Grammys 2016 Preview: From Kendrick to Kanye, a Look at the Best Rap Song and Best Rap Album Nominees

From Kendrick to Kanye, a Look at the Best Rap Song and Best Rap Album Nominees
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From Kendrick to Kanye, a Look at the Best Rap Song and Best Rap Album Nominees

Best Rap Album

2014 Forest Hills Drive
J. Cole
Executive Producers Jermaine Cole, Mark Pitts
Label Roc Nation/Columbia Records

Releasing 2014 Forest Hills Drive just three weeks after it was announced, the North Carolina rapper managed to parlay his near-surprise third album into a fruitful 2015, despite the LP's counterintuitive promotion. There were no singles or guest verses accompanying the set, yet this deeply personal collection -- named after the address of Cole's childhood home in Fayetteville -- still debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, making the MC one of six acts to top the tally with their first three studio full-lengths. Cole, who was also featured on Janet Jackson's comeback single "No Sleeep," spent a good part of the year on the road and, in September, saw 2014 Forest Hills Drive become his first million-selling album.

Dr. Dre
Executive Producer Dr. Dre
Label Aftermath/Interscope

After more than a decade of promising his third solo album, Detox, Dr. Dre instead released a companion album to the N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton. Propelled by that film's $60.2 million opening weekend and Dre's own classic track record, Compton -- which featured a wide range of contributors, including Kendrick Lamar, Eminem and Snoop Dogg -- debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, behind Luke Bryan's Kill the Lights, and reigned atop the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums tally for three weeks.

If You're Reading This It's Too Late
Executive Producers Aubrey Graham, Boi-1da
Label Cash Money/Young Money

One of two Drake projects to debut atop the Billboard 200 in 2015, If You're Reading This It's Too Late arrived in the iTunes store the same day the release was announced. The dark, moody mixtape was an undeniable achievement, simultaneously sending every one of the release's 17 tracks onto the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs list and breaking Drake's own Spotify record for most streams from an album in its debut week (17.3 million in three days). The LP later became the first million-seller released in 2015. The Canadian artist closes 2015 by topping Billboard's year-end R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart with If You're Reading This It's Too Late and earning overall honors as the top R&B/hip-hop artist of the year.

To Pimp A Butterfly
Kendrick Lamar
Executive Producers Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith, Dr. Dre
Label Aftermath/Interscope

Leading with 11 nominations for the 2016 Grammys, Lamar paired sharp and omniscient lyrics with jazz-inflected beats, making for one of the most intricate rap records of the year. Released in March, the LP crashed the top of the Billboard 200, where it remained for two weeks. To Pimp a Butterfly is Lamar's second nomination in this category -- the Compton, Calif., native previously lost to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' The Heist in 2014.

The Pinkprint
Nicki Minaj
Executive Producers Dwayne Carter, Nicki Minaj, Bryan "Baby Birdman" Williams, Ronald "Slim Tha Don" Williams
Label Young Money/Cash Money

Released in December 2014, Minaj's third album, The Pinkprint, blended pop and hard-edged hip-hop tracks, entering the Billboard 200 at No. 2 and securing her the second-highest first-week sales of 2014 for as botha female R&B andor hip-hop act. Driven by high-profile collaborations -- Drake, Lil Wayne, Beyonc√©, Chris Brown, Ariana Grande, Meek Mill and Jeremih among them -- and a video for the single "Anaconda" that broke Vevo's record for the most views in 24 hours (19.6 million), The Pinkprint helped Minaj earn three Grammy nods, including best rap performance ("Truffle Butter") and best rap/sung collaboration ("Only").

Best Rap Song

"All Day"
Kanye West Featuring Theophilus London, Allan Kingdom and Paul McCartney
Songwriters Ernest Brown, Tyler Bryant, Sean Combs, Mike Dean, Rennard East, Noah Goldstein, Malik Yusef Jones, Karim Kharbouch, Allan Kyariga, Kendrick Lamar, Paul McCartney, Victor Mensah, Charles Njapa, Che Pope, Patrick Reynolds, Allen Ritter, Kanye West, Mario Winans, Cydel Young
Publishers Please Gimme My Publishing/EMI Blackwood Music/MPL Communications/Tyler Brant Publishing/WB Music Corp./Hard Working Black Folks/Top Dawg Music/Excuse My French Music/EMI Blackwood Music/Monarch Music/Abou Thiam Publishing/Victor Kwesi Mensah Publishing Designee/Allen Kyariga/EMI Blackwood Music o/b/o Papa George Publishing/Kaya and Ethan Music/Primary Wave Brian/Noah Goldstein administered by Reach Music Publishing/Ritter Boy LLC/Mario Winans Publishing Designee/ Broken Locks/Songs of Universal/Jabriel Iz Myne/Universal Music/Patrick Reynolds Publishing Designee/Smooth Thug Music/Noel Ellis Publishing Designee/Justin Combs Music Publishing administered by EMI April Music
Label Def Jam Recordings

