In 2007, Grandmaster Flash became the first ever DJ to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was a big moment for the Hall. Its definition of ‘rock and roll’ had never been restricted to traditional rock bands, but so far every inductee had been an instrumental musician or singer. Inducting the Grandmaster gave Hip Hop the recognition it deserved, and made it clear that the Hall would continue striving to represent all genres.
Ten years on, only three more Hip Hop artists have made it into the Hall: Run DMC, the Beastie Boys, Tupac Shakur, and NWA. While members of these groups are DJs, no further DJ has been inducted as a lead artist. And, crucially, no DJs who play house music are represented. Why has this happened, and will we ever see this mistake corrected?
Which house artists are eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
The fact that the Hall of Fame has no house artists in it would be excusable if no house artists were eligible. The Hall’s main entry criteria is for 25 years to have passed since an artist’s first record was released. 25 years ago it was 1992. As even casual house fans will know, the genre was in full swing at this point.
Taking 1992 as our cutoff point, let’s put together a list of house DJs and producers who could already have been inducted:
Marshall Jefferson — First record released in 1986.
Frankie Knuckles — First record released in 1986.
Todd Terry — First record released in 1988.
A Guy Called Gerald — First record released in 1988.
The KLF — First record released in 1988.
Masters at Work — First record released in 1989.
DJ Pierre — First record released in 1990.
As you can see, there’s no dearth of house musicians who could easily stake a claim to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame membership. (Although it’s unlikely the KLF would be invited, considering their antics.) All of these artists meet the second criteria of having “influence and significance to the development and perpetuation of rock and roll.” Madonna’s hit ‘Vogue’, for example, would never have existed were it not for house music. She is in the Hall of Fame. The artists who influenced her are not. This being the case, what is it that’s holding the Hall back when it comes to making an induction?
The Hall might not understand DJs
Okay Grandmaster Flash, DJ Yella, and Jam Master Jay are in the Hall, but only as part of groups. Even Grandmaster Flash, the only DJ inducted by name, was brought in as a part of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five—a group that includes traditional performers alongside the DJ.
The problem might arise from one of the Hall’s secondary categories. The Ahmet Ertegun Award for non-performers was created to represent “songwriters, producers, disc jockeys, record executives, journalists and other industry professionals who have had a major influence on the development of rock and roll.” Since many house music artists are producers, disc jockeys, and even sometimes record executives, this non-performer category might seem more suited to them.
Quincy Jones, for example, was inducted to the Hall as a non-performer, even though he has 34 studio albums to his name as a lead artist. Then there’s the question of whether house music artists should count as non-performers, considering their jam-packed touring schedules. They are absolutely performers, it just might not be the kind of performance the Rock Hall is used to. But even if the Hall does see house artists as non-performers, they are still completely unrecognised in this category.
House’s time in the Hall might come soon
Really, we shouldn’t worry about this. Music fans and critics alike are aware of house’s prominence and influence. We don’t need a ceremony in Cleveland to prove it to us. As a new generation takes over the selection process, these glaring omissions will likely be rectified. Until then, house music will continue to be recognised where it matters: in the clubs.