Hip-Hop Left Out to Dry in Big Four Categories With 2020 Grammy Nominations

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Daymon Gardner 
Tyler, the Creator photographed on Nov. 20, 2017 in The Caribbean Room at The Pontchartrain Hotel in New Orleans.

After hip-hop invaded the big four categories with significant wins from Childish Gambino's politically-driven track, "This Is America" (song of the year and record of the year) last February, this year's nominations are less inviting to hip-hop stars.

While 2018 saw the major categories littered with star rappers, including Drake, Cardi B, and Kendrick Lamar, the tides have changed, and the dismissal of rap stars serves as another black eye to the Grammy's credibility.

Amongst the pop darlings dominating the big four, including Billie Eilish and Ariana Grande, this year the young and triumphant Lil Nas X, who galloped into mainstream superstardom with "Old Town Road" and the vivacious Lizzo, who won America's hearts with "Truth Hurts," stand as the torchbearers for hip-hop, with a combined 14 nominations. Both are nominated in each of the big four categories, but though the idea of two black hip-hop artists winning big on music's most prominent stage seems like it should be satisfying, X and Lizzo's tendencies to dabble heavily in the pop world leaves the hip-hop audience yearning for more. 

One notable snub within the big four is Tyler, the Creator's IGOR, which fails to land a nomination for album of the year. Though Tyler's latest project colors outside the lines of rap -- which serves as his forte -- he paints a lucid, emotive project that bleeds transparency and vulnerability. Like his 2017 project, Flower BoyIGOR is nominated for best rap album. 

In a year where women have dominated the rap scene, including the mainstream emergence of Megan Thee Stallion, Saweetie, and City Girls to Rapsody's stellar ode to black women on Eve, the absence of female rappers for next year's ceremony is abominable. After Cardi B charged her way to multiple nominations, including a win for best rap album (Invasion of Privacy) last year, things quieted down for the Bronx bombshell this year, with her lone nomination coming in for best rap performance as a feature for Offset's "Clout." And while Lizzo's eight nominations are an impressive feat for the genre and gender class, it's not a big enough of a band-aid to cover up the academy's huge blemish.

From the rap side of things, perennial heavyweights such as Drake and Kendrick Lamar will not be running the tables at this year's Grammy's after having a relatively calm year on the release front. Still, despite their absences, the light will shine bright on the more youthful talents, including YBN Cordae and Roddy Ricch, who each nabbed multiple nominations for the 2020 festivities. This past spring, the DMV rhymer burst onto the scene with his sizzling debut album The Lost Boy. Cordae's blistering lyricism, combined with his knack for storytelling, propels his 13-track effort. As for the newly-turned 21-year-old Roddy Ricch, he, too, bloomed into a promising hit-maker this year. From his contributions on the late Nipsey Hussle's "Racks in the Middle" to Mustard's bouncy club anthem "Ballin'," Ricch's soulful croons enabled him to land nominations for best rap song and best rap/sung performance, respectively.  

As previously mentioned, Nipsey Hussle, who was murdered this past March, receives two Grammy nominations for best rap song ("Racks in the Middle") and best rap/sung performance (DJ Khaled's "Higher"). Last year, Hussle dashed into contention for best rap album at the 2018 Grammy's for his opus Victory Lap. Though he eventually lost to Cardi B's Invasion of Privacy, it'll be interesting to see if the Academy will honor Hussle's memory this time around by belatedly recognizing him, for a song he released six weeks before his untimely death. 

Though hip-hop veterans Meek Mill and J. Cole have previously shunned the Grammys for their lack of appreciation concerning their artistry, their opinions may change depending on next year's outcome. After finding redemption with his 2018 album Championships, Meek looks to cut down the proverbial net in February when he goes up against the likes of Dreamville, Tyler, the Creator, YBN Cordae, and 21 Savage for best rap album, his first Grammy nomination. Marred by legal woes, Meek's road to salvation was engined by his affinity for club bangers ("Still Going Bad" and "Uptown Vibes") and his loyalty to the streets ("Respect the Game").

As for J. Cole, he's currently 0-11 at the Grammys and is eying his first elusive trophy. Nominated for four awards, including best rap performance ("Middle Child"), best rap song (21 Savage's "A Lot") and best rap/sung performance (Young Thug's "The London"), there's a solid chance that Cole walks away victorious. The chances of Cole getting his way will be amplified by the success of his collective Dreamville. After earning a No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 this summer, Cole's dream team look to put a bow on their banner year with a Grammy award. Not only are they nominated for best rap/sung performance for "Down Bad," but the hip-hop juggaerant have their feet in the race for best rap album with Revenge of the Dreamers III

Though 21 Savage's i am > i was dropped in December 2018, he nimbly scripted his most complete body of work with his sophomore LP. Not only is he nominated for best rap album, but he's also nominated for best rap song alongside Dreamville polymath J. Cole for "A Lot." If Savage can hoist some gold trophies by the end of the night, those wins will validate his career as a rap titan, following the struggles he had with ICE back in February.


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