Why Is Hip-Hop Missing From the Grammys Table? (Op-Ed)

Drake performs in 2016
Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

Drake performs at Staples Center on Sept. 7, 2016 in Los Angeles.

“I never let a statue tell me how nice I am,” the late Phife Dawg rapped in 1993 on A Tribe Called Quest’s “Award Tour.”

Hip-hop’s relationship with the Grammys has always been tenuous at best. Rappers have been shut out from major categories like album of the year since time immemorial, prompting boycotts from artists like Jay Z and Will Smith. The few that make it in the room are relegated to rap-centric categories that usually don’t make it on air. On Tuesday (Dec. 6), the Recording Academy announced the nominations the 2017 Grammy Awards and it looks like “music’s biggest night” is set to repeat history.

The genre’s front-runner is Drake, with eight nominations. His Views album earned a nomination for album of the year, and “Work,” his Rihanna collaboration, is nominated for record of the year. The Toronto native picked up nominations for best rap album, best rap song (“Hotline Bling”), and best rap performance (“Pop Style”). Drake is the only hip-hop artist nominated in the major categories. Albeit impressive, it’s not particularly surprising or a very progressive move by the Academy. Drake’s nominations in these categories are based on pop-driven tracks, and on “Work,” he is only a featured guest. What’s interesting is that Drake was overlooked in the song of the year category for both “Hotline Bling” and “Work.” It’s unclear whether a rumored clerical error was the cause for this or if it’s just a Grammy fail. Instead, tracks like Mike Posner’s “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” and "Love Yourself” by Justin Bieber got nods.

Kanye West received eight nominations, but he was completely snubbed in the major categories. For an artist of his influence, it’s surprising. The Life of Pablo only received nominations in the rap fields, and he’s actually competing against himself in three of those categories: “Famous” and “Ultralight Beam” were both nominated for best rap song and best rap/sung performance. West has been an outspoken critic of the Grammys, and it seems like his rant was a portent. Earlier this year, he took to Twitter to blast the Academy for being outdated and irrelevant.

"I feel the Grammy awarding system is way off and completely out of touch," he tweeted, adding, "Hi Grammys this is the most important living artist talking." Neil Portnow, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, responded to these allegations with a statement: "Kanye West is a creative pioneer who has been recognized and honored by the Recording Academy time and again. We value his input as a member of the creative community, and our doors are always open to him. I continue to welcome Kanye, personally, to engage in a direct and productive dialogue about the future of music and the important role that music creators play in shaping that future." 

The artist the Grammys got right is Chance the Rapper. The mixtape and blog darling had a breakout year and deservedly earned seven nominations, including a spot in the coveted best new artist category. The 23-year-old is a formidable opponent to other nominees like Anderson .Paak and The Chainsmokers. Chance's Coloring Book is also a standout in the rap album mix, competing with titles like DJ Khaled's Major Key and ScHoolboy Q's Blank Face LP. Although newcomers D.R.A.M. (nominated for "Broccoli" in best rap/sung performance) and Desiigner (nominated for “Panda” in best rap performance) were recognized, several impressive releases were completely overlooked. Rae Sremmurd’s SremmLife 2, A$AP Ferg’s Always Strive and Prosper, Vic Mensa’s There’s Alot Going On and Vince StaplesPrima Donna are absent, as is Future, who arguably, had his biggest year to date.

In 1989, the Grammys created its first rap category after the Academy realized the genre was more than a fad. Then-NARAS President Mike Greene told Billboard at the time that hip-hop had "matured into several kinds of music, with several kinds of artists doing it." Nearly 30 years later, rap is even more influential, but its representation at the awards ceremony isn't commensurate with that. The genre has top billing on the charts and airwaves and has more than permeated all aspects of the pop-culture zeitgeist. Rap has more than earned a seat at the table.

2017 Grammys