has more to do with the cultural lag of the Hall of Fame. It can take many decades for the Hall of Fame to recognize a genre worthy of inclusion. (But I agree, Krafterwork's time is due!) – DA. Dec 23 '15 at 20:27

protected by Donald.McLean Aug 15 '17 at 18:34

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.