DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince Become First Rappers to Win a Grammy – Hip-Hop’s Biggest Milestones in Music History
For Black History Month this year, Rémy Martin teams up with XXL to celebrate 10 important moments in hip-hop history. Through the years, Rémy Martin has created a synonymous relationship between cognac and music culture by representing celebration and entertainment seamlessly. In honor of hip-hop’s nearly 50-year existence, host DJ Suss One, XXL Awards Board members Kendell "Sav" Freeman, Vice President/Co-Head of Urban Music at Arista Records; Sydney Margetson, Senior Vice President of Publicity at Atlantic Records; and Traci Adams, Executive Vice President of Promotion at Epic Records, revisit DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince becoming the first rappers to win a Grammy award in 1989, as a monumental milestone in the genre.
Following the release of “Rapper’s Delight” in 1979, it would take the Grammy Awards another 10 years before it recognized rap music with an official category. And when it did, the coveted awards show royally misunderstood the assignment. At the 1989 Grammy Awards, the Best Rap Performance category was added, signaling a major win for hip-hop. DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” J.J. Fad’s “Supersonic,” Kool Moe Dee’s “Wild Wild West,” LL Cool J’s “Going Back to Cali” and Salt ‘N Pepa’s “Push It” were pit against each other. However, the songs were all released one to three years prior to the 1989 awards show. This was seen as an obviously commercial move by many people, considering rap’s transition to more militant and abrasive ideals in the forms of rising groups like Public Enemy and N.W.A.
In a precedent-setting achievement, Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince a.k.a. Will Smith won the award for their teen-friendly hit. “The excitement was through the roof,” Jazzy Jeff told The New York Times in 2016. “It was validation for the culture.” However, back in 1989, upon learning their award acceptance would not be part of the filmed Grammys ceremony, the duo, along with Def Jam’s Russell Simmons and Lyor Cohen boycotted the event. Artists like Public Enemy, Ice-T and even nominees Salt-N-Pepa followed suit. “We felt like that was a slap in the face,” Will wrote in his 2021 memoir Will. “Rap music had outsold the industry that year. We deserved to be there.”
The righteous stance brought about change, with the Grammys filming rap award presentations for the next 25 years. While hip-hop’s relationship with the Grammys is still shaky, Will and Jazzy Jeff’s inaugural win is a milestone moment.
Important milestones in hip-hop like this deserve recognition for years to come. As part of Black History Month, Rémy Martin and XXL will be making a donation to Black Music Action Coalition, an advocacy organization that was formed to addresses systemic racism within the music industry and reaches racial justice throughout society at large. Rémy Martin and XXL will match every additional dollar donated to BMAC during Black History Month.*
Watch DJ Suss One, Kendell "Sav" Freeman, Sydney Margetson and Traci Adams discuss DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince's big win below.
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*Rémy Martin to match donations up to $50K, XXL to match donations up to $10K.