The Grammys suck at getting much correct when it comes to anything rap-related. That much we know. They’re Mark McGrwire in 1998. Chances are they’ll go 1-4, striking out twice and launch a 600-foot foul ball the other plate appearance.* Every now and then though, they’ll connect and send one into orbit. Like in 2009, when T.I., Kanye, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne and M.I.A. performed “Swagger Like Us.”
The night itself still had gaping holes highlighted by the notable absence of Chris Brown and Rihanna. For five minutes, however, a sense of edge overtook an award show historically been known to be stiffer and more difficult to digest than week-old grits. A heavy dosage of nostalgia is littered throughout the clip. For instance, Kanye was still in his bro-mullet phase, riding off the success and uniqueness of 808’s and Heartbreaks. He was still months away from the Taylor Swift incident which, if you think about it, forever altered the pop culture landscape. Kanye disappeared for a year with no signs of life, only urban legends of massive Hawaiian recording sessions.
Jay-Z, well, he was still enjoying the fruits of being rap’s rare icon who was very much relevant. His wife was finer than unicorn hair with a bank account to single handedly evaporate Sallie Mae. He helped usher in the movement which was the Hip-Hop element in the Barack Obama campaign. In essence, he was the same artist he is now, only with two more projects (Blueprint 3 and Watch The Throne), a new basketball arena (Barclays) and a baby girl (Blue Ivy) added to professional and personal portfolios. What to take away from all this? Life, for the most part, has always been grand for The King.
Wayne – who in my opinion had the “weakest” verse, which has since grown over time – was nearing the end of his solo-dominant apex. 2008’s Tha Carter III solidified him as a bonafide superstar; the icing on the cake on what had been a run dated as far as back as 2003’s The Prefix. There was also the lingering thought of possible prison time stemming from a 2007 firearm arrest in New York. That uncertainty mixed with the weed and nonstop success was everything for Wayne who was both an enigma and open case study of rap crossover-connectivity.
Four years and a stint in Rikers later, he remains one of rap’s biggest mainstream draws, not to mention continuing his on-again, off-again bromance with Jay. Again, he’s still a headliner. But the hype surrounding his name? It’s just…different.
Lastly, T.I. I remember watching this wondering why the hell his mic was so low, especially given the fact it was A) his song B) the last verse and C) the best verse on the song.** In 2009, Tip’s story was well known. Unlike Wayne, jail time was certain and on the horizon for Clifford. This Grammy performance served as one of his last major hoorays before assuming the “three hots and a cot” lifestyle later that spring. It was also one of the last few times T.I. stood at the peak of his popularity (or at least near it) with his A-Town crown/fitted cap in that familiar tilt on his head.
Furthermore, we were unaware at the moment, but the period between Paper Trail and Trouble Man would be littered with rushed music and sentencing hearings. Leaving a cloud of doubt hanging over his career, his “King Of The South” crown was in jeopardy. Not because his skills were diminishing. But because Tip’s biggest problem throughout his career had always been himself. He never could seem to get out of his own way. It was sort of like wondering if Michael Vick would ever return to form following his own hiatus.
A lot has changed and stayed the same since “The Rap Pack” invaded the 2009 Grammys. Four years, months of jail time, a newborn and more separate us between now and then. And the Grammys grasp on understanding the importance of not only presenting Hip-Hop, but recognizing its history and present-day impact continue to leave much to be desired. Because the reality is this: just as many people want to see Hip-Hop on center stage as other fans want to see Taylor Swift play her ukulele for five minutes waxing poetics about her most recent ex-boyfriend.
How do the four celebrate their five year anniversary in 2014? Hell if I know. They probably won’t. With nearly a half-decade until our belts, “prisoner of the moment” critiques expired long ago. It’s safe to say four men – a known former drug dealer/modern-day corporate kingpin from Brooklyn, a Chicago resident moonlighting as the most outspoken artist of his generation, a New Orleans living legend responsible for a run through rap the likes of which we had never seen and an Atlanta Brave known for his success as much as his personal hurdles – provided the historically uptight award show an irreplaceable and spontaneous moment.
At least for one night frozen in time, Hip-Hop owed the Grammy’s.
* – The equivalent to what should have been a dope performance, but they’ll ruin find a way to ruin it. Think 2010 and the over-censored “Forever.”
** – And praying M.I.A. didn’t go into labor, too. Although, watching Tip, Jay, Ye and Weezy attempt to help deliver a baby live on stage would have single handedly gone down as the greatest Grammy moment of all time. On second thought, I really wish M.I.A. would have gone into labor here. We were cheated out Hip-Hop pediatric history.