rock hall 2021

Live From the Rock Hall Induction, It’s Chappelle’s Show

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Amid ongoing controversy involving his new Netflix comedy special The Closer, Dave Chappelle appeared as a special guest at this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony, where he inducted his longtime friend Jay-Z with the help of a pre-recorded video from Barack Obama. The comedian
didn’t use his speech as an echo chamber to further address the special’s backlash, which has been generating a constant stream of headlines since its release earlier this month. Well, okay, maybe a little. “I would like to apologize,” Chappelle began. “I’m just fucking with you.” Now back to Hova.

“This is an incredible honor to induct this next man into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But I need everybody in rock and roll know that even though we are honoring him, he is ours. He is hip-hop,” he said. “Forever and ever and a day. I could sit up here tonight, I could talk about his acumen as businessman. I could talk about his accomplishments in music. But I think what’s most important for everyone in this room to know is what it means to us, what he means to his culture. Being Black in America is not as easy as it looks. It’s always … ‘don’t do this, or else. Don’t say this, or else.’” Chappelle recounted Jay-Z’s origin story in the Brooklyn housing projects, and how his “ascension through American life” began while dealing drugs and writing.

“In the music industry they call him ‘one-take Hov.’ He said it about himself, but you don’t know why he said it,” Chappelle continued. “Because when he was hustling, because he used to sell crack. Oh, don’t get it twisted. American pie is not made out of apples. It’s made out of whatever you get your fucking hands on. He used to sell crack. He didn’t have anything to write his rhymes on and he would sit there and he would just write down whatever. He would memorize all these thoughts that came to his mind, an avalanche of ideas. And he would just be catching rainwater.” To celebrate how Jay-Z embodies Black excellence, Chappelle allowed himself one joke:

With success comes co-option. And he never let that get him. The way a white person might hear his music is not the same the way someone from [the] Marcy [projects] would. Well, he’s said, “This is Jay every day.” He told us he’d never change. Probably says the white person, “Well, maybe this guy should focus on his development.” But what we heard is that he’ll never forget us. He will always remember us. That we are his point of reference, that he is going to show us how far we can go if we just get hold of the opportunity. For this, we will always love him, we always treasure him. 

Interestingly, the Rock Hall has embraced the tradition of comedians giving induction speeches in recent years: David Letterman, a stealth Jay-Z fan, inducted Pearl Jam and their “entire balcony” of drummers in 2017, while Howard Stern did the raunchy honors for Bon Jovi in 2018. Netflix seems to be embodying that “This Is Fine” dog meme in the meantime.

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Live From the Rock Hall Induction, It’s Chappelle’s Show