Hip hop has always had a contentious relationship with the Grammys. It dates back to when the first Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance was awarded to DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince for “Parents Just Don’t Understand” in 1989.
1988, the year that was being recognised, is widely seen as one of the greatest and most important years in hip hop history. There was a game-changing album being dropped seemingly every other week, from Biz Markie’s Goin’ Off to EPMD’s Strictly Business, Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and Slick Rick’s The Great Adventures of Slick Rick. On the West Coast you also had monumental releases from the likes of Ice-T, N.W.A., as well as Eazy-E’s debut album.
So when the nominations were announced – J. J. Fad – “Supersonic”, Kool Moe Dee – “Wild Wild West”, LL Cool J – “Going Back to Cali”, Salt-n-Pepa – “Push It”, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince – “Parents Just Don’t Understand” – and the Philly duo were announced as the winners, there was some pushback from the hip hop community.
To add insult to injury, the awards presentation for the Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance wasn’t even televised, which led to Jazzy Jeff and Will Smith boycotting the ceremony altogether.
“It was announced that the 31st annual Grammy Awards would be the first to include a rap category,” Will Smith later wrote in his autobiography. “And ‘Parents Just Don’t Understand’ was nominated alongside Salt-N-Pepa’s ‘Push It,’ ‘Going Back to Cali’ by LL Cool J, Kool Moe Dee’s ‘Wild Wild West,’ and ‘Supersonic’ by J.H. Fad.”
“Russell Simmons and Lyor Cohen organized the boycott for Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, along with Salt-N-Pepa, Ice-T, Public Enemy, Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick, Stetsasonic, and many others. And even though we weren’t at the Grammys, Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince were everywhere else.”
That’s not to say that DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince weren’t groundbreaking in their own way. He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper, the album that “Parents Just Don’t Understand” was featured on, was the first double album in hip hop history, and was a huge commercial success, eventually hitting triple platinum status.