What is Rock & Roll?
Specifically, what is Rock & Roll in the context of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?
The unlikely pair of Kiss’s Gene Simmons and NWA’s Ice Cube, two iconic senior musicians, have recently been dueling upon this very point. I support Ice Cube on this crucial matter of public interest.
Ice Cube believes rap has a justifiable place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; Gene Simmons, not so much.
In fact, Gene Simmons has been quoted as saying that inducting NWA into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is like allowing Led Zeppelin into the Rap Hall of Fame. Which launched a new round of verbal warfare.
Gene Simmons continues his crusade against the inclusion of rap artists in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, saying he will approve of NWA’s induction only “when Led Zep gets into Rap Hall of Fame”.
His comment follows an ongoing exchange on the definition of rock, between the Kiss guitarist and NWA’s Ice Cube and MC Ren. In his induction speech on 8 April, Ren said: “I want to say to Mr Gene Simmons, hip-hop is here for ever. Get used to it.”
Ice Cube’s articulate reply best sums up what I believe “rock and roll” signifies in modern popular parlance.
NWA became the fifth hip-hop act to join the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on 8 April, joining Run-DMC, Beastie Boys, Public Enemy and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. “The question is: are we rock’n’roll?” Ice Cube asked at the ceremony. “I say, you goddamn right we are. It’s not an instrument or a style of music, it’s a spirit. It’s been going since the blues, jazz, bebop, heavy metal, punk rock and yes, hip-hop. What connects us all is that spirit.
“Rock’n’roll is not conforming to the people who came before but creating your own path in life. That is rock’n’roll and that is us. Rock’n’roll is NWA.”
This is it. Rock and roll is an approach, a perspective, a way of musical life, an artistic existence the defies precedent and tradition. It is not defined by the type of instruments of lyrical tone. NWA has every right as Kiss to be considered rock and roll (and take that from someone who dislikes rap on all levels). I think we tend to conflate Rock & Roll with rock ‘n’ roll; rock ‘n’ roll gives us rockers, it gives us fast-grooved heavy guitar riffs and aggressive vocal bellowing. There is rock ‘n’ roll, the music genre; not to be confused with Rock & Roll, the creative, self-defining rebellion of a particular musical lifestyle.