N.W.A. entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Friday, with the groundbreaking quintet that reflected the rough streets of Los Angeles in a style known as gangster rap defiantly refuting those who suggested rappers didn’t belong in the institution.
They joined the rock hall in a ceremony at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center with 1970s-era rock acts Cheap Trick, Chicago, Deep Purple and Steve Miller.
N.W.A.’s rough-hewn tales tilted the balance toward West Coast rap in the late 1980s on songs like “F— the Police,” ”Boyz-N-The Hood” and “Straight Outta Compton.” Following the act’s breakup, Dr. Dre became one of music’s most in-demand producers and a billionaire with a high-tech headphone company. Ice Cube moves between music and a successful acting career.
For all the success, some traditional rockers have resisted the inclusion of rap acts into the hall, most prominent Kiss’ Gene Simmons, whose band was inducted in 2014.
“I want to say to Gene Simmons, hip-hop is here forever,” said MC Ren. “Get used to it.”
Rock ‘n’ roll is not just a musical style but a spirit that connects people, be they bluesmen or punk rockers, Ice Cube said. “Rock ‘n’ roll is not conforming to the people who came before you but creating your own path in music and in life,” he said. “That is rock ‘n’ roll and that is us.”
Named for one of N.W.A.’s best-known songs, the movie “Straight Outta Compton” told the band’s story and was one of the biggest box office winners of 2015. They were inducted by Kendrick Lamar, who said N.W.A. members “proved to every kid in the ghetto that you could be successful and still have your voice while doing it.
Chicago was known for a brassy, jazz-rock fusion in its early days and settled into a comfortable career penning pop hits. Among their favorites were “Saturday in the Park,” ”25 or 6 to 4″ and “If You Leave Me Now.”
Singer Rob Thomas, while inducting Chicago, indicated that Chicago was tougher and more innovative than people had given them credit for. He joined the band for a verse of “Does Anyone Really Know What Time it Is?”
“If you think Chicago was your mom’s band, man I want to party with your mom,” Thomas said.
The pride of Rockford, Illinois, Cheap Trick’s career soared in the late 1970s when a live album recorded before a gleeful Japanese audience added excitement to tracks like “Surrender” and “I Want You to Want Me.” Turning up the volume for the night, they performed both songs.
They were inducted by a fellow Midwesterner, Detroit’s Kid Rock, who noted that most bands in attendance that night consider themselves great live acts.
“Then you go and see Cheap Trick,” he said. “That’s when you think, we kind of suck. I better step up my game.”
The rock hall also paid tribute Friday to two recently deceased rockers, with David Byrne and the Roots collaborating on David Bowie’s “Fame” and Sheryl Crow singing the Eagles’ “New Kid in Town” to honor the late Glenn Frey.
Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich described seeing the night’s first inductees, Deep Purple, when he was nine years old and taken to their concert in Copenhagen. He said it changed his life.
“Almost without exception, every hard rock band of the last 40 years — including mine — traces its lineage back to Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple,” Ulrich said. “They are always considered equal. In my heart, I am bewildered that they are so late in getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”
The band was without one of its founding members, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, who stayed away because current members wouldn’t agree to play with him. But the inductees regarded him warmly in their speeches and paid tribute musically — performing “Smoke on the Water” with the signature riff that the guitarist came up with.
Ulrich called it the guitar riff “that has actually been banned from playing in music stores to preserve the sanity of the staff.”
Steve Miller and his band played his crowd-pleasing hits “Fly Like and Eagle,” ”Rock ‘n’ Me Baby” and “The Joker” to an audience of fellow musicians and industry professionals sitting at tables in the Brooklyn arena and ticket-buying members of the public in the surrounding stands.
“If you listened to the radio, you listened to Steve Miller,” said the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, who inducted Miller with his partner Patrick Carney.
The hall also inducted songwriter and producer Bert Berns.
HBO is filming Friday’s show and will air highlights on April 30.
The rock hall also announced that starting in 2018, it would begin alternating the annual induction ceremony between New York and Cleveland, where the Hall of Fame and Museum is locate