Grammys 2015 Preview: The Lowdown on the Best Rap Song and Best Rap Album Nominees

Kendrick Lamar on SNL
Dana Edelson/NBC

Kendrick Lamar performs on Saturday Night Live on November 15, 2014.


Nicki Minaj
Songwriters: Ernest Clark, Jamal Jones, Onika Maraj, Marcos Palacios, J. Solone-Myvett
Publishers: Harajuku Barbie Music, Money Mack Music, Songs of Universal Inc., My Diet Starts Tomorrow Inc., U Can't Teach Bein' the Shhh Inc., I Love Belize, Viva Panama, Sony/ATV Tunes LLC, Two Works, Mix-A-Lot Publishing, Universal-Songs of PolyGram International
From: The Pinkprint
Label: Cash Money/Young Money

Nicki Minaj pulled out all the stops for "Anaconda," hopping on the booty train with the club-rattling ode to behinds. The track, which sampled Sir Mix-A-Lot's 1992 hit "Baby Got Back," boasted R-rated cover art and spawned a video that climaxed with her giving labelmate Drake a lap dance. The video broke the Vevo record for the most views in a 24-hour period (19.6 million), and the song became a certified smash, topping the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and peaking at No. 2 on the Hot 100.

"Bound 2"
Kanye West Featuring Charlie Wilson
Songwriters: Mike Dean, Malik Jones, Che Pope, Elon Rutberg, Sakiya Sandifer, John Stephens, Kanye West, Charlie Wilson, Cydel Young
Publishers: Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp., Artemis Muziekuitgeverij B.V., Songs of Universal Inc., Emi Blackwood Music Inc., Universal Music Corporation, Sugar Hill Music Publishing, BMG Platinum Songs U.S., Chrysalis Music, Alien Status Music, Dust Index, BMG Sapphire Songs, John Legend Publishing, Please Gimme My Publishing Inc., Jenelle Rene Music, Papa George Music, Jabriel Iz Myne, Let the Story Begin Publishing, Think Think Think, Mr. Redan Music, Bu Thiam Publishing, Reach Music Tunes
From: Yeezus
Label: G.O.O.D./Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam Records

"Bound 2" provided a rare glimmer of soul on Kanye West's relentlessly dark 2013 album Yeezus. ("Bound 1," never released, features John Legend and Charlie Wilson.) The song's transfixing video showed West and a topless Kim Kardashian riding on a motorcycle against phony-looking nature backdrops and inspired a parody by James Franco and Seth Rogen. The track, also nominated for best rap/sung collaboration, was the highest-charting Yeezus single, peaking at No. 12 on the Hot 100 and No. 3 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs.

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Kendrick Lamar
Songwriters: K. Duckworth, C. Smith
Publishers: WB Music Corp., TDE Music, Hard Working Black Folks, Almo Music Corp., Producer Pizza, EMI April Music Inc., Bovina Music Inc.
From: TBD
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment/Interscope Records

Kendrick Lamar's debut album, 2012's Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, explored the hardships of his upbringing in Compton, Calif. The surprise September 2014 release of "i" (just in time for the Grammy deadline) brought Lamar's buoyant side to the fore, with forcefully hopeful lyrics and a sample of The Isley Brothers' 1973 single "That Lady." It climbed to No. 39 on the Hot 100, and earned Lamar his eighth Grammy nomination.

"We Dem Boyz"
Wiz Khalifa
Songwriters: Noel Fisher, Cameron Jibril Thomaz, Kemion Cooks, Maurice Brown
Publishers: Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp., Wiz Khalifa Publishing, If You Need Me Don't Leave Me
From: Blacc Hollywood
Label: Rostrum/Atlantic

Wiz Khalifa borrowed Southern hip-hop's bouncy, anthemic sound for this track, in which he extols the virtues of smoking weed and womanizing under a haze of Auto-Tune. "Boyz," which peaked at No. 4 on the Hot Rap Songs chart, spawned an official remix featuring Rick Ross, Schoolboy Q and Nas, plus unofficial versions by Busta Rhymes, Sean "Diddy" Combs and French Montana. Counting Blacc Hollywood's nomination for best rap album this year, the song marks Khalifa's seventh Grammy nomination since 2012.

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"0 to 100/The Catch Up"
Songwriters: A. Feeney, Aubrey Graham, A. Hernandez, P. Jefferies, M. Samuels, Noah Shebib
Publishers: Live Write LLC, Sony/ATV Songs LLC, Boi-1da Productions LLC, Unichappell Music Inc., Noah Shebib, Mavor & Moses LLC, Kobalt Music Publishing America Inc., Paul Jefferies, Nyan King Music Inc., EMI April Music Inc., Vinylz Music Group
From: Views From the 6
Label: Cash Money/Young Money

Drake didn't release an album in 2014, but instead maintained his buzz by posting a string of free singles to his SoundCloud account. He released "0 to 100/The Catch Up" (produced by Noah "40" Shebib, Boi-1da and Nineteen85) on June 1 and racked up almost 28 million clicks to date -- the most of any of his giveaways. The track also performed well on the charts, peaking at No. 35 on the Hot 100 and No. 8 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs list. The song, which also is nominated for best rap performance, earns Drake his 18th Grammy nomination as both a lead and featured artist. He has won only one statuette: 2013's best rap album for Take Care.


