rock hall 2021

Jay-Z’s Rock Hall Induction Almost Made Him ‘Cry in Front of All These White People’

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In just his first year of eligibility, Jay-Z was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland Saturday night with what’s probably the glitziest intro ever experienced at a ceremony: Barack Obama (prerecorded) and Dave Chappelle (in-person, avoiding all that) served as induction speakers for the rapper, in addition to a video montage that featured just about everybody tangibly related to the Knowles-Carter dynasty. (Including, but not limited to, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Diddy, Pharrell, Chris Rock, Blue Ivy, and … David Letterman.) “That’s a lot,” Jay-Z began his speech. “Trying to make me cry in front of all these white people!”

Tracing his history back to the “trash” rhymes he wrote in his youth in the Brooklyn projects with the encouragement of his mother and sister, Jay-Z remarked that the “audacity of hip-hop” is what kept him wanting to persevere toward bigger and better things, which makes the Rock Hall honor all the more remarkable in his eyes. “Growing up, we didn’t think we could be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” he explained. “We were told that hip-hop was a fad. Much like punk rock, it gave us this anti-culture, this subgenre, and there were heroes in it.” Fellow inductees LL Cool J, Rakim, Chuck D, Big Daddy Kane, and KRS-One served as those “heroes” who influenced a young Jay-Z, all of whom gave him an education on the importance of emotional intelligence, book smarts, and social commentary. “I watch these guys, and they have big gold chains and leather and sometimes even the red, black, green medallions and whatever they wore, everybody would wear the next day,” he continued. “I was like, That’s what I want to do. I want to be like those guys. And so I set out on my journey.”

Unlike some of the evening’s other inductees, Jay-Z chose not to perform a medley of hits in celebration. (His wife, Beyoncé, wasn’t in the audience.) “I don’t know what’s next. In fact, I do know what’s next. I have to go to court,” he ended with a laugh. “Life is about balance, but you know, tonight, I enjoyed tonight. I appreciate this honor. Sorry for this long-ass speech.” A least he was still able to (briefly) find his Twitter password for an encore.

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Jay-Z’s Rock Hall Induction Brought Him Close to Tears