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‘It Was a Shot in the Dark’: Questlove Says Will Smith Was Initially Scheduled to Appear in Grammys’ Hip-Hop Tribute

From Beyoncé’s history-making wins to her fourth Album of the Year snub, and, of course, the 50th anniversary tribute to hip-hop, the 65th annual Grammy Awards ceremony is expectedly at the center of countless debates and conversations.

While on the red carpet ahead of the show’s start, Questlove revealed that Will Smith was initially among those slated to perform in the tribute. “I’ll give the spoiler alert away. Will Smith was a part of the festivities tonight, but they started shooting ‘Bad Boys 4’ this week,” Questlove told Variety correspondent Marc Malkin.

Questlove and Will Smith. (Photos: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic.)

The musician added that “There were a lot of preliminary shots that he had to do, so we had to lose Will. It was a shot in the dark. He’s always shooting movies. We had a lot of people and some of them have other jobs.”

Those who appeared on stage for the 12-minute medley of hits that was curated by Questlove include: Big Boi, Busta Rhymes, De La Soul, DJ Drama, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Missy Elliott, Future, GloRilla, Grandmaster Flash, Mele Mel, Rahim & Scorpio, Ice-T, Lil Baby, Lil Wayne, Swizz Beatz & The Lox, Method Man, Nelly, Public Enemy, Queen Latifah, Run-DMC, Salt-N-Peppa, Scarface, Black Thought, Questlove, LL Cool J, and Too $hort.

The relationship between hip-hop music and the Grammys has oftentimes been a bit contentious since the genre was added to the list of award categories in 1989; the following year, however, it was split into two categories: Best Rap Solo Performance and Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group.

In its inaugural year of being represented, hip-hop newcomer Smith and his music partner DJ Jazzy Jeff were among those nominated for Best Rap Performance for their record “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” But the Philly artists — along with Salt-N-Pepa and LL Cool J — never showed up; instead, they boycotted the show.

“We don’t have the problem with the Grammy as an award or the Grammys as an institution, we just had a problem with the 1989 design of the awards show. We chose to boycott,” Smith told “Entertainment Tonight” in 2016 about their decision. It turns out the duo was displeased after learning their genre’s segment would not be televised. “We feel that it’s a slap in the face,” he said.

Jeff added, “They said there wasn’t enough time to televise all of the categories. They televise 16 categories, and from record sales, from the Billboard charts, from the overall public’s view, there’s no way you can tell me that our of 16 categories that rap isn’t in the top 16.”

Today, the award ceremony features four televised hip-hop categories: Best Rap Performance, Best Melodic Rap Performance, Best Rap Song, and Best Rap Album. The most decorated rappers are longtime friends and sometimes foes, Jay-Z and Kanye West, who have each won 24 Grammys.

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