In Living Color was much more than another comedy television series. The show’s ability to push boundaries with its sketches, poking fun at a range of topics from race and politics to pop culture all while championing diversity made it one of Fox’s landmark shows and an iconic cultural staple even years after it went off-air in 1994.
Helmed by Keenen Ivory Wayans, In Living Color featured a predominantly black cast — Jim Carrey was the one of the few white actors on the show — and launched a bevy of massive careers, including Jamie Foxx, the entire Wayans family and, of course, Jennifer Lopez. The show was rooted in hip-hop culture, peppering dance routines from its Fly Girls dance troupe into each show and ending the night with performances from hip-hop’s biggest names during that era, including Heavy D, Public Enemy, Queen Latifah and more.
Mary J. Blige – “Reminisce”
Since bounding onto the music scene in the ’90s, Mary J. Blige has been dubbed the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul and proved why she deserved that title with her performance of “Reminisce” from her debut album What’s the 411. As she sauntered onto the In Living Color stage, Blige belted out the emotive tune in her signature, soul-drenched croon with her backup dancers — and the show’s cast — bobbing along to the upbeat, drum-laden beat.
Eazy-E – “Real Muthaphukkin G’s”
At the climax of Eazy-E’s rivalry with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg came one of his greatest songs “Real Muthaphukkin G’s.” Despite being broadcast on a national network, In Living Color continued to push the envelope by opening their stage to hip-hop acts like Eazy-E, who performed his dis record on the show in 1994.
Public Enemy – “Fight The Power”
Hip-hop has long been a form of raw expression and reflective of the African-American experience, and Public Enemy’s standout cut “Fight the Power” gave hip-hop one of the genre’s most iconic songs to date. “The boldness in their lyrics, the level of consciousness that they have brought to their lyrics has totally redefined the level of excellence in rap,” Keenen Ivory Wayans said before introducing the group and Ice Cube to perform the anthemic hit on the show. The crowd’s energy levels rose as soon as Flavor Flav emerged onstage, clad in his signature clock and bold fashion style.
Kris Kross – “Jump”
We have Kris Kross to thank for backward clothing. In the ’90s, the duo made their mark on hip-hop with the bouncy “Jump” when they were just pre-teens. Kris Kross needed no backup dancers, but with the indelible lyrics and lively beat, it was hard for the audience and the show’s cast to remain still.
Heavy D & The Boyz – “You Can’t See What I Can See”
Heavy D’s strong lyrical skills permeated the studio space at In Living Color as he rapped over the classic boom-bap beat and showcased a more hardcore persona than what fans were accustomed to. The performance saw cameos from Flavor Flav and Tupac.
Jim Carrey as Vanilla Ice – “White, White Baby”
In Living Color wasn’t afraid to poke fun at pop culture, and for “White, White, Baby,” then-unknown Jim Carrey took on the role of Vanilla Ice to parody the rapper’s megahit “Ice, Ice, Baby.” The parody called out Ice for appropriating hip-hop culture with lines like, “I’m White, and I’m capitalizing on trend that’s currently rising” and “I’m living large and my bank is stupid/ ‘Cause I just listen to real rap and dupe it.”
Naughty by Nature – “Hip Hop Hooray”
If there’s a hip-hop song that can unite the masses, it’s Naughty by Nature’s “Hip Hop Hooray.” The group brought their classic to In Living Color in 1993 and turned the show into an afterparty with support from the crowd as they waved their hands to the infectious chorus.
Queen Latifah – “Latifah’s Had It Up 2 Here”
Queen Latifah solidified her spot as both a gifted MC and actress in the ’90s. On In Living Color, she delivered a rousing performance of her early ’90s, Naughty by Nature-produced hit “Latifah’s Had It Up 2 Here,” where she reminds her detractors that “Queen L-A-T-I-F-A-H in command.”
Gang Starr feat. Nice & Smooth – “Dwyck”
Gang Starr and Nice & Smooth lifted the energy levels on the In Living Color set to higher heights as they performed “Dwyck,” with DJ Premier laying down his scratches. The stage was filled the In Living Color cast dancing around as the rappers take turns bouncing from each side of the stage.
A Tribe Called Quest – “Check the Rhime”
On “Check the Rhime,” Q-Tip and Phife Dawg went bar-for-bar as they reminisced about their earlier days and demonstrated their lyrical abilities. The Tribe performed “Check the Rhime” on In Living Color with Phife taking over the stage for the majority of the performance as Q-Tip injected his own ad-libs into the mix.