12th Annual NAMM Report: Part 1: 50 Years of Hip Hop Saves the NAMM Show

By Joanne A Calitri   |   April 25, 2023
Brian Hardgroove interviews Chuck D at the Black to the Future NAMM TEC Tracks session (photo by Joanne A Calitri)

The NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) Foundation stepped up to the plate on diversity, equity, and inclusion by acknowledging, awarding, and celebrating Hip Hop music “from the lens and expertise of its musicians, engineers, music brands, and gear used to create Hip Hop” during its NAMM Show (April 13-15) at the Anaheim Convention Center. 

This pivotal decision is its saving grace in light of the fact the show has lost top brands that have been its backbone for decades – no Fender, Gibson, PRS, Marshall, Boss, Fodera Bass Guitars, Orange, Akai, a way smaller Seymour Duncan booth, and almost lost Sennheiser, if it were not for Neumann’s significant support of Brian Hardgroove’s 3D Mix Immersive Audio TEC Track Sessions. 

Hardgroove, a musician, record producer, and member of Public Enemy, is a highly respected NAMM presenter who brings A-List industry experts to his TEC Tracks. This year he also brought in Chuck D, the co-founder of Public Enemy, social activist, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. Having Chuck D there ignited many new people to attend NAMM for certain.

In a phone interview with me, Hardgroove clarified, “I have had a great relationship with NAMM for many years, and I am on the Les Paul Foundation Advisory Council. When I heard that NAMM wanted to give a ‘nod to Hip Hop’ which is celebrating its 50th year, I decided to have Chuck D at my Black to the Future TEC Track to talk on the first 50 years of Hip Hop. I went about raising the funds for that with Athan Billias and Lawrence Levine, who are members of The Midi Association, to cover the expense of bringing Chuck D to the show and provide a suitable honorarium. We raised money under the banner of HIP HOP@50 from Roland, Shure, Pioneer DJ, Analog Devices, BASSBOSS, The Midi Association, and Spectrasonic Virtual Instruments. While this is going on, my PR agent Caroline suggested to Pete Johnston, producer of the NAMM TEC Experience, to connect with me, which he did. Johnston said, since you’re bringing Chuck D here, we’d like to give him an award; however, there are no current NAMM awards that speak to his contributions. I asked Pete to give me some time to come up with a proper award and its mission statement, which I did. The award is called the ‘Impact Music and Culture Award,’ to acknowledge the impact he has had on culture. I sent it to Johnston. NAMM made no changes to the awards name or mission statement, and then they sent an official notice to Chuck D to accept the award and he agreed. I presented it to him at the awards show Thursday.”

Adding to the mix was the “Hip Hop Innovator Award” to GrandMixer DXT for his contribution of innovating the turntable as a musical instrument, presented to him by DJ Jazzy Jeff; performances by Lord Finesse [Diggin’ In The Crates (D.I.T.C.)]; and a tribute to 40 Years of MIDI with Resonant Alien featuring Hardgroove on the Yamaha Grand Plaza Stage. 

At the TEC Experience, host Larry Batiste reminded us of the Sugar Hill Gang, Chic sampling their own music, Run DMC x Aerosmith, Biz Markie; female rappers Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Salt-N-Pepa, and Missy Elliott; West Coast rappers N.W.A., Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Warren G, MC Hammer, Too Short, Digital Underground, E-40, G-Eazy, and 2Pac; and Hip Hop with R&B artists like Method Man x Mary J. Blige. 

And a tribute was given to Hip Hop gear – Roland Rhythm Composer TR-808, Technics SL 2000 turntables, Gemini PreAmps, E-Mu Systems, Inc. SP-1200, MPC 3000 Pads, Ensoniq ASR10, Korg Triton pro music workstation, and Akai’s S950 sampler, the MPC60 and MPC60II.

Black music industry leaders like Prodigal Sunn, OG Arabian Prince, Queen Cora Coleman, Michèle Vice-Maslin, Ray Williams, Ron Harris, Deraj, DJ Johnny Juice, and brothers Victor, Roy, Regi, and Joseph Wooten shared their expertise on education panels.

