(Find out who will be nominated for the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards live on "The GRAMMY Nominations Concert Live!! — Countdown To Music's Biggest Night" on Nov. 30 from 10–11 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.)
It was a sweltering summer day in 1985. One of the older neighborhood kids stopped me as I was chasing down the ice-cream truck, offering to sell me a mixtape for $1. I had four quarters burning a hole in my pocket when he put the cassette in my walkman and pressed play. I heard Run-D.M.C.'s "It's Like That," followed by "Fly Girl" by the Boogie Boys. I never made it to the ice-cream truck, but my seamless bond with rap music and culture was sealed that day.
As a kid growing up in Gary, Ind., the soundtrack to my youth was comprised of the sounds of Run-D.M.C., LL Cool J, MC Lyte, Ice Cube, De La Soul, Queen Latifah, and A Tribe Called Quest, among other influential rap artists. The genre of rap transcended music and continues to inspire a culture of self-expression — birthed in the urban landscapes of American and permeated throughout ghettos and subdivisions across the globe.
Looking back over the last 10 years, we've watched Jay-Z go from creating his first The Blueprint album to becoming a major player in the business of hip-hop, fashion and sports. It was Jay-Z's album that helped launch the career of an unknown producer named Kanye West, who went from making beats in his apartment to becoming one of the largest names in the game.
Who would have thought that an Atlanta DJ named Ludacris would go from selling CDs out of his trunk to starring in blockbuster films? Common dropped the "Sense" from his moniker and has parlayed his conscious flow and charisma into unforgettable film characters. Let's not forget Queen Latifah's progression from rapper to TV/movie star, cosmetic spokeswoman and jazz standards vocalist. During the past decade, we've witnessed the rap genre churn out some of the most innovative artists who never stop striving for excellence in any path they choose.
When I think of memorable rap moments at the GRAMMYs, my mind goes back to the 51st Annual GRAMMY Awards in 2009 when Jay-Z, West, T.I., Lil Wayne, and a nine-month pregnant M.I.A. performed "Swagga Like Us" in tuxedos reminiscent of the "Rat pack" days. This was a classic moment showcasing artists from different corners of the United States and a UK-born singer on one of the hottest rap songs of the year. This is what rap is all about — coming together to generate an amazing voice that resonates in the collective hearts of people.
Moving forward, I expect current artists such as Drake, Wale, Phonte, 9th Wonder, and Rick Ross to influence the genre further and usher in another generation of rappers who will elevate the game, and perhaps influence another kid to spend his last dollar on a download of their masterpiece.