Jay-Z, Kate Bush, Iron Maiden + more: our guide to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame’s nominees for 2021
18.02.2021

Jay-Z, Kate Bush, Iron Maiden + more: our guide to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame’s nominees for 2021

Words by Aidan Williams

We break down the career achievements of this year's nominees.

With a new year comes new alumni for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and new arguments by fans and critics of eligibility. This year’s list of 16 potential inductees follows the broad soundscape of 2020’s class that honoured acts like Depeche Mode, Whitney Houston, Nine Inch Nails, Notorious B.I.G, and the Doobie Brothers.

With seven out of 16 of the nominees on the ballot for the first time, we look over some blue chips and some left of field choices that have come up across this year’s 16 selections.

Never miss an update – sign up to our newsletter for all the latest news, reviews, features and giveaways.

Jay-Z (First time Nominee)

The rap mega star is making his debut appearance on the nomination board after a triple decade career that’s seen him transcend from early studio features on Big L’s ‘Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous’ to massive commercial success as a rapper, label owner and businessman.

Since cementing himself at the top of the rap world with his 2001 magnum opus The Blueprint, Jay-Z has acted as a godfather of not just hip-hop, but as an inspirational figure for an endless list of artists across several genres.

Whether it’s through his intuition for successful musical collaborations, his multiple prosperous business endeavours or simply just his status as the figurehead of hip-hop in general, Hov has maintained his artistic relevance (even at the age of 51, he’s still in razor sharp form as an MC) while achieving an incomparable amount of commercial success. An obvious pick, really. 

Foo Fighters (First time Nominees)

With their debut album being released 25 years ago, the Seattle stadium rockers have deservingly notched their first ever nomination, which also marks the second time frontman Dave Grohl has been nominated following his inauguration with Nirvana in 2014.

Having won more Grammys than they’ve released studio albums and being known for their infectious hooks, in-your-face guitar riffs, monster drums, and boundless energy, the Foo Fighters initially carried the torch into the 21st century for as spiritual successors of Nirvana, but have since evolved well and truly into their own.

With their signature alternative rock sound, the Foo Fighters have become one of the most commercially successful rock and roll groups of the past two decades, and their prolonged chart success continues to speak volumes – even if they are verging on becoming the epitome of a dad rock band.

Devo

Earning their second nomination for the Hall of Fame, Devo were pioneers of the eclectic brand of new wave that dominated the airwaves throughout the 1980s, blending performance art, satire and a punk rock ethos into one funky entity. Alongside the likes of Talking Heads, Devo arguably made it cool for bands to wave their freak flags throughout an overtly commercialised decade of popular music, and have subsequently been recognised as one of the most pivotal acts of their era.

Previously nominated for the Hall of Fame Class of 2019, Devo’s signature sonics of merging elements of new wave, post-punk and synth-pop has gone on to inspire multiple generations of theatrical musicians, all while topped in their iconic famous energy dome red helmets.  

Iron Maiden (First time Nominees)

Considered by many to be one of the most influential and commercially successful heavy bands in history, British metal titans Iron Maiden have received their first nomination for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year – and about damn time.

One of the most notable bands from the NWOBMH era, Iron Maiden are one of rock’s best known workhorses, playing more than 2000 live shows since the 1980s and having released a whopping 40 albums in that time.

Beloved for their theatrical stage production with mascot Eddie and their blistering riffs – courtesy of Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers’ triple threat guitar attack – it’s a crime that Iron Maiden haven’t previously been admitted into the Hall of Fame, particularly considering they’ve been eligible since 2005. Surely this year!

Mary J. Blige (First time Nominee) 

American R&B singer, songwriter and actress Mary J, Blige is up for her first nomination for the Hall of Fame. Blige has released 13 studio albums since breaking through in the early 1990s with What’s the 411? – produced by an intern at Uptown Records by the name of Sean Combs – and then going on to release My Life in 1994 to critical acclaim.

Standing commercially and critically strong in contrast to the often misogynistic and male dominated hip hop industry of the ’90s, Blige is iconic for her anthems of resilience and female empowerment. With messages that have not only inspired a legion of loyal fans, Blige has left a legacy that has had influence on virtually every R&B artist of the last twenty years.

Kate Bush

English singer, songwriter, musician, dancer, and record producer Kate Bush is pushing for an induction after her second nomination since 2018.

Famous for her extensive catalogue of top 10 Hits with singles such as ‘The Man with the Child in his Eyes’ and ‘Babooshka’, Bush combined lush soundscapes, literary themes, sampling and theatricality into her music, winning significant critical acclaim in the process.

With a career spanning four decades, Bush has been an inspiration both personally and artistically for countless individuals and a wide range of acts, leaving a legacy that’s influenced everyone from Johnny Rotten and Björk to FKA Twigs and current UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. 

The Go-Go’s (First time Nominees)

Another first-time nomination with the American New Wave pioneers The Go-Go’s.

Known for their catchy well-crafted songs, The Go Go’s formed a bridge between the bold urgency of L.A. punk and the dark melodies of new wave pop in the early 1980s with their debut album Beauty and the Beat.

Despite going on an early hiatus and subsequently breaking up, the Go Go’s went onto to offshoot into respective successful solo careers, most notably with frontwoman Belinda Carlisle scoring a string of chart-topping pop singles with songs like ‘Mad About You’ and ‘Heaven Is A Place On Earth’.

Chaka Khan

Funk queen Chaka Khan is another artist up for a successive nomination, looking to finally get an induction after being nominated no less than seven times.

With a career spanning nearly half a century, Chaka Khan has grown with the industry, starting off as the former vocalist of funk and disco band Rufus before blossoming into her own solo career with albums like I Feel For You and What Cha’ Gonna Do for Me. 

