HITS Daily Double


This year’s Clive Davis & the Recording Academy Pre-Grammy Gala offered yet another mind-bogglingly star-studded evening—not to mention a slate of memorable performances and a frankly incendiary speech from Salute to Industry Icons Award recipient Sean “Diddy” Combs.

Davis, the perennially avuncular master of ceremonies, alternated between introducing the performers (Beck, Santana f/Ryan Tedder and Miguel, John Legend, Chance the Rapper, Brandi Carlile, et al) and introducing the many, many luminaries in the audience—Berry Gordy, Quincy Jones, Clarence Avant, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (who got a standing O), Smokey Robinson, Joni Mitchell, Dionne Warwick, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Michael Douglas, Keith Urban, you get the idea.

And in addition to a who’s who of the biz, young, old and in-between, there was the bizarre delight, only possible in Cliveland, of seeing dozens of music legends just meandering past, as though you’d stumbled into some parallel dimension that is the natural habitat of superstars. They all come out for Clive, immeasurably aided by partner/co-organizer Doug Davis and team.

Clive celebrates with Speaker Pelosi, Joni Mitchell, Doug Davis, Chance the Rapper and Wiz Khalifa; screen time for the host; Richard Palmese, Steve Bartels, Tom Poleman, Alissa Pollack, Doc Wynter and John Sykes cheer Clive from their excellent table.

So there was copious music and food and drink and schmooze, and lots of Clive love that included dutiful recitations of platinum and diamond sales accrued and Grammys accumulated. And then, after an all-star tribute from the Bad Boy roster and a quick video reel of testimonials, it was time for Diddy.

Recording Academy interim President/CEO Harvey Mason Jr. brought him out after a warm introduction.

Combs’ candid, funny and moving speech traced his earliest infatuation with music—grooving to James Brown 45s on a toy record player, and revering Brown’s proud blackness—all the way to the present moment. It revisited his dashed dreams of football stardom, his tenure at Howard University and his stint as a dancer in music videos (he didn’t get the Madonna gig because “I didn’t know how to vogue”). He remembered hearing Frankie Crocker playing the Sugar Hill Gang and being electrified by hip-hop.

“Hip-hop gave us hope,” he emphasized, long before it was ever a planetary economic engine.

He remembered meeting Lyor at Def Jam, who was on the phone in his office in a full-on cursing match with Run-D.M.C., and thinking, “I don’t want this white man cursing at me every day.” He took us through his starving days figuring out the production game at Uptown, under the patient wing of Andre Harrell. And he recalled his first meeting with Clive, whom he saluted as another thoughtful and generous mentor. He related that following Clive’s notes on records resulted in one #1 after another. He told tales of having a tween Usher in his charge, which he owned might not have been the best idea.

He was most emphatic in shouting the praises of Gordy, Jones and Avant from the rooftops, as well as the more recent efforts of Jon Platt, Team Roc Nation and others, underlining the importance of work that has moved black culture forward, beyond mere entertainment, and also vouchsafed black ownership of black creativity.

All of which set the table rather neatly for his remarks about what needs to change in Grammyland.

He had some choice words for the Grammy leadership, talking about how the inequality and lack of proper representation in the music world mirrors the same problems in the larger world. But given the time and work and dedication required to make records, “you just want an even playing field.”

“Truth be told,” Combs said, “hip-hop has never been respected by the Grammys. Black music has never been respected by the Grammys to the point that it should be. So this current situation is not a revelation… for years we’ve allowed institutions that have never had our best interests at heart to judge us, and that stops right now.”

“I’m officially starting a clock,” he said. “You’ve got 365 days to get this shit together. We need the artists to take back the control. We need transparency. We need diversity. This is the room that has the power to make things change… They have to make the changes for us. They’re a nonprofit organization that’s supposed to protect the welfare of the musical community… they work for us. We have the power. We decide what’s hot. If we don’t go, nobody goes. If we don’t support, nobody supports. We control what’s cool, what’s hot, what your kids listen to, what they dance to, we control their video games… we control everything. We’re not going to solve this tonight, but it’s going to take all of us to get this done. It’s going to take the artists and their representatives to recognize their power… We just need to get it right. I’m here for the artists. So sign me up.”

“I’m officially starting a clock,” Diddy declared to the Academy. “You’ve got 365 days to get this shit together."

“My goal used to be about making hit records,” he added. “Now it’s about ensuring that the culture moves forward. My culture. Our culture. Black culture.”

Wrapping up he reiterated his 365-day ultimatum, dedicated his award to Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall, Prince’s 1999, Beyoncé’s Lemonade, Missy Elliott’s The Real World, Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle, Kanye West’s Graduation and NasIllmatic.

Before leaving the stage, he lavished more affection on Clive. “I love you to death,” he said.

Photo credit: Elliot dal Pra