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VH1 Hip-Hop Honors Salutes Def Jam: A Recap

Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin“In 1984, Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons heard the call of destiny,” preached VH1 Hip-hop Honors host Tracy Morgan to start last night’s telecast celebration of Def Jam’s 25th anniversary. It’s hard to argue with that sentiment, but even harder to properly pay tribute to the label’s monumental history without coming across as corny.

After a short flashback interview with LL Cool J, the night started off strong with Eminem and Black Thought collaborating on a cover version of ‘Rock The Bells’ — a true hip-hop blueprint if there ever was one. Both performers were amped and struck a respectful tone when dealing with the label’s early history.

Public Enemy followed suit, demolishing the crowd with precision on ‘Rebel Without a Pause.’ No matter what Flavor Flav has devolved into, it’s near impossible to hear this track without completely losing your mind. To complement PE, Tom Morello added some guitar scratches and Cody Chestnutt did… well, I don’t know what. He looked like he was having fun, though.

Then, Scarface slowed things down and represented Def Jam South on ‘Guess Who’s Back’ and Ludacris came out to perform a hyped version of ‘Cadillac Grills.’ It was a fitting moment for Southern royalty.

The inimitable Beastie Boys, Def Jam’s first huge seller, received a tribute by KRS One, Wale and Gym Class Heroes. Updating ‘No Sleep Til Brooklyn’ for the show’s home borough crowd was a no-brainer, and KRS-One demonstrated the difference between MC and rapper by freestyling circles around the beat.

Check these exclusive videos of these Beastie Boys telling some stories from the early years:

It’s often forgotten, but ‘Regulate’ pretty much saved Def Jam from financial ruin in 1994. It was no surprise that the crowd went nuts when Warren G hit the stage to perform his trademark jam. Disappointingly, Trey Songz took over for an absent Nate Dogg and the crooner’s loss was definitely felt. No one can do Nate Dogg better than Nate Dogg.

Next, Method Man and Redman destroyed ‘Da Rockwilder’ and Mary J. Blige joined Mef on stage for ‘All I Need’ – perfect chemistry all around.

Other fun nostalgic turns included Onyx doing ‘Slam’ and Ashanti and Ja Rule on ‘Always on Time‘ and ‘Down for You.’ Rick Ross — dressed in a Fila tracksuit, Kangol hat and Cazals — yelled his way through ‘Hustlin’ and DMX showed his former ferocious self on ‘Party Up.’

The evening ended with a lightning round medley of Def Jam hits:

* Kid Rock (LL Cool J’s ‘Bigger and Deffer’)
* EPMD (‘Crossover’)
* Foxy Brown/ Fabolous (Jay-Z duet ‘I’ll Be’)
* Ghostface Killah/ Chrisette Michele (‘Back Like That’)
* Wale (Kanye’s ‘Touch The Sky’)

The performances were fleeting but built up the excitement to extreme levels.

Check out Ghostface doing his best ‘World According to Pretty Toney’ on some pressing questions from some of the night’s performers and attendees:

Finally, one of the night’s biggest stars was kind of a surprise. Lyor Cohen — executive, logo lover and contender for scariest man alive — got big laughs and shed some unique light on Def Jam’s past. Brutally honest, Cohen told great stories (going to Warren G’s house for the first time) and detailed how he devised the branding strategy that allowed Def Jam to expand into other enterprises.

Here’s an exclusive video of Cohen telling the story of how he got his job at Def Jam by tricking some fans at a Run-DMC gig:

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