jay-z sitting on a stool to perform for his 2001 episode of unplugged. the show is being rebooted in 2017 and it will hopefully include more hip hop acts now since the genre is now more popular than ever before

MTV’s Reboot of ‘Unplugged’ Better Have More Hip Hop

The Nineties favorite, live acoustic music television series, MTV Unplugged is officially coming back to TV this September. Which is great news, except for one thing: MTV Unplugged, has always shown more love to traditional, instrumental music genres. Of course, Nirvana still holds the title for the greatest MTV Unplugged performance. However, now that hip hop surpasses Rock as the most popular genre in the United States it’s clear that MTV Unplugged is going to have to embrace that sweet, live, acoustic hip hop. And the network should, because in its past, it has only aired three episodes of Unplugged starring rappers.

During the decade that the series aired regularly, from 1989 to 1999, there was just one MTV Unplugged episode dedicated to hip hop. Yo! Unplugged was an incredible crossover with Yo! MTV Raps that featured 20 minutes of live rap television gold. A Tribe Called Quest smoothly opened the show with “Can I Kick It,” which was then followed by a powerful performance of “Cappuccino” by MC Lyte. LL Cool J then came through, took his shirt off and had the crowd jumping with an acoustic version of “Momma Say Knock You Out.” The show closed with De La Soul performing their classic “Ring Ring Ring.”

That banging episode aired on May 1, 1991 and for some crazy reason it took MTV another 10 long years to put on another MC for Unplugged. 

Of course, it is likely that throughout the years the suits at MTV likely found it challenging to unplug hip hop, a genre that is heavily reliant on electronic instruments and digital software. Yet, when Jay-Z stepped up in 2001, Hov proved everyone wrong by going through 13 of his greatest hits with The Roots backing him. That performance was later pressed into an album that sold over 600,000 copies.

After Jay Z, it took another 10 years to get an actual rapper on Unplugged. (To be fair we are omitting Lauryn Hill and B.o.B., who didn’t really rap much during their Unplugged sets.) In 2011, Lil Wayne headlined an Unplugged special and absolutely murdered it, performing classics like “Mr. Carter” and “Nightmares of The Bottom” with a live band backing him.

It is truly a shame that from 1989 to 2017, MTV has only put on three rap episodes for Unplugged. Many would argue that hip hop simply doesn’t sound good with a bunch of acoustic guitars and pianos. But in recent times we’ve heard some great live and acoustic hip hop performances through shows like NPR’s “Tiny Desk” series or directly from the artists themselves. Who would have thought that Gucci Mane could sound so damn good with just piano keys from Zaytoven? And who else remembers Joey Bada$$’s first television performance on Fallon where he performed “Waves” off 1999 backed by The Roots. In my opinion, that Fallon performance is the best version of that song, period. Let’s not even get started on the incredible work that BADBADNOTGOOD or The Social Experiment has done.

Why MTV chose some wack dude like Shawn Mendes to start off the Unplugged reboot beats me, However I hope the network has some golden live rap performances in store. Because the network certainly has to pay some dues for making MCs wait 10 years for their spot.  It was an absolute dream to hear Kendrick Lamar go through bangers like “M.a.a.D. City” with a live band backing him on the “Kunta Groove Sessions” tour in 2016. And knowing that rappers like Chance can spit and deliver some smooth vocals over live instrumentation, let’s just say that some beautiful live hip hop moments on Unplugged are definitely in order for this grand reboot.  The next Unplugged hip hop special better not come in 2021.




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