A back lot at Paramount Studios shook from the bass of classic rap records pumping through speakers as members of the crowd picked up free bandannas, sunglasses and faux gold chains.
The strip of brownstones and storefronts that often stand in for New York — or whatever metropolis filmmakers see fit — had been transformed into a Brooklyn block party on Sunday for VH1’s “Hip Hop Honors.”
Since its inception in 2004, the event, which returned last year after a six-year absence, has feted the artists and movements that have defined and influenced hip-hop culture.
This year’s ceremony, which airs tonight at 9, eschewed artist-driven movements — last year’s ceremony, for example, saluted female emcees — and instead focused on the 1990s.
Set amid graffiti-marked buildings at the corner of Hype Boulevard and Drop It Like It’s Hot Street, the special — dubbed "Hip Hop Honors: The 90s Game Changers" — paid tribute to famed music video director Hype Williams, Mariah Carey, Jermaine Dupri, Master P and comedian Martin Lawrence.
Nineties nostalgia has heavily influenced pop culture as of late, and hip-hop is certainly no exception.
In recent years, ’90s hip-hop label Bad Boy anchored a blockbuster arena tour, N.W.A and Tupac Shakur were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (both were the subject of big screen films), Missy Elliott made a comeback, and fashion from the era — track suits, oversize jerseys, shell-toe Adidas and Tommy Hilfiger overalls — appear more popular than ever.
That VH1 sought to celebrate ’90s hip-hop made sense, considering how the genre affected the zeitgeist that decade.
Although rap was rife with controversy at the dawn of the ’90s over violent and sexist lyrics, artists from both the East and West coasts became sensations who crossed over to the pop charts. Rap went from being dismissed as a fad to a powerful, lucrative force.
Hollywood cashed in, embracing the growing commercial success of Gangsta rap to make films influenced by the grim and violent stories emcees rapped about. Meanwhile, TV shows like “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “In Living Color” and “Martin” proved hip-hop was too big to ignore or keep confined to N.Y. and L.A., as Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans and Houston became rap capitals.
“The ’90s is what we consider the sweet spot of hip-hop,” rapper T.I. said at the Paramount event.
Last year’s honoree, Elliott, opened the ceremony with a performance of “She’s a Bitch,” emerging from a pool of water sporting a bald head and black latex bodysuit to re-create the song’s groundbreaking (and insanely expensive) 1999 music video directed by Williams, whose lavish productions heavily influenced rap visuals that decade.
Lil Kim, Havoc and Fabolous honored the late Prodigy of Mobb Deep, and Lawrence was saluted for his popular ’90s sitcom “Martin,” which brought aspects of hip-hop culture to the mainstream.
Trick Daddy, Trina, Romeo and Xscape tore through a medley that nodded toward the infiltration of Southern rap and R&B that pushed the genre forward in the mid-’90s. Executives Dupri and Master P accepted trophies for their influential, Southern-based independent labels, So So Def and No Limit Records, respectively.
“They said hip-hop was going to [last] four or five years. Twenty-five years later, we are owning businesses,” said Master P. “This is only the beginning.”
VH1's "Hip Hop Honors: The 90s Game Changers" airs Monday at 9 p.m. on VH1.
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