It’s February 2024, and the time has come once again to debate which part of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s name is more important to artists’ qualifications — the Rock & Roll part, or the Hall of Fame part?
This year’s crop of nominees for the Rock Hall are once again largely divided along those lines. There are the obvious all-time music industry legends (Cher, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige) whose resumés are only questionable in their lack of major overlap with the more traditionally guitar-based rock artists whose presence still — for the most part — forms the institution’s core. And then there are the unquestionable rockers (Jane’s Addiction, Oasis, Dave Matthews Band) whose perhaps slightly less-expansive pop cultural impact — in this country anyway — leave them at a slight disadvantage in any kind of popularity contest with such mononymically recognizable pop icons.
And of course, it’s not entirely that simple a binary: In this year’s nomination class, we also have legendary bands whose success was more in the pop sphere than the rock one (Kool & The Gang), esteemed rap duos and groups without massive crossover hits but with a ton of rock-world respect (Eric B. & Rakim and A Tribe Called Quest) and singularly genre-blurring, industry-defying greats whose Rock Hall cases are somewhat puzzling just based on the lack of obvious precedents for them (Sade, Sinéad O’Connor.) Lastly, we have the classic-rock holdovers, Foreigner and Peter Frampton, who would’ve likely been laughed off the ballot 20 years ago for being rock-crit anathema, but whose songs have endured, and who are now close to the only credible boomer-rock representatives left to be inducted.
Confusing stuff, to be sure, but we’re here to help you try to make sense of it. Here’s how we break down the nominees’ chances to be inducted, from least to most likely, with approximate odds of their chances to actually get in.
Eric B. & Rakim
Golden-age hip-hop greats Eric B. & Rakim comprise one of the most venerated rap outfits to not yet be inducted into the Rock Hall. But while they have the rep and the peer respect, they don’t really have the mainstream profile: Casual rock fans might not have much awareness of their work beyond a vague sense of their importance and the album/song/phrase “Paid in Full.” They were nominated once before in 2012; they might need to be nominated a few years in a row to build up the momentum to really have a shot here.
Odds: 12 to 1
He’s got the rock name recognition, and for at least one year — 1976, when double-LP live set Frampton Comes Alive! took over the world — he was very arguably the biggest solo rock star on the planet. But Peter Frampton’s profile and influence beyond that one blockbuster (and some lower-profile early blues-rock work) are pretty negligible for a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, and while Frampton is a well-liked rock veteran, his modern relevance in the industry is minimal enough that he’ll need pretty major fan support to have a chance here.
Odds: 10 to 1
Kool & The Gang
Kool & The Gang do have some positive momentum here, as the internet is littered with pieces decrying their absence from the Rock Hall’s ranks — including a 2022 article in the New York Times penned by regular Billboard contributor Steve Knopper. But despite the group’s decades of hits and influence, they still don’t quite have the respect as innovators or albums artists as some of their already-inducted peers. For a first time on the ballot, getting nominated may have to be enough.
Odds: 8 to 1
Previously nominated in 2017, Jane’s Addiction is the kind of band that always makes sense on the ballot, but never seems like a likely inductee — their peak was just too short, only encompassing two official LPs at their late-’80s/early ’90s peak, and just about 3-4 hits the casual rock listener would be familiar with (and no major pop hits). The group’s rock bonafides and importance to the Bush Sr. era are fairly unquestionable, but at a time when hedonistic L.A. psych-alt is hardly at the apex of its contemporary relevance, it’s hard to make the case for why now would be the time for them.
Odds: 8 to 1
A Tribe Called Quest
Tribe’s third time on the ballot, and always with the same story: They’re unquestionably great, but who really wants to make the case for them as RNRHOFers? They don’t have either the casual support or the passionate fanbase support — not that they don’t have die-hards, but just not the type to necessarily make a stink on the band’s behalf about them being denied entry to a classic rock institution. Still, they keep making it on here — third year in a row now — so you definitely can’t rule out the possibility of them getting in sometime.
Odds: 6 to 1
When talking about music-world figures who still inspire the sort of awed reverence and blind devotion that a Rock Hall inductee is traditionally supposed to generate, you’re not going to find many more qualified candidates still currently on the outside than Sade Adu. But she and her eponymous band have never been much of a Rock Hall consideration: too smooth, too reclusive, too, well, un-rocking. It’s a little hard to see them getting in on first nomination — but if they did, it’s equally hard to see anyone really objecting.
Odds: 5 to 1
Among classic rock radio fixtures who’ve never been nominated at the Rock Hall, few have as many enduring staples as arena-rockers Foreigner: unlike Frampton, they were dominant on the charts and the airwaves for a solid decade from 1977-88. They also may have sentimentality on their side, as a regular live draw who’s hanging it up after their current Farewell Tour, which began last year and extends throughout 2024. They should also have the popular vote in their favor, but the industry insiders may be a tougher sell — Foreigner were afforded little critical respect in their day, and never enjoyed quite the 21st-century pop-culture reclamation of their 2017-inducted peers in Journey.
Odds: 5 to 1
You want rock stars in your Rock Hall? How about the two bros who have personified the attitude best of any co-frontmen of the past 30 years (and even called their debut album’s opening track “Rock & Roll Star”)? Oasis’ Rock Hall resume is pretty airtight: Two unquestioned classic albums, a mid-’90s peak as the biggest band in the world (and another decade of dominance in their home country), and arguably the two most enduring power ballads of the decade. But doubling back to that “home country” bit: British bands have long had trouble gaining Rock Hall entry on their first nod — even Radiohead, consensus greatest band of their generation, needed a second go — and you can bet the avowedly DGAF Brothers Gallagher will not be doing themselves any favors with industry glad-handing.
