After the first round of member voting, committees vote among themselves to narrow down the top 15 vote getters in each of their genre’s categories to five nominees (it’s possible they may add an overlooked name); previously, rap nominees were determined simply by the initial academy wide vote.
“One of the hip hop community’s stated goals is to give more recognition to newer and emerging acts,” says Recording Academy Senior VP awards Bill Freimuth. “The community felt the voting membership was going for some of the more recognizable, established artists. And they also weren’t seeing some of the music coming from more independent artists that was really exciting the core community. There’s a lot of rapid progress happening in the rap field, and the community wanted our nominations to reflect that.”
“The whole industry is changing, and rap has become the dominant genre of music. It’s time to rewrite history,” adds Grammy winning producer Zaytoven, who has crafted hits for Future, Migos and Gucci Mane. “I believe [the committee] is going to give rap a more level playing field.”
At the 2017 ceremony, change seemed imminent when Chance the Rapper, an independent artist, took home three awards, including best new artist, thanks to a rule change that made streaming only recordings like his Coloring Book eligible. RCA senior vp marketing Carolyn Williams calls Chance’s wins “a big turning point” that could have a trickle-down effect, inspiring voters to consider rap for more general field nominations.
“It will be important for this committee to recognize projects not just based on popularity but also on criteria like creativity,” says Williams, whose roster includes SZA, Khalid and rapper GoldLink as well as Bryson Tiller. “The optics behind this nominations review committee are good. I remember artists boycotting the Grammys because they didn’t like the way rap was being treated.”
Since best rap performance, the Grammys’ first rap category, was added in 1989, the relationship between the Grammys and the hip hop community has been fraught. That year, winners DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince were no shows (along with fellow nominees LL Cool J and Salt N Pepa) when they learned that the award wouldn’t be presented during the national telecast. Since then, stars like JAY-Z and Kanye West have publicly taken the Grammys to task. And as recently as 2016, Kendrick Lamar’s 11 nods were overshadowed when Taylor Swift’s 1989 won album of the year over Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly.