At one point on “Apeshit,” an immediate fan favorite from JAY-Z and Beyoncé’s surprise joint album Everything Is Love, a JAY verse is rattling along when the percussion abruptly drops out; he silently lingers for a second and then enunciates, “Tell the Grammys fuck that 0-for-8 shit/ Have you ever seen the crowd goin’ apeshit?”
It’s an especially cathartic moment on Everything Is Love’s most chest-thumping track, which arrives a few seconds after JAY-Z shrugs off the Super Bowl, only the most coveted platform in music. The Grammys diss is different, however… less of a flex, and more of a stark reminder of an awards injustice that occurred just five months earlier.
Though it was overshadowed by the several controversies associated with the 60th Annual Grammy Awards — Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic beating out Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. for album of the year, Lorde not being asked to perform despite being an album of the year nominee, Recording Academy President Neil Portnow saying that female artists need to “step up” if they want more awards — JAY-Z, all-time rap legend, got nominated for eight awards, and then lost all of them. His 4:44 album, an unexpectedly raw late-career highlight, was snubbed in January (in the New York superstar’s hometown, no less) after Jay had received the most nominations of any artist last year.
Sure, shutouts sometimes occur at the Grammys, and JAY-Z had the misfortune of running into Mars (six wins that night) and/or Lamar (five wins) in all eight of his categories. But then you need to factor in wife Beyoncé’s history of major Grammy snubs — three album of the year nods, zero wins, to go along with an 0-for-5 record of the year showing. And then you remember that 4:44 was only the first album of the year nominee for one of the greatest recording artists in hip-hop history… who has also never taken home an award in any of the Big Four categories. Is it really that surprising to hear Jay take such a pointed shot the Grammys at this point?
What Everything Is Love represents, then, is an opportunity — not just for JAY and Beyoncé, the most powerful couple in popular culture, but for the Grammy Awards as an institution. We’re still a few months away from Grammys season, but Love has to immediately join the album of the year conversation, as both a deserving project and, for the Recording Academy, a strategic celebration of long-apparent artistry.
The make-good angle is clear as day: neither Beyoncé nor JAY-Z has won an album of the year award, despite being two of the most lauded musical artists of this century, and Everything Is Love offers a way to right both wrongs in one fell swoop. Throw in the fact that the couple’s involvement certainly would certainly help ratings — imagine an extended joint performance, following this year’s blockbuster On The Run II tour! — and including JAY and Bey seems like a no-brainer.
That’s not to say that JAY and Bey deserve a nod simply for being JAY and Bey; the album of the year prize should never again function as a lifetime achievement award, as it did when post-prime artists like Steely Dan, Herbie Hancock and a deceased Ray Charles took home the award during ceremonies the 2000s. But Everything Is Love is not exactly the couple’s River: The Joni Letters. Although only released a few days ago, Everything Is Love is immediately a worthy addition to both artists’ canon, a testament to black opulence and resilience of love that finds Beyoncé and JAY-Z operating in their most confident respective modes. The nine-song set overflows with widescreen musings from a power couple at peace; songs like “Boss,” “Friends” and “713” extend the mythology of JAY and Bey while also offering insight into their ultra-private shared life. Is it a career peak for either? Not really, and that’s okay. Whereas most collaborative albums of this ilk don’t feel particularly vital, Everything Is Love is a lot more than a victory lap — and, as one of the best-reviewed and most enthusiastically received albums of the year, wouldn’t feel shoehorned in among the Grammy honorees.
There are some potential risks here, of course. Everything Is Love could get nominated and not win, continuing a glaring winless streak for both superstars. (Albums by Taylor Swift, Janelle Monae, St. Vincent and Kacey Musgraves are among the current possible competition.) Even if Love enters the evening as the front-runner, imagine JAY-Z and Beyoncé’s faces in the front row if, say, Post Malone’s beerbongs & bentleys upends their joint effort for album of the year! Worse for the Grammys, the Carters could decide to make plans for next February and not show up even if they are nominated. Maybe they’ll simply feel fooled one too many times by the Recording Academy to return.
But here’s the thing to remember: this won’t be the same Recording Academy that has jilted JAY and Bey in recent years. In May, the Academy announced a 16-member task force on diversity and female inclusion, led by Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff Tina Tchen and charged with locating “various barriers and unconscious biases faced by underrepresented communities throughout the music industry and, specifically, across Recording Academy operations and policies.” A few weeks later, Portnow, he of the “step up” quote, announced that he will step down, likely when his current deal runs out in July 2019. After facing heavy criticism for both their general lack of inclusivity and a specifically boneheaded statement, the Recording Academy must showcase better representation in 2019 and work to rejuvenate the Grammys brand. Honoring JAY-Z and Beyoncé — finally, correctly — is as good of a place to start as any.
This decade has been full of instant-classic hip-hop and R&B albums like Lemonade, Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. and Beyoncé’s self-titled LP that have fallen short in the album of the year category. Recently, these artists have begun to dismiss the Grammys by not showing up to the ceremony (as Drake did when Views was up for album of the year in 2017) or submit their projects for consideration (as Ocean did with Blonde in 2016). As part of their current remolding, the Recording Academy surely recognizes that growing disconnect. JAY-Z and Beyoncé represent crucial elder statesmen of the artistic community, and alienating either of them (or both) would hardly be ideal for the Grammys’ future. On the other hand, embracing their joint project would be a make-up call — and a signal that these genres will no longer necessarily be runners-up in the Grammys’ main category.
“Tell the Grammys fuck that 0-for-8 shit.” That’s gotta be a difficult lyric for members of the Recording Academy to listen to this week. It should motivate them to do what they can to honor the Carters at next year’s ceremonies — and hope that, after years of being shut out, Jay-Z and Beyoncé still show up to have the last laugh.