Coming off 2013's aggressively combative album Yeezus, West assembled a robust crew for "All Day" and, in the process, helped land Paul McCartney his first Grammy nomination in a rap category. One of a handful of tracks Yeezy released in an uncharacteristically quiet year, the posse cut, which was initially teased as a preview to West's repeatedly delayed Swish, debuted at No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 and crept as high as No. 4 on the Hot Rap Songs chart -- a boost likely spurred by a fiery performance debut at the Brit Awards.

Kendrick Lamar
Songwriters Kendrick Duckworth, Mark Anthony Spears, Pharrell Williams
Publishers WB Music Corp./TDE Music/Hard Working Black Folks Publishing/EMI Music/More Water From Nazareth/Sounwave TDE Productions/Sony/ATV
From To Pimp a Butterfly
Label TDE/Aftermath/Interscope

Lamar used his second major-label release, the Billboard 200-topping To Pimp a Butterfly, to widen the scope of his first, the Compton-focused good kid, m.A.A.d city. A critically revered LP, Lamar's follow-up mined jazz-and-funk conventions to create an opus that tackled issues of race, police brutality and injustice in America. "Alright," produced by Sounwave and Pharrell Williams, was a lyrical free-for-all articulating the collective mind-set of a generation, with an optimistic resilience that likely helped the song fare well on the charts -- peaking at Nos. 4 and 19 on the Billboard Twitter Top Tracks and Hot Rap Songs lists, respectively.

?Songwriters Richard Dorfmeister, A. Graham, Markus Kienzl, M. O'Brien, M. Samuels, Phillip Thomas
Publishers Sandra Gale/EMI Music Publishing/1damentional publishing LLC/Sony/ATV Tunes, LLC/Matthew O'Brien/otek north/WB Music Corp./Jack Russell Music Ltd./Notting Hill Music
From If You're Reading This It's Too Late
Label Young Money/Cash Money

With the surprise release of his February mixtape If You're Reading This It's Too Late, Drake broke his own chart record. But it was "Energy," the spidery, piano-laced single, that stood out most prominently, becoming the record's highest-reaching song on the Billboard Hot 100 (No. 26). It helped that the accompanying video -- which vaulted the track to No. 1 on the Billboard + Twitter Trending 140 upon its July release -- was populated by meme-worthy moments of Drake's face imposed onto Miley Cyrus, Oprah Winfrey and LeBron James.

Common and John Legend
Songwriters Lonnie Lynn, Che Smith, John Stephens
Publishers Paramount Pictures/Pathe Productions Limited
From Selma (Music From the Motion Picture)
Label Universal/Def Jam

Lonnie Lynn and John Stephens -- aka Common and Legend -- may have performed their Selma inspirational at the 2015 Grammy Awards, but it would take another year for the civil-rights anthem to be eligible for best rap song. ("Glory" is also nominated in two other categories: best rap/sung collaboration and best song written for visual media.) After the collaboration won the rapper and R&B singer the Academy Award for best original song in February, "Glory" sailed to No. 11 on Hot Rap Songs and No. 18 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.

"Trap Queen"
Fetty Wap 
Songwriters Tony Fadd, Willie J. Maxwell
Publishers RGF Publishing, Zoovier, BMG Gold Songs, Tony Fadd Beats
From Fetty Wap
Label 300 Entertainment/RGF Productions

Fetty (real name: Willie Maxwell II) enjoyed one of 2015's most spectacular breakthroughs. The New Jersey rapper stormed the charts with "Trap Queen," his singsong paean to an allegiant woman who's also an illicit business partner. After the unshakeable smash hit No. 1 on Hot Rap Songs in April, Fetty became the first artist to also secure four inaugural singles on that same chart through September. (He also suffered a rare setback that month when a motorcycle accident left him hospitalized.) In just a few months, those four songs also crashed the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100, making him one of the year's biggest -- and most resonant -- arrivals.

This story originally appeared in the Jan. 2 issue of Billboard.

2016 Grammys


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