By Hillary Crosley
Who knew a record label started in a New York University dorm room could become so successful? Apparently Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin. The two created Def Jam Records 25 years ago, and it’s become one of hip-hop’s premiere labels, housing some of the brightest stars, with Nas, LL Cool J, etc etc among the artists in its legendary catalogue. So it’s no surprise that “VH1′s Hip Hop Honors” is celebrating the storied label this year.
MTV News checked out the rehearsal for the big show, which tapes on Wednesday night (September 23) at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and airs on October 13. For the third year in a row, Tracy Morgan will serve as host. Morgan’s comedy skits appear between behind-the-scenes interviews with Jay-Z, Island Def Jam Music Group Chairman Antonio “LA” Reid, Russell Simmons, Rick Rubin and former Def Jam executives Lyor Cohen, Julie Greenwald and Kevin Liles.
Public Enemy, the Roots and Street Sweeper Social Club (comprised of Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello and the Coup’s Boots Riley) practiced for their performance first. Ashanti followed, reuniting for two jams with her longtime partner-in-crime Ja Rule. Rule looked and sounded just as he did in 2001. Ashanti even helped out Rule on one song, rapping his lyrics in a faux-gravely voice to a giggling set full of dancers.
Up next, Warren G and Trey Songz performed a remix of one of Warren’s biggest hits (which we can’t reveal). During their performance, Ghostface was sitting at a table taping a segment called “What Would Ghostface Do?” where MCs stop by and ask Ghost for advice. As he wrapped up a session with Travis McCoy from Gym Class Heroes, Ghost spotted Warren G and gave him a big hello. Meanwhile, Travis went back to hosting a VH1 trivia segment where all of the performers are quizzed on their Def Jam history. Who knows their hip-hop math? Let’s just say that Rick Ross might be the subject’s star pupil.
Back on the stage, Ludacris (who’d just gotten off a plane) hopped on stage with Southern rap legend Scarface for two cuts that you haven’t heard in awhile. Scarface smiled as he ran through the songs with Luda, in a performance that pays homage to ‘Face signing Ludacris as Def Jam South’s first artist while he ran that label. Following the rehearsal, Scarface rushed out of the theater while Luda chowed down on some food delivered by Brooklyn’s famed restaurant, Junior’s.
After a not-to-be-disclosed-until-later rehearsal involving a video screen, LL Cool J, Def Jam’s first star, discussed his love of T La Rock’s track “It’s Yours” and his amazement that a guy who looked like Rick Rubin had enough rhythm to produce such a dope track.
Meanwhile, we caught up with Travis who said he was excited to be a part of “Hip-Hop Honors” — unlike last year.
“I was nervous before, but this time I feel like it’s family,” he said. He and his band, Gym Class Heroes, are somewhat of the house band for the night (along with the Roots), providing back-up for groups like Onyx. Travis also brought his new French Bulldog puppy, Stitch, to the rehearsal, but his new four-legged best friend spent most of his time napping in the dressing room.
Rick Ross was up next. Taking to the stage as the DJ spun a clip of “Maybach Music,” Ross performed his hit … actually, we can’t tell you that either. Once Ross performed, the show’s producers decided he needed some back-up and grabbed two dancers from the wings to improvise as Ross ran through his set again.
Following Ross, Redman strutted in joking and laughing while he awaited Method Man’s arrival. Red then sat down with Ghost for a round of “What Would Ghost Do?” and asked his fellow MC, “What’s the difference between a rapper and an MC?” To find out the answer to the Funk Doc’s question (as well as what songs your favorite Def Jam artists will perform), tune in to “VH1′s Hip-Hop Honors” on October 13 at 9 p.m. ET on VH1!