In the heart of the nation’s capital on September 14, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) will recognize artists, label executives and policymakers who impact American music, culture and society. Alongside co-hosts National Museum of African American Music and Stupid Fly, this year’s celebration, dubbed RIAA Honors: Pioneers of Hip-Hop, will acknowledge the immense contributions from Grandmaster Flash, MC Lyte, Jeff Harleston and Chairman Hakeem Jeffries to the most popular genre of music in the US on streaming services.
RIAA Chairman and CEO Mitch Glazier says, “at this year’s RIAA Honors, we are thrilled to celebrate pioneers who have defied obstacles, defined a genre and accelerated the growth of hip-hop to audiences across generations and geography. Congratulations and thank you, Grandmaster Flash, MC Lyte, Jeff Harleston and Chairman Hakeem Jeffries for your contributions to this diverse musical landscape and setting the stage for creators to come.”
The advent of hip-hop not only shared the compelling stories of its rappers and musicians, it paved the way for countless artists who together have created a uniquely American art form, like blues, jazz and rock & roll before them.
RIAA Honors: Pioneers of Hip-Hop
- Grandmaster Flash – Few names have become as well known to music lovers across the globe as that of Grandmaster Flash, one of the originators of the musical genre called Hip-Hop and the first DJ to play turntables as a musical instrument thus helping to elevate the status of the DJ to a masterful, artistic position. His career began in the Bronx with neighborhood block parties that essentially were the start of what would become a global sensation — the dawn of a musical genre and his own scientific invention of “The Quick Mix Theory,” becoming the first DJ to physically lay his fingertips on the body of the vinyl and manipulate it. Dubbed the “Toscanini” of the turntables, his template laid the groundwork for everything a DJ can do with a record today, other than just letting it play. After starting Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, whose success continued as Punk and new wave fans were introduced through Blondie’s hit “Rapture.” They became the first hip-hop group ever inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Flash as the first DJ to ever receive that honor with others following –Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, VH1 Hip-Hop Honors, Icon Award from BET, RIAA Lifetime Achievement Award, Bill Gates’ Vanguard Award and more. Flash also is featured in the Smithsonian Museum of American History’s RECOGNIZE! exhibit alongside LL Cool J, Erykah Badu and Common.
- MC Lyte – Legendary lyricist, DJ, voice over talent, actress, entertainer and icon, MC Lyte is still making the crowds move across the globe. At the tender age of 17 she began schooling other MCs in the art of rhyme, and since that time she has proven that greatness always prevails with a total of ten albums to her credit. Lyte is the first rap artist ever to perform at New York’s historic Carnegie Hall and the first female rapper to ever receive a GOLD single from the RIAA. Also becoming the first female solo rapper ever nominated for a Grammy Award and inducted on VH1 Hip-Hop Honors, Lyte serves as a beautiful example that females can rock the mic just as good and oftentimes even better than men. Lyte’s lyrical skills have also been tapped into by Hollywood; she co-wrote and performed theme songs for Fox’s “Dark Angel” and BET’s “Holla.” Her last music offering, LEGEND, was released for one day in VINYL format with a digital download.
- Jeff Harleston (Label Honoree) – As General Counsel and Executive Vice President of Business & Legal Affairs for Universal Music Group (UMG), Jeff Harleston is responsible for overseeing all of the company’s business transactions, contracts, litigation, government relations, trade and anti-piracy activities. With operations in more than 60 territories, UMG’s labels include Capitol, Interscope, Republic, Motown, Island, Def Jam, Decca and Verve; global music publishing company, Universal Music Publishing; and merchandising company, Bravado. During a 29-year career with UMG, Harleston’s accolades include: The Recording Academy’s 2020 Entertainment Law Initiative Service Award, Billboard’s 2018 “Lawyer of the Year,” the 2018 Diversity Award from the Association of Corporate Counsel for Southern California; Ebony magazine’s “Power 100” list and Billboard’s “Power 100” list. Harleston recently served as interim CEO of Def Jam Recordings from 2020-2021 and is co-chair of UMG’s Task Force for Meaningful Change. Before joining UMG, Harleston was Associate Independent Counsel investigating Iran/Contra matters, and an attorney at Covington & Burling in Washington, DC. In addition to serving on the RIAA Board of Directors, Harleston is a member of the Williams College Board of Trustees, the boards of the Berkeley Law Alumni Association and Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles. His charitable activities include serving as the Chairman of the TJ Martell Foundation and Treasurer of MusiCares. He is also the proud Founder of the Universal/Motown Fund, an endowment dedicated to providing financial assistance for artists from the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. Harleston graduated with a B.A. in Political Science from Williams College and holds a J.D. from Boalt Hall School of Law at U.C. Berkeley.
- Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (Policymaker Honoree) – Congressman Jeffries (D-NY-08) is a member of the House Judiciary and Budget Committees, and since 2018 has served as Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. Through his five terms in Congress, he has been a tireless advocate for his constituents, the causes of social and economic justice, and the music community. He played a key role in crafting the historic Music Modernization Act, which brought American copyright laws in line with the streaming revolution, as well as the Copyright Alternative in Small Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act, which created the Copyright Claims Board to quickly and effectively resolve copyright disputes under $30,000 in the U.S. Copyright Office.
Performers, presenters and other special guests will be announced soon. Billboard and Discus will join the festivities as reception sponsors.
Leading up to the big night, Billboard introduces these music trailblazers in an in-depth feature for the August 26 print issue.
The first-ever RIAA Honors was held on Capitol Hill in 2019. This year the event moves to its permanent home at RIAA’s state of the art headquarters featuring a concert-quality live performance stage and a cutting-edge recording studio designed by Interscope Records.