The New Classic
Iggy Azalea
Executive Producers: Sarah Stennett, T.I.
Producers: The Invisible Men, The Arcade, Watch the Duck, The Messengers, Joey Dyer, 1st Down of FKi, Stargate
Engineers/Mixers: Eric Weaver, Anthony Kilhoffer, Andrew Wuepper, Elliot Carter, Jaycen Joshua, Daniel Zaidenstadt, Mikkel Eriksen, Phil Tan, Fedda Weight
Label: Def Jam Recordings

"Fancy" featuring Charli XCX, the second single from Iggy Azalea's breakthrough debut album, topped the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks thanks in part to its Clueless-inspired video and warmed the pot for The New Classic, which bowed at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 in April. The Australian rapper became one of 2014's biggest breakouts, with crossover hits including "Black Widow" featuring Rita Ora (No. 3 on the Hot 100) and "Beg for It" featuring MØ (from the album's November rerelease, Reclassified). The best rap album nomination is one of four for Azalea, who also got nods in the best new artist, record of the year and best pop duo/group performance categories.

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Nobody's Smiling
Executive Producers: No ID, Common, Mike Chavez
Producers: No ID, James Poyser
Engineers/Mixers: Young Guru, Josh Story, Michael "Law" Thomas, Maximilian Jaeger, Bobby Campbell, Jim Caruana, Craig Bauer, Greg Rominiecki
Label: ARTium/Def Jam Recordings

Nobody's Smiling, Common's gritty follow-up to his spit-shined 2011 album The Dreamer and his first Def Jam release, confronts violence in his hometown of Chicago. Local artists (Lil Herb, Malik Yusef) and new labelmates (Big Sean, Jhene Aiko) help make it a powerful reflection on inner-city turmoil. In addition to earning Common his 13th Grammy nomination, the project entered at No. 1 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and No. 6 on the Billboard 200. "Blak Majik" featuring Aiko, a stuttering street cut, is nominated for best rap/sung collaboration.

The Marshall Mathers LP2
Executive Producers: Dr. Dre, Rick Rubin
Producers: S1, M-Phazes, StreetRunner, Vinny Venditto, Eminem, Rick Rubin, Luis Resto, DJ Khalil, Emile Haynie, Alex Da Kid, DVLP, Filthy, Aalias, Jeff Bhasker, Sid Roams
Engineers/Mixers: Eminem, Mike Strange, Joe Strange, Tony Campana, Maurice "Malex" Alexander, Jason Lader, Manny Marroquin, Josh Mosser, Mauricio "Veto" Iragorri, Dr. Dre
Label: Aftermath

This sequel to 2000's classic The Marshall Mathers LP recaptured the wild feeling -- and the success -- of the original. Rick Rubin produced lead single "Berzerk," but it was with "The Monster," featuring Rihanna, that the rapper returned to the top of the Hot 100. (His last single to crown that chart: 2010's "Love the Way You Lie," which Rihanna also sang on.) TMMLP2 debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in November 2013 (his seventh album to do so) and has since sold 2.2 million copies, according to Nielsen Music.

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Because the Internet
Childish Gambino
Executive Producer: Donald Glover, Fam Udeorji
Producers: Donald Glover, Christian Rich, Thundercat, Stefan Ponce, Pop Levi, Ludwig Goransson
Engineers/Mixers: Andrew Dawson, Ruben Rivera, Riley Mackin Label: Glassnote

Childish Gambino, known by fans of 30 Rock and Community as the actor Donald Glover, significantly broadened his sound on his second album. On the track "II. Worldstar" he takes on trap, while "III. Telegraph Ave. ('Oakland' by Lloyd)" is his version of cloud rap. He scored his first noteworthy hit, though, with "V. 3005," a Drake-cribbing track that peaked at No. 11 on the Hot Rap Songs chart. Released in December 2013, Because the Internet rode the holiday wave into the top 10, bowing at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 and selling 377,000 copies.

Schoolboy Q
Executive Producers: Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith
Producers: S1, M-Phazes, StreetRunner, Nex & Rio, Sounwave, Pharrell Williams, THC, Gwen Bunn, Marz, Mike Will Made It, Swiff D, Willie B, Tyler the Creator, Lord Quest, DJ Dahi, The Alchemist
Engineers/Mixers: Nathaniel Alford, Derek "MixedByAli" Ali, Andrew Coleman, Hector Delgado, Jaycen Joshua, Gee Bizzy Rightnow, James Hunt, Kyle Vandekeroff
Label: TDE/Interscope Records

Schoolboy Q, a Top Dawg Entertainment associate of Kendrick Lamar's, broke out with this major-label debut, a gangsta-rap update with deeply personal asides about his problems with addiction. Marquee names (Pharrell Williams, Mike Will Made It) and frequent TDE collaborators (Sounwave, THC) provided the menacing production. Oxymoron debuted atop the Billboard 200 in February, and earned the rapper his first nomination in this category. "Studio," which features crooner BJ the Chicago Kid, is also nominated for best rap/sung collaboration.

Blacc Hollywood
Wiz Khalifa
Executive Producers: Tim Blacksmith, Danny D., Will Dzombak, Wiz Khalifa
Producers: Ned Cameron, ID Labs, Detail, Jim Jonson, Finatik N Zac, Micah J Foxx, Sledgren, RMB Justize, Dr. Luke, Arthur McArthur, David Versis, Stargate, Ghost Loft, Kane Beatz, JMike, The Order, Luca Polizzi
Engineers/Mixers: Big Jerm, E. Dan, Andrew Drucker, Mikkel Eriksen, Clint Gibbs, Robert Marks, Niko Marzouca, Daniela Rivera, Brian Sumner, Phil Tan, Miles Walker, Gabriel Zardes
Label: Rostrum/Atlantic

Wiz Khalifa's fifth album wasn't about reinvention, but he did flaunt his self-awareness: On "House in the Hills," he raps that critics focus on him being a "pot head, not the fact there's not a lot where I live, [and I'm] 25 and not dead." The Pittsburgh native's loyal following finally gave him his first No. 1 debut album on the Billboard 200, with 215,000 copies sold through Dec. 7.

This story first appeared in the Dec. 26 issue of Billboard.



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