Maxine Waters Credit: David Goodson photo

Not sure if they had worked together previously before, but when the creative energies of LL Cool J and Pharrell Williams (then of the production clique the Neptunes) converged, they were at a crossroads in their respective careers. LL, at work on his ninth studio album, while not at his superstar musical peak, still had rounds in his chambers that could add to his catalog. Pharrell and the Neptunes were cranking out chart toppers at a mercurial rate for Hip Hop, R&B, and pop artists. The result of that union was the August 2002 release of the Top 5 Billboard smash “Luv U Better.” Twenty years later, their names were again linked as the two were honorees at the return of the annual Urban One Honors, taped in Atlanta, Georgia, in December of 2022. The two-hour telecast premiered Monday, January 16, 2023—Martin Luther King, Jr. Day—on TV One and Cleo TV, a division of Urban One, and was hosted by R&B singer and actor Tank. The event heralded the accomplishments of individuals who have made extraordinary contributions in entertainment, media, music, education and the community. 

LL, winner of the Entertainment Icon Honor, has seen major success over the trajectory of his 35-year-and-counting career as an author, actor and musician. With his platform Rock the Bells, he may become a media mogul. Pharrell received the Music Innovation Honor and may soon be a two-time honoree with a trophy in the category that LL won if his career stays the course. Of now, he has won 13 Grammy Awards, including three for Producer of the Year, Non-Classical (one as a member of the Neptunes), as well as being a two-time Academy Award nominee: in 2014 for Best Original Song, for “Happy” (from DDespicable Me 2”) and in 2017 for Best Picture, as a producer of “Hidden Figures.”

Simone James Smith and LL Cool J Credit: David Goodson photo

Those two wins weren’t just for the individuals, but rather an indication of the strides that Hip Hop has made as a viable art form—so much so that the 50-year anniversary of the music itself paid homage. DJ Spinderella, with her wheels of steel, infused classic tunes with a live band and guest performances from Kool Moe Dee, Monie Love and Doug E Fresh to add panache to their legendary recordings. 

Doug, while proud of what he has done for the culture, beamed at what his peers LL and Pharrell have accomplished. Of LL, he said, “We was together at the Roxy, and I had a song called ‘The Original Human BeatBox’ and he had just come out with ‘I Need A Beat’ and we was tight since. He used to come up to Harlem around Fearless 4, the Treacherous Three, Silver Fox and the Fantasy 3. To see him evolve from an artist and person to the man that he is today and get his acknowledgment is a beautiful thing. This one coming from Urban One might mean more than all the others because this is us honoring us.” 

Doug also said simply of Pharrell that “he represents the finest of the culture and his honesty, his creativity and his integrity speaks for itself.” 

Rounding out the night were Rep. Maxine Water with the Lifetime Achievement Honor, presented by Roland Martin and Keisha Lance Bottoms; David and Tamela Mann with the Inspirational Impact Honor, presented by actor Lamman Rucker and serenaded by Keke Wyatt who performed a medley that included Tamela’s hit song “Take Me To the King”; and Bobby Brown, who received the inaugural Phoenix Honor from his son Landon Brown.

Look out for a few more major Hip Hop celebrations in 2023. We ready! 

Over and out. Holla next week. Til then, enjoy the nightlife!

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