Browse the more than 120 Emmy categories and you’ll discover more than double-digit nominations for Succession And Ted Lasso. You’ll also discover the undeniable influence of hip-hop.
The ever-expanding television medium is keeping the legacy of two of the most important figures in rap — and pop culture in general — alive, and now the projects are competing for Emmys. Dear mumthe FX documentary series about Tupac Shakur and his activist mother, Afeni, earned nominations for outstanding documentary or nonfiction series and writing for a nonfiction program, while a virtual reality concert that brought Notorious B.I.G. back to life is set for an excellent emerging media program.
To top it all off, rap’s ultimate entrepreneur, Jay-Z, has been nominated for two Emmys, including a historic one for Outstanding Directing for a Variety Series for Rihanna’s Super Bowl halftime show. And this is all happening in the year of hip-hop’s 50th anniversary. (The categories are presented at the Creative Arts Emmys.)
Citing Notorious B.I.G.’s anthemic hit “Juicy,” his former manager and RCA Records president Mark Pitts says The Hollywood Reporter“You never thought hip-hop would make it this far.
“It’s about damn time hip-hop was recognized,” he continues. “It just gives me confidence in what we’ve done. And it strengthens it. It underlines it.”
Say Dear mum director Allen Hughes: “Whether it’s the Emmys, the Academy Awards or the Peabodys, recognize these hip-hop stories, cheer them on, give them the flowers in real time. We haven’t traditionally celebrated hip-hop stories, so it’s great to get the nomination, but the win, baby!
Shakur died on September 13, 1996, at the age of 25, six days after he was shot, and police announced in July that an investigation into his unsolved murder was being revived. Notorious BIG was 24 when he was fatally shot on March 9, 1997; his case remains unsolved.
“They just happened to be two of the greatest to ever do this,” says Hughes, whose credits include the 1993 classic Menace II SocietyHBOs The challenging people and several Shakur music videos. “It’s great to see them Emmy nominated in their respective projects. And it tells you how far we’ve come. It’s a testament to how powerful the genre is and how unique Biggie and Tupac are.”
Hughes started working Dear mum in 2019, and the first of five episodes became FX’s most-watched unscripted series premiere. The director says the Emmy nominations are great “because hopefully more people will see it.
“Unless you get a nomination, it seems a bit illegitimate given the history of things, which is unfortunate,” he adds.
The Notorious BIG Sky is the Limit: a VR concert experience premiered on Meta Horizon Worlds in December. It combined avatar and motion capture technologies with music and storytelling to see the skilled Brooklyn lyricist perform alongside Bad Boy Records labelmates Puff Daddy, Lil’ Cease and The Lox, plus newcomers like Latto.
“We eventually came up with the idea that Biggie never died,” says Van Toffler, co-founder of Gunpowder & Sky, the studio that produced the VR concert. “He lives in this virtual world and he has to do and see things that he couldn’t have because he died.”
Rappers who have also made careers in TV and film have won Emmys over the years, including Queen Latifah, Common and Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino. Last year’s hip-hop halftime show won Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, 50 Cent, Mary J. Blige and Jay-Z their very first Emmys. And Shakur and Notorious BIG’s Emmy recognition this year is further proof of how hip-hop has shaped pop culture. Toffler remembers the launch in the late 1980s Yo! MTV raps “When hip-hop videos were just taking over the channel. I mean, that’s all the audience wanted to see.
“It took the culture a while to catch up, but hip-hop’s influence has permeated all aspects of entertainment and life,” he says.
Hughes hopes the next generation will pick up the hip-hop baton and run with it.
“It’s okay to stand up for something. It doesn’t have to be just party music,” he says. “While Tupac, Jay-Z and Biggie were great party music artists, they also did other things and pushed the medium. Let’s keep pushing the medium forward.”
This story first appeared in the September 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.