Odds: 4 to 1
Mary J. Blige
Greatness personified, with decades of hit singles and albums, countless awards and endless love from her peers and followers, which leaves her the still-unquestioned Queen of Hip-Hop Soul over 30 years after her debut. But does she rock enough for the Rock Hall? Enough to be nominated twice in the last three years, anyway — and enough, we’d expect, to get in eventually. This year, though, she may still get stuck behind another couple equally iconic non-rockers with slightly more convincing rock qualifications.
Odds: 3 to 1
Dave Matthews Band
The Dave Matthews Band have been around for 30-plus years now, with 10 years as one of alt-rock’s pre-eminent hitmaking outfits, and another 20 as one of its most consistent and enduring live draws. Matthews himself is well-liked around the industry, and gets more credit for his decades of accomplishments these days than he did at his commercial peak when he was something of a critic’s punching bag. There’s still a bit of “OK, but… why now?” to their second nomination in six years of eligibility, but the counter to that could just as easily be “well… why not yet?”
Odds: 3 to 1
Like Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson before her, some pop&B icons just kinda transcend the “Are they rock enough?” question, with double-digit Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hits and and eight to nine digits of worldwide sales. Mariah Carey — who now also annually gets nearly a whole pop month of the year to herself — unquestionably has those qualifications and then some. (Not to mention rock world adjacency in the form of Journey, Foreigner and Def Leppard covers in her singles discography, and supposedly even an entire unreleased ’90s alt-rock album album out there somewhere.) Skeptics may get in her way this year, but she’ll make it eventually, and very possibly on her first try.
Odds: 2 to 1
Another “But is she rock enough?” artist, of course, with generations of pop hits and iconicity but little rock-world success. If voters believe that rock and roll is more about attitude than anything else, though, that question might not be much of an impediment, as Cher has been a proud iconoclast for most of her career — down to her dealings with the Rock Hall itself, saying that she “wouldn’t be in it now if they gave [her] a million dollars” and telling the institution to “just you-know-what themselves.” Her Rock Hall qualifications hardly end there, as our Paul Grein extensively detailed following her December comments. (And even with her protests, the Rock Hall does not let artists remove themselves from consideration, as Dolly Parton found out in 2022.)
Odds: 3 to 2
With some artists — like 2023 inductee Sheryl Crow, for instance — you have to throw out the resumé line items and various weights of qualifications and just ask yourself: “Do they feel like a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer”? On those grounds, Lenny Kravitz obviously passes with flying, wild, psychedelic colors: Few artists of the last 35 years have carried the torch for rock in the most classic sense, in their music, their image, their attitude and everything in between. He hasn’t been a conventional hitmaker for some time now, but he’s remained consistently visible and impactful; even a Gen Z-er who couldn’t tell Eddie Vedder from Billy Corgan could probably ID Kravitz without much issue. And while he was often derided as a pastiche artist at his peak, future generations see him more as a trailblazer; preeminent 2020s rock star Steve Lacy called Kravitz one of his “role models” in a 2022 Billboard conversation between the two.
Odds: 3 to 2
The timing is right for Sinéad O’Connor’s induction — unfortunately, for all the worst reasons. Her death in 2023 inspired a re-evaluation of her complicated but brilliant career, one that had already started with her 2021 memoir Rememberings and the 2022 documentary Nothing Compares. And at a divisive time when the personal and professional consequences for holding strong in your beliefs can be dire, her example of remaining defiant and outspoken in the face of industry pressures remains an obvious source of inspiration for many — which Annie Lennox paid homage to in her Grammy tribute to O’Connor, ending her performance of “Nothing Compares 2 U” with a call for a ceasefire in Gaza. (Not to mention that following former Rock Hall power broker Jann Wenner’s infamous comments about there not being worthy female artists “articulate” enough for his The Masters interview collection, inducting such a candid and thoughtful female rocker will no doubt be a priority.)
These are all pretty sad explanations for why an artist whose singular artistry on its own easily made them worthy of being named a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer during their lifetime — when she was never once nominated, despite a decade of eligibility — is now a front-runner for induction. But her fans can take solace in the fact that she probably wouldn’t have cared much about any of this Rock Hall stuff anyway.
Odds: Even Money
Like Kravitz, Ozzy Osbourne is “Does he feel like a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer?” personified — and like 2019 inductee Stevie Nicks, that’s multiplied by a factor of “Wait, how in the hell is he not a Hall of Famer already??” The answer is simple: Osbourne was previously inducted as the frontman of Black Sabbath (as Nicks was with Fleetwood Mac), thus lessening the urgency to induct him as a solo act as well.
Is Ozzy solo also Hall of Fame worthy? Duh: The Prince of Darkness has a catalog of standard-setting solo albums and hard-rock radio staples every bit as worthy as that of his original band (albeit without the whole, y’know, having basically invented heavy metal thing). With the 75-year-old’s health long in decline and two goodbye concerts planned for later this year, it seems near-inconceivable that the Rock Hall would pass up a chance to honor him one more time — and again, it comes down to voters seeing a ballot essentially asking them, “Is Ozzy Osbourne a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer?” and them being all but certain to (rightly) answer, “Yes of f–king course he is.”
Odds: Even Money