Boasting ten Grammys, two platinum and four golden albums, adding an induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to her illustrious resume is one of the only outstanding achievements for Khan and there ain’t nobody that is more deserving for an induction in 2021.    

Carole King

American singer-songwriter Carole King is looking to join this year’s class with her solo induction after being inducted in the class of 1990.

A musical prodigy, selling melodies to New York City publishing companies while she was still in high school, King’s major success began in the 1960s as a songwriter when she and her first husband, Gerry Goffin, wrote more than two dozen chart hits such as The Shirelle’s ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ and ‘Loca Motion’ later used and recorded by The Beatles.

King also went onto weave her own successful recording career, with her breakthrough debut album Tapestry sitting in the UK Billboard top 100 for nearly six years. 

Dionne Warwick (First time Nominee)

One of the most commercially successful female soul singers of all time, American soul singer Dionne Warwick has also received her first nomination for the Hall of Fame this year.

Starting her singing journey as a member of a gospel choir with her family as a young girl before moving onto work as a session vocalist for RCA Records as a part of The Drinkard Singers. It wasn’t until her performance as a backing vocalist on the Drifters song ‘Mexican Divorce’ that Warwick met Burt Bacharach and launched into her own solo career.

She’s subsequently gone on to chart on the Billboard Hot 100 more than any other female vocalist to date. With songs like ‘Walk On By’ and ‘Message to Michael’, Warwick’s had more hits than hot dinners, and should be an obvious look in for this year’s celebrations.

LL Cool J

New York native hip-hop pioneer LL Cool J is up for his second nomination for the Hall of Fame after first receiving a nod back in 2014.

One of the earliest hip-hop artists to breakthrough to commercial audiences, LL Cool J started his career with his debut album Radio released on Def Jam records in 1984, produced by the legendary Rick Rubin.

Bringing hip-hop culture from the boomboxes of metropolitan New York to the mainstream, LL Cool J is considered to be one of the most pivotal rap artists of the 1980s alongside Run DMC, Kurtis Blow and the Beastie Boys. Since then, he’s gone onto release 13 studio albums and win two Grammys,  leaving a legacy that’s influenced countless hip hop acts in its wake. 

New York Dolls (First time Nominees)

A standout band of the 1970s punk scene, the New York Dolls are up for their first nomination this year.

While many  labels were put off from signing the band due to their  androgynous wardrobes  and shameless vulgarity, The Dolls were signed by Mercury records in 1973, releasing their self-titled debut album soon after and spawning gritty porto-punk anthems like ‘Personality Crisis’ and ‘Looking For A Kiss’.

While they somehow failed to achieve major commercial success at the time, the New York Dolls went onto meet huge critical praise in the years that followed, with their iconic status being cemented by other acts who found inspiration in their unique sound – namely the Sex Pistols and The Smiths.  

Rage Against The Machine

American anti status quo quartet Rage Against the Machine are making their third appearance on the HOF ballot since receiving successive nominations in 2017 and 2018.

Known for their anti-establishment stance and rallies for social justice, Rage Against the Machine’s rebellious politics stood head and shoulders above any other act in the 1990s. With the release of the band’s self-titled 1992 debut and 1996’s  Evil Empire, Rage  blended elements of hip-hop, punk, metal, funk and rock both critical and commercial acclaim, inadvertently catapulting rap-rock (and subsequently nu-metal) into the mainstream as they went.

Acclaimed for their incredible live performances, Rage Against The Machine were locked in to reunite for a heavily anticipated world tour later years after an eight-year hiatus from the road – which of course, is now postponed. Nevertheless, it’s one of the most anticipated band reunions of all time, and Australian fans are still waiting desperately for them to announce a show down under.    

Todd Rundgren

Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist,  in-demand  producer, engineer, audiophile and technophile, the man of many musical hats Todd Rundgren is up for his second nomination.

Starting his career playing guitar for pop group Nazz in the early 1960s and then singing and playing guitar for the prog rock four-piece Utopia in the 1970s, Rundgren moved onto projects for Albert Grossman’s Bearsville  Records to work behind the stage as an engineer and producer in between gigs, which led to him sparkling a successful solo career and establish himself as a true musical polymath – not too dissimilar to that of Kevin Parker today.

A pioneer in fields ranging from electronic music to prog rock,  Rundgren’s  influence can be heard in everyone from Prince  and  Daryl Hall and Oates  to  Björk and  Daft Punk.

Fela Kuti (First time Nominee)

Multi-instrumentalist and Afrobeat  pioneer  Fela  Anikulapo Kuti rounds out our list of debutants with his first nomination.

Renowned for his innovative music, revolutionary messages and generational impact, Kuti formed his first band,  Koola  Lobitos in the early 1960s  and quickly became a fixture on the London club scene.

Introducing blended elements of traditional West African highlife, jazz, and soul to a global audience, Kuti’s music was focused music on provoking political change. Credited for bringing Afrobeat to the masses throughout the ’70s, Kuti’s impact as an artist is rivalled by very few, and as such, it’s a bit of a surprise that he’s never been previously considered for the Hall of Fame.

Tina Turner

Finishing off our list, Queen of Rock and Roll Tina Turner is looking to take her third induction into the Hall of Fame.

Rising to fame in the early 1960s as one half of due Ike and Tina Revue with then partner Ike, Turner instantly made an impact with her energetic stage presence, powerful vocals and artistic consistency.

Going through a solo rebirth in the early 1980s, Turner reached massive critical and commercial solo success with albums like Private Dancer, Break Every Rule and Foreign Affairs. Turner is a pioneer and role model for single solo performers, reimagining what people thought could be achieved by a  Black woman in rock ‘n roll and setting the stage for every one that would follow her.  

Vote for your picks in this year’s Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame here.