MC Lyte, Grandmaster Flash, Jeff Harleston, and Chairman Hakeem Jeffries were all honored during RIAA Honors 2022: Hip-Hop Pioneers co-hosted by Stupid Fly and the National Museum of African American History on Wednesday night (Sept. 15). The Billboard-sponsored event featured appearances from DJ Jazzy Jeff, Yo-Yo, Big Tigger and Grammy-nominated MC, Rapsody.
RIAA Honors celebrated the pioneers of the most popular music genre in the United States of America and was held in Washington, DC, in the new home of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). RIAA chairman and CEO Mitch Glazier began the event by fervently exclaiming his appreciation for all the honorees and their contributions to the culture. His passion set the tone for Cheapshot to introduce Henry Ricks, CEO of the National African American Museum of African American Music. His boisterous yet passionate voice helped build anticipation for the heartwarming forewords from Billboard’s Hannah Karp and VIBE’s own Datwon Thomas. Each speaker expressed deep gratitude for all four honorees before presenting their night’s first award.
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Jeff Harleston received the RIAA Honors executive of the year award for his exceptional run in the music industry for over 25 years. As general counsel and executive vice president of Business & Legal Affairs for Universal Music Group, Harleston oversees the music powerhouse’s business transactions, contracts, government relations and more across more than 60 territories. The executive of the year awardee exclaimed that “his goal to promote change and provide opportunities for artists” has been the same since the beginning of his career. The proud founder of the Universal/Motown Fund was thankful to be honored amongst his peers.
Although the building was buzzing with good energy, everything in the room turned up a notch when MC Lyte walked in to take her seat ahead of her presentation. The legendary multi-hyphenate is the first female rapper to ever receive a gold single from the RIAA and the first female solo rapper ever nominated for a Grammy Award.
MC Lyte was introduced by fellow MC Yo-Yo, who swooned over the storied career of her highly decorated colleague and friend. Before receiving her award, ceremony attendees were treated to a video presentation from Missy Elliott and a musical performance from Grammy-nominated recording artist Rapsody. Following her stellar tribute, Rapsody told Billboard, “the performance was a full circle moment for me because I would not have followed the path of creating music without MC Lyte. I was honored to be able to do this for her. She deserves so much more. My heart is full that I was able to do this for her.”
MC Lyte used her speech to highlight all her peers and team for their support throughout her musical journey. Following Lyte’s brief but impactful speech, librarian of congress Carla Hayden presented congressman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY-08) with his policy maker of the year award. Jeffries is best known for his significant role in crafting the revolutionary Music Modernization Act, which helped update American copyright laws with the new world of music streaming. His electric speech was informative and helped keep the night’s momentum ahead of the final pioneer of hip-hop honoree award for Grandmaster Flash.
Before Grandmaster Flash’s powerful tribute from DJ Jazzy Jeff and Mix Master Mike, Big Tigger and DJ Kool shared sentiments about the talented disc jockey. His ardent explanation of Grandmaster Flash’s impact was felt throughout the room. As the first-ever DJ inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, his patented technique “The Quick Mix Theory” catalyzes what modern hip-hop has become. RIAA Honors attendees were able to learn more about his game-changing scientific invention during a video presentation from esteemed producer and businessman Dr. Dre.
Grandmaster Flash’s monologue proves that his love for music’s top genre will remain forever. The Bronx-bred DJ was humbled to receive the pioneer of hip-hip award, but more so by how far the historical genre has come. Hip-hop changed the trajectory of so many families, and it is safe to say that it would not be where it is today without the selfless contributions from Grandmaster Flash, MC Lyte, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries and Jeff Harleston.