In the years before 1995, when the Grammys instituted a nominations review committee to determine the final nominees in the Big Four categories (album, record and song of the year, plus best new artist), just one rap album was nominated for album of the year: M.C. Hammer's 1990 blockbuster Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em. That album logged 21 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, which is, to this day, the longest run on top for a hip-hop album. That probably wasn't the only reason Grammy voters embraced the album. Hammer had an entertaining (read: non-threatening) persona. And the album's key hit, "U Can't Touch This," was based on a familiar hit, Rick James' "Super Freak."
Fugees' The Score (1996) was the second rap album to be nominated for album of the year. Its key hit, "Killing Me Softly," was also familiar to Grammy voters. Roberta Flack's classic version of that song was the 1973 winner for both record and song of the year. Lauryn Hill, Fugees' sole female member, had the third hip-hop album to be nominated for album of the year -- and the first to win the award: her 1998 solo debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
The next two rap albums nominated for album of the year were Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP (2000) and OutKast's Stankonia (2001).
In 2002, for the first time, two rap albums were nominated for album of the year in the same year: Eminem's The Eminem Show and Nelly's Nellyville. Two rap albums were also nominated the following year: OutKast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (which won, the most recent hip-hop album to do so) and Missy Elliott's Under Construction.
It took a full decade before two rap albums were again nominated for album of the year in the same year. Rap albums nominated in the intervening years were Kanye West's The College Dropout (2004), Late Registration (2005) and Graduation (2007), Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III (2008) and Eminem's Recovery (2010).
In 2013, both Kendrick Lamar's Good Kid, m.A.A.d City and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' The Heist were nominated. Lamar was nominated again two years later for To Pimp a Butterfly. Drake received his first album of the year nomination in 2016 for Views.
In 2017, there were again two rap albums in the running for album of the year: Lamar's DAMN. and Jay-Z's 4:44. The two rappers competed head-to-head in a whopping seven categories that night. Lamar won five of those showdowns; Bruno Mars won the other two. Jay-Z went home empty-handed, despite eight total nominations. Understandably, he wasn't pleased. He vented his frustration in "Apeshit," a track on The Carters' 2018 album Everything Is Love, in which he exclaimed, "Tell the Grammy’s f--- that 0-for-8 sh--."
Lamar, meanwhile, became only the third rapper (following West and Eminem) to land three album of the year nominations as a lead artist. In 2018, the first year that there were eight nominees for album of the year, rap accounted for a record three nominees: Cardi B's Invasion of Privacy, Drake's Scorpion and the Black Panther soundtrack (for which Lamar was nominated as a featured artist, co-producer and co-writer).
Last year, the only hip-hop release nominated for album of the year was Lil Nas X's 7, an eight-song EP with a brief 18:44 playing time. Incidentally, the Grammys classified it as pop (it competed for a nomination for best pop vocal album, though it was passed over for a nod in that category).
Eternal Atake isn't the only rap album with a good shot at an album of the year nomination this year. Roddy Ricch's Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial, which has amassed four non-consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, is also a strong candidate. West's gospel album Jesus Is Love, which also debuted at No. 1, could get extra consideration for being a passion project. If it is nominated, West would become the first rapper nominated for four of his own albums.
Two other rap albums by past nominees in this category -- Eminem's Music to Be Murdered By and Lil Wayne's Funeral -- have reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in this eligibility period (Sept. 1, 2019 through, presumably, Aug. 31, 2020). Reaching No. 1 is not a requirement for an album of the year nod, but it never hurts.
Other rap releases that have topped the Billboard 200 in this eligibility period are DaBaby's Kirk, YoungBoy Never Broke Again's AI YoungBoy 2, Trippie Redd's A Love Letter to You 4, JackBoys' JackBoys and Lil Baby's My Turn.
Note: Post Malone's Hollywood's Bleeding, which has logged four non-consecutive weeks atop the Billboard 200, is a very strong candidate for an album of the year nomination, but many see the artist as more pop than rap these days. His previous album, beerbongs and bentleys, was nominated for album of the year and was entered for best pop vocal album, though, like 7, it wound up not getting a nomination in that category. That may well change this year.