The elite club also welcomed Motown records’ pathbreaking founder Berry Gordy and Swedish hitmaker Max Martin at its annual induction — an evening of performances by top stars that, like songwriters, stayed decidedly lower-key than televised award galas.
Obama made a surprise appearance by video to present the honor to Jay Z, who grew up as Sean Carter in a troubled housing project in Brooklyn and has gone on to become one of music’s wealthiest entrepreneurs.
“I like to think Mr Carter and I understand each other. Nobody who met us as younger men would have expected us to be where we are today,” Obama said of the rapper, who with his wife Beyonce actively campaigned for the first African-American president.
Obama said he related to Jay Z in that neither grew up with a father, both understood deprivation “and, let’s face it, we both have wives who are significantly more popular than we are.”
Obama described himself as a longtime fan of Jay Z and, in a veiled reference to his successor Donald Trump, said: “I’m pretty sure I’m still the only president to listen to Jay Z’s music in the Oval Office.”
“That may change at some point, but I’m pretty sure that’s true now,” Obama said.
Jay Z did not appear at the ceremony. Beyonce is pregnant with twins, and his absence is sure to fuel speculation that her delivery date is approaching.
The rapper took to Twitter to thank artists who influenced him. In a speech in his name, his music publisher Jon Platt said the award came after years of rappers being told “you’re not songwriters.”
“Jay would want you to know that this induction is a signal that your time has come and your time is now,” Platt said to applause.