Yo! MTV Raps And Rocks: 10 Of MTV’s Greatest Non-VMA Live Music Performances

Senior Pop Culture Editor
08.08.13 25 Comments

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Although the target has amusingly moved onto Pitchfork, much of yesterday’s Stephen Colbert/Daft Punk (or lack there of) scorn was directed at MTV, which wouldn’t let Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter perform on The Colbert Report because they had already been booked for the VMAs. It’s, of course, much more complex than that, but: BOO MTV SUCKS MORE LIKE NO MTV START PLAYING MUSIC VIDEOS AGAIN.

That being said, it’s going to be pretty cool seeing Daft Punk on the VMAs. Certainly more so than having to listen to whatever slab of douche-flavored cotton candy Maroon 5 recently released. Anyway, in honor of Colbert getting Punk’d, I wanted to take a look back at some of MTV’s greatest performances, with one catch: they can’t be from an award show. So, no VMAs and no the Snookis (I’m guessing that was a thing at some point), but yes Yo! MTV Raps, yes 120 Minutes, and yes The Jon Stewart Show. Obviously, most of the clips are from the 1980s and 1990s, which says a lot about me, sure, but also something about where MTV’s focus is now. Sorry, Vanessa Carlton.

The exhilarating end of the Leaders of the New School was the beginning of thousands of jokes about attending The New School in New York City. (“YES, I GOT A DINCO D ON MY EXAM. HAHA, GOOD ONE.”)

“Ladies and gentlemen, meet Alex Chilton.” That’s a ridiculous thing for someone in 1985 to have said about Chilton, who became famous when he was 16 years old with the Box Steps before going onto recording some of the finest, sweetest, most swaggering music in rock history with Big Star, but who cares: it’s the utterly unassuming Alex Chilton walking around New Orleans, playing an acoustic guitar and harmonica, on MTV.

When I was a kid and first watched (then memorized) Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged, I was furious they didn’t perform “Smells like Teen Spirit.” I was a dumb kid.


I could watch a drunken, possessed ODB freestyling over “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” for the rest of my life.

Iron Maiden were given an entire special to themselves in 1992. It’s awesome. Here they are blasting and soloing their way through “The Trooper.” It’s really awesome.

This performance was filmed in New York the day after the 1997 Video Music Awards, where Fiona Apple beat out Meredith Brooks, Hanson, Jamiroquai, and the Wallflowers for Best New Artist in a Video, a.k.a. the day after Fiona’s infamous “the world is bullshit” speech. She may have been emotionally wiped out from all the (ironically) bullsh*t she received from the press, and she funnels it all into “Never Is a Promise.” Soon after, this studio would host Korn and everything would be terrible.

The Jon Stewart Show was the best.

Related: Eric Clapton’s Unplugged is awful.

During Yo! MTV Raps‘ final episode, Rakim, Erick Sermon, Chubb Rock, MC Serch, Redman, Method Man, Flavor Flav, Large Professor, and Craig Mack, among others, came out and performed an epic freestyle, one of the best you’ll ever see on TV. Especially now, where this kind of deliciously unedited, shambling spontaneity would never actually make it to air. What you see above is only part one.

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