Remember When: Big Rappers Boycotted the 1989 Grammys for Hip-Hop Recognition

In 1989, the Grammy Awards appropriately recognized rap music as a genre to be included in the awards cermeony. That year, they instituted a new category: Best Rap Performance. The only problem was, it wasn’t televised.

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That’s when a group of some of the most popular rappers in the genre decided to boycott the Grammy ceremony. They were glad for the new category, but felt it was a slap in the face for it not to be televised.

“We was like, ‘We’re not going,’ and Salt-N-Pepa was like, ‘We’re not going.’ So everybody decided ‘Let’s not go!’,” said DJ Jazzy Jeff.

Along with Jeff, his rap partner Will Smith, LL Cool J, Public Enemy and Salt-N-Pepa sat out the ceremony. And it’s something that Smith and Salt-N-Pepa recently reminisced about in a podcast interview.

“Once we took a stand,” said Pepa in the new clip shared on social media below, “because our music was good enough to be nominated and won but not good enough to be televised or seen—you know how important that stand for us to boycott [was]?”

Rap and hip-hop, which was created the decade prior, was making inroads in popular music, but as is the case often in history, institutions didn’t want to support the genre fully. Any amount of speculation as to why is possible—too many Black faces on a predominantly white show comes to mind. But who knows, in the end, what the exact logic was.

The point, however, is thanks to a great deal of risk, the genre continued to grow and gain recognition. Now, it’s the most dominant musical and cultural form in the world. Thanks to groundbreakers in the sound. “They listened,” said Salt in the clip below with Smith.

Salt-N-Pepa won their first Grammy in 1995, with nominations coming prior in 1989 and 1992. And in 2021, the rap group garnered the biggest award, winning a Lifetime Achievement Grammy.

Check out Smith with Salt-N-Pepa talking about it below.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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