Brooklyn rapper Christopher Wallace also known as The Notorious B.I.G., whose meteoric rise to fame in the 1990s put him at the forefront of hip-hop’s global explosion, will be inducted May 2nd as part of the 2020 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class. This year’s class, which includes R&B superstar Whitney Houston, 80’s synth-rockers Depeche Mode, and entertainment executive Irving Azoff, marks the seventh time a rap artist or group has made The Rock Hall. Like previous hip-hop inductees, Wallace’s inclusion has again sparked discussion about whether the genre should be honored there.
Wallace becomes only the second solo rapper to be inducted (Tupac Shakur joined the Hall of Fame’s ranks in 2017). The legacies of the two artists are inextricably linked, due to their abrupt deaths by assassin’s bullets no more than six months apart. He joins Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (the first hip-hop inductees in 2007), Run D.M.C., Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, and N.W.A.
Wallace’s rise to the top of the rap game was a rocketship. He appeared on the scene in 1993 and was dead four years later at only age 24. The music he created during this period, however, much of it under the production and tutelage of Sean “Puffy” Combs, shares large credit for skyrocketing the genre into a worldwide phenomenon. By the time the decade had concluded, rap was the number one selling musical segment, a title it has yet to relinquish in the digital/streaming era.
Biggie’s 1994 debut album, Ready To Die, was an instant classic. It reasserted east coast rap dominance in the wake of Dr. Dre’s California mega-hit, The Chronic. Multiple songs from the record, including “Juicy” and “Big Poppa,” reached high on American album charts. Vivid, autobiographical storytelling in Wallace’s lyrics formed instant connections with fans. He was later murdered sixteen days before the release of his second album, 1997’s Life After Death.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is voted on by more than 1,000 artists, historians, and music industry professionals, with a separate fan vote factoring as its own ballot. Nominees become eligible twenty-five years after the release of their first commercial recording.
Hip Hop & The Rock Hall Of Fame
The hall has long faced criticism for its lack of diversity. Roughly only 8% of inductees are women, for example. Similarly, the subject of rap music has sparked controversy. Ice Cube and KISS frontman Gene Simmons–both hall inductees–have famously sparred on the subject in interviews.
“A few people decide what’s in and what’s not,” Simms told radio.com in 2014. “You’ve got Grandmaster Flash in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Run-D.M.C. in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? You’re killing me. That doesn’t mean those aren’t good artists. But they don’t play guitar. They sample and they talk. Not even sing.”
In an interview with the New York Times days later, Cube weighed in. “I respect Gene Simmons, but I think he’s wrong on this because rock and roll is not an instrument and it’s not singing,” he said. “Rock and roll is a spirit. N.W.A is probably more rock and roll than a lot of the people that he thinks belong there over hip-hop. We had the same spirit as punk rock, the same as the blues.”
Wallace’s induction on his first nomination is further grounds for controversy. Longer-standing artists holding prior nominations like LL Cool J continue to wait for the nod. On the other hand, it speaks to his status as a towering figure more than twenty years after his death. Ready to Die now enjoys 6x platinum sales status, and The Notorious B.I.G. remains a long-term influence on future generations of rappers.
The 2020 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be held at 5 p.m. PST on May 2nd at Cleveland’s Public Auditorium. The 2020 class includes The Notorious B.I.G., Whitney Houston, Nine Inch Nails, The Doobie Brothers, Depeche Mode, T-Rex, and Irving Azoff. The event airs live for the first time on HBO.