The problem with having an all inclusive tag like the "Dirty South" prominently featured in the title of a big television tribute production such as the VH1 Hip-Hop Honors The Dirty South, that premiered on the music television network two nights ago & is viewable in full on VH1.com, is that by definition certain expectations accompany such a title. One would expect a "Dirty South" honors show to recognize and represent certain key Dirty South entities such as the successful, influential Cash Money Records and its high profile star Lil Wayne. However, neither the artist nor his label were included in the night's honors. Nor were such other prominent Dirty South acts as Three 6 Mafia or Young Jeezy, to name but two most important contributors to the regional rap sub-genre. Meanwhile, both OutKast and Goodie Mob were recognized (barely), but could have been celebrated a whole lot more.
Of course, I am being picky and, perhaps unrealistic, since there is no way that a mere two-hour TV show, even one the scale of the well choreographed annual VH1 live concert presentation, could possibly include every Dirty South entity. But that's too bad, because otherwise this year's VH1 Hip-Hop Honors The Dirty South, the seventh in the annual event, was truly a top notch production as awards shows go -- especially for rap music awards, which are historically prone to such negatives as awful sounding live performances and outbreaks of violence. Nothing like that marred this fun, extremely well-paced, excellently executed, nicely mixed & highly entertaining event. Yeah, sure, there were a couple of off moments, like the beginning of the 2 Live Crew's set, which was not quite on beat, or Keri Hilson's cameo, which instantly proved that her voice does not match her good looks. But those were just a couple of hiccups in otherwise stellar rap show.
VH1 Hip-Hop Honors featured a seemingly non-stop parade of excellent performers including Lil Jon, Bone Crusher, Bun B, Mystikal, Bow Wow, Missy Elliot, Nelly, Chamillionaire, Dem Franchize Boyz, Slim Thug, T-Pain, Rick Ross, Drake, Gucci Mane, Trina, Pitbull, Flo Rida, and Silkk The Shocker. There were also several non Dirty South artists onstage paying tribute, such as Diddy and Kid Capri -- both of whom didn't have far to travel since the show was taped in their hometown last Thursday night at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City,.
The honorees of the night were Jermaine Dupri, Timbaland, J Prince of Rap-A-Lot Records, Luther “Luke” Campbell, The 2 Live Crew, Master P, and Organized Noize. The well chosen main host of the night was Craig Robinson (The Office/Hot Tub Time Machine) with other rotating hosts intro-ing various segments, such as comedian Eddie Griffin who told some jokes ("you know you from the dirty south when you see white people on welfare") and introduced J. Prince, who founded Houston's Rap-A-Lot Records. In the interview with J. Prince's that followed, the Texan talked about the kick he got out of first hearing Biggie rapping, "I'm not from Houston but I rap a lot."
The night's live performance highlights included Bone Crusher, Mystikal, Pitbull, Missy Elliot (her live rendition of “Get Your Freak On” honoring Timbaland was fantastic), and Jermaine Dupri taking it back to 1992 with Bow Wow for a rendition of the song that jump-started his career, Kriss Kross' classic “Jump.”
During his interview segment Master P gave a nod to both his formative days as an artist & label CEO in the Bay Area and also to Houston's Pen & Pixel graphics company, who, through their distinctive album cover artwork for such labels as P's No Limit Records and Cash Money, helped shape the image of the Dirty South.
2 Live Crew's Luther Campbell made the only strong political statement of the night when, following a segment on his censorship battle from two decades ago, he criticized a list of those who had threatened his freedom of speech back then (including Tipper Gore and Al Sharpton) and he also made a point of calling out current day opponents of free speech including "right wingers and Tea Baggers." LA born, veteran Oakland rapper, and sometime Atlanta resident Too $hort made a brief appearance over the show's end credits during the "you know you from the South when...." quips.
Author/journalist Nelson George (who along with Fab 5 Freddy and Keshia Williams was one of the show's co-executive producers) did a nice tribute to Atlanta which was also, it seemed, an ad for AT&T. The Organized Noize interview, which was really good, gave love to the OutKast and Goodie Mob but I would have liked more exposure of these artists on the show. And while Ludacris wasn't there in person (another glaring omission), he was shown love by Asher Roth, who did a pretty decent abbreviated cover of his hit “Saturday (Oooh! Ooooh!).”
Other artists that should have been included in the honors show included Three 6 Mafia, Young Jeezy, and 8 Ball and MJG. But really the biggest omission of all was ignoring Cash Money Records and all of its stars, especially its (and rap's) biggest star, Lil Wayne, who, during the TV show's taping was just a couple of miles away, cooling his heels in a jail cell on Rikers Island. Now I am sure a media conglomerate on the scale of the Viacom owned VH1 could have at least arranged a jail phone-in from Weezy or grabbed some of the countless hours they and sister station MTV have in their vaults of the artist and his influential label.
One time Cash Money artist Juvenile (who started out with Lil Wayne in the group Hot Boys on Cash Money) was at the event, although there was no show of love for Cash Money from him. But at least Lil Wayne's protege Drake, who was also onstage, saved the day by sporting a "FREE WAYNE" T-shirt-- although, given the fact that the honors show totally ignored showing even a clip of the hugely successful Dirty South rapper, it should have read "SHOW LIL WAYNE."