In Chuck D’s award acceptance speech, he said: “DJs pay homage to the musicians, the artists, the name of the record, the songwriters, the musicianship. That is where we come from as DJ culture, to be able to explain to the world the beauty and gift of music. The important factor is we had to know where these sounds came from. We knew that a DJ could be a band like Run DMC said, but you have to have the knowledge of the records. In this day I think it is disrespectful to make light of scholarship, because people just think they can be what they want to be by looking at a screen and think they’re a scholar too. Scholars read everything, the good, bad and ugly – and then have a conversation about it. That is the same thing about technologists, DJs, and musicians – they can play anything but they process it to a point where you can dig it, pick it up and it’s palatable to your taste, and they spend time at it. They do the good, bad and ugly so they possibly can come up with something that can be a universal language. That’s the gift of music.

Where we’re going right now, Artificial Intelligence is not getting dumber. You look around and it looks like society is falling off into stupidity, and AI is coming on like a locomotive on nuclear steroids in outer space. I know, I’ve heard all the talk how music is this and musicians are that and we are being invaded. You’ve all seen the speed of data GPT, and it ain’t wack. Prince Rogers Nelson said, ‘Try your best to be on top of the technology or it will be on top of you.’ And one thing we know, you might not like, but everybody’s got the gadget in their pocket attached to their hip. How do we dance with it as musicians, artists, creators, technologists, DJs, bass players, guitarists, and people who say I don’t have to write this speech all I have to do is pour it in a GPT blender, how we deal with that? What’s the next two and three generations look like? That’s the challenge. It’s hard to challenge that when you’re drunk or high, AI is not on cocaine. This is the turning point, we’re two years past the pandemic, what is 2024 looking like? Let the music stay free. Peace.”

And top notes from Hardgroove and Chuck D’s Black to the Future talk on Hip Hop at 50 with over 500 attendees: 

Brian Hardgroove (BH): Why did Hip Hop last 50 years?

Chuck D (CD): We were more aware, and we knew Hip Hop was going to last over 50 years. It is a sight, sound, story style which has creativity, musicianship, dance culture and graffiti art culture. Most people don’t have a clear definition of Rap and Hip Hop; Rap is a vocal on top of music, it is a vocal platform.

BH: How does Hip Hop push the dial to move culture forward?

CD: We need more people like you! We need to stop the corporate spectacle that has become music. Be spectacular not a spectacle. Hip Hop has always been embracing, intelligent, genius, and had scientists who know the technology to engineer and produce it. In the U.S., music was the number one influencer of people and culture, now it is sports, which has used music in its platform to push its place forward. The airwaves used to be public, but corporations took that over. The last century we all had music in the crib, and musicians respected the music that came before us, we knew who wrote it, produced it, wrote the liner notes, and the engineers. Get out of your bubbles. Look at what other countries and cultures are doing with music, Hip Hop and Rap have been worldwide for a long time, and it started right here. Use your devices as tools, not as toys which is soc-med [social media]. Don’t let the tech make you stupid and lazy, manage your devices before they manage you. Things are moving fast in 2024 and 2026, and you need to stay awake, it’s the cheapest price you’ll have to pay.

BH: Tell us about being inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame.

CD: Rock Hall said for the TV show we have a younger person do the induction speech. I said we love what you do but we have our own plans how we are going to do this. We come from Black Music, we want to honor our heroes instead of somebody inducting us, we don’t think we’re the most important thing. We want Harry Belafonte to induct us or we’re not showing up. We’re honoring somebody who laid the groundwork for us to be here in the first place that America wants to forget quickly. We felt dignified and honored to honor our hero honoring us. You have to fight for what is right if you have the power to do so at that particular time. When it comes to the arts, there is a longer trail of what made it to be – instead of thinking it’s a bunch of bones we stand on. You’re recording music and making technology on the shoulders of unacknowledged giants. When I look at any screen, I think of Philo Farnsworth; he was one of the cats who realized people could look at a screen and you got TV, but he’s one of the names that got pushed to the back like thousands of unacknowledged heroes, which you can choose to honor. This is where the humanity of music, the arts, and culture unite us with similarities and knocks our differences to the side.

As a wrap to this report, I asked Hardgroove what the larger message is. He replied:

“The larger message is to change the viewpoints of non-black people and black people about how the Black voice and culture is siloed in America, to clearly define what is Hip Hop, what is Rap, and to give credit, respect, and appreciation to all who contributed to these art forms. Black people in America have to do what we know is right and stop caring what ‘they’ think, what White people think and what other Black people think.”

Thanks Brian. Batiste said that Hip Hop replaced rock as the voice of the people. The people did speak at NAMM, are we listening?  

411: https://rapstation.com


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