According to RIAA chairman/CEO Mitch Glazier, “I don’t think there has ever been a time in music history when the influence of hip-hop has been more evident…. Streaming is the biggest revenue generator for the industry, and hip-hop accounts for a huge percentage of those streams.”
Given the genre’s dominance, he adds, “now is exactly the right time to look back” to celebrate the pioneers who helped create rap. On Sept. 14, the RIAA will do so at RIAA Honors Pioneers of Hip-Hop, to be held at its new headquarters on F Street NW at the East End of Washington, D.C.
To properly commemorate the genre’s legacy, the RIAA Honors will salute Grandmaster Flash; MC Lyte; Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.; and Universal Music Group general counsel Jeffrey Harleston as their inaugural honorees.
Grandmaster Flash, who is considered one of the early innovators of DJ’ing, first earned recognition with his and The Furious Five’s seminal 1982 debut album, The Message; the title track is one of rap’s earliest hits. “Grandmaster Flash perfected the technique of scratching and mixing and brought it to a wider audience. He was an incredible innovator in technology and the art of hip-hop,” says Glazier. He adds that “The Message” was the first hip-hop song that was recognized by the Sound Recording Preservation Board and entered into the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress in 2002.
In 2007, Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. “It’s an honor to be recognized,” says Grandmaster Flash. “But also to be in great company with artists that have touched millions of fans as I have in my career. We artists do this to touch our fans, and the RIAA makes sure it’s counted.”
MC Lyte “was an innovator in the art of singles and collaborations and made sure that collaboration in the hip-hop community was the key element of the art going forward,” says Glazier. “She has also evolved into all aspects of hip-hop, not just being an MC but also in fashion, acting, art and other parts of the culture.”
“It is an amazing honor to receive such an acknowledgment from the RIAA,” says MC Lyte. “They’ve watched my maturation from adolescence into adulthood and witnessed every musical release. I’m excited and inspired to do more, and thank you to the RIAA for recognizing me and the body of work I’ve created with an amazing and talented group of music makers.”
Longtime label executive Harleston will receive recognition for his three decades of work alongside acts such as Mary J. Blige, Public Enemy and Common. He also founded the Universal/Motown Fund, an endowment dedicated to providing financial assistance for artists from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Jeffries, who has served parts of Brooklyn and Queens in the House of Representatives since 2013, will be honored as a “champion of the music industry and creators” who helped push for the Music Modernization Act in 2018 and the CASE Act in 2020.
The RIAA Honors debuted in 2019, when country music star Miranda Lambert was celebrated along with Atlantic Records executive vp of Black music A&R Lanre Gaba, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. The event, which recognizes artists, label executives and policymakers who have an impact on American music, culture and society, is meant to be held annually in D.C. but was postponed for two years due to the pandemic.
With the honorees chosen, the RIAA is working with D.C. health officials to ensure the safety of those who attend the event, the first to be held at the RIAA’s new headquarters downtown.
“It’s meant to showcase American music and history,” Glazier says of the new offices. “When you come in, just through the gold and platinum plaques program, there’s a tour of American music and its history. We have a wall of every diamond album [in the entryway] that has ever been certified. We have a wall chronologically going through the past several years of the Latin gold and platinum program. You can’t help but feel music and music history when you walk in.”
The RIAA has also partnered with the National Museum of African American Music to create content with the National Recording Registry that is tied to the RIAA Honors, including coverage on the museum’s podcast The State of Black Music. In addition, the RIAA will conduct video interviews telling the story of the pioneers that will be given to the Library of Congress.