Ever since the Recording Academy deemed the genre viable enough to be recognized, there’s been a contentious relationship between rap music and the Grammy awards. While the Academy expanded to include best rap album, best rap/sung collaboration and best rap song as additional categories (some years also splitting the awards by gender), most in the hip-hop community would agree that the Grammys have a long history of not fully acknowledging the artistry of rap music.
Almost 30 years ago, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince became the recipients of the first rap Grammy in the best rap performance category in 1989 for their hit single “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” When they were informed that the best rap performance would not be televised due to time constraints, the hip-hop community responded by staging a boycott in protest of the Recording Academy’s decision. The boycott of the Grammys was led by Def Jam founder Russell Simmons, as well as rap artists Salt-N-Pepa, LL Cool J, Slick Rick and Public Enemy.
Expressing his frustration over his award presentation not being televised, Will Smith told Entertainment Tonight, “We don’t have the problem with the Grammy as an award or the Grammys as an institution — we just had a problem with the 1989 design of the awards show. We chose to boycott. We feel that it’s a slap in the face.” Addressing the matter in an official statement at the time, Salt-N-Pepa agreed, “If they don’t want us, we don’t want them.”
As the years passed, the Recording Academy continued to make numerous mishaps in fully recognizing the brilliant artistry of rap music as a prominent genre, sparking more boycotts by high-profile artists like Public Enemy, JAY-Z, and 50 Cent. The hip-hop community felt — and many still feel — that despite its increasing commercial appeal and critical relevance, rap music wasn’t regarded as being on par with other genres. To add insult to injury, the Academy seemed to make a practice of not airing hip-hop artists winning their awards on the televised broadcast, and not including the works of rap artists in the Big Four major categories.
Even in 2018, as hip-hop has long been cemented as the most popular and profitable mainstream genre, rap was still unable to gain any traction in the major categories. JAY-Z and Kendrick Lamar, although both nominated for song, record, and album of the year, were both shut out. The only three hip-hop acts to win in the best new artist category have been Arrested Development in 1993, Lauryn Hill in 1999, and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis in 2014, while the only two album of the year winners from the hip-hop world are Ms. Hill in 1999, for debut album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and Outkast in 2004 for their Speakerboxxx/The Love Below double LP. No rapper has ever won either song or record of the year.
When you peruse the list of rappers who’ve never won a Grammy in any category, it’s a who’s who of some of the most notable MCs in hip-hop history — including Run-DMC, Public Enemy, MC Lyte, Foxy Brown, Rick Ross, Young Jeezy, and many others. In honor of the 30-year anniversary of the first Grammy award presented to rap music, here’s a list of 10 iconic hip-hop artists who never won a Grammy.
1. Snoop Dogg
Without question, Snoop Dogg is one of the most identifiable rappers across the globe, and a fixture of pop culture. A solidified legend in hip-hop, Snoop has released critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums since his blockbuster 1993 debut Doggystyle, along with classic singles like “Gin & Juice,” “Beautiful” and “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” Just last year, Uncle Snoop was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
With all this and more in his favor, a Grammy is the one accolade that has eluded the West Coast icon. He’s been nominated for an astounding 16 Grammys, in multiple categories, placing him in second behind R&B vocalist Brian McKnight among recording artists for the most nominations without taking home the coveted gramophone. Snoop’s 0-16 Grammy record remains one of the great mysteries of the Recording Academy.
Although Nas has received an Emmy for producing, directing, and scoring the music for the ESPN documentary, Survival 1, he has the second-most nominations of any rapper to have never won a Grammy. His 1994 debut album Illmatic is still considered the holy grail of hip-hop LPs, while his classic 1996 single “If I Ruled The World,” from sophomore commercial breakout It Was Written, earned him his first Grammy nomination for best rap solo performance. Throughout his diverse 12-album discography, the “One Mic” MC has charted 10 Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, but even with 13 nominations under his belt, Nas is still sans Grammy.
As one the most revered and iconic artists in modern music history, the rationale behind Tupac Shakur never a receiving a Grammy is quite puzzling. A superstar of ‘90s West Coast hip-hop, Tupac gave the world some of its most recognizable hip-hop anthems, while LPs like Me Against The World, All Eyez On Me, and The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory are still held as classics by fans and critics. During his lifetime, however, he was only nominated twice for a Grammy — both in 1996 — for best rap solo performance (“Dear Mama,” losing to Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise”) and best rap album (Me Against The World, falling short to Naughty By Nature’s Poverty’s Paradise). Posthumously, Shakur would be nominated four more times, but his name was never called as the winner.
4. The Notorious B.I.G.
It’s unbelievable (pun intended) that Biggie Smalls, more formally known as The Notorious B.I.G., never received a Grammy. As an instrumental figure in the renaissance of ‘90s New York hip-hop, B.I.G. became one of the biggest stars of the era, and his legacy still reverberates within popular music. Although his catalogue is not as extensive as his contemporaries due to his untimely death in 1997, he reached legendary status with his classic mid-’90s albums Ready To Die and Life After Death. Like Tupac, he lost best rap performance to Coolio in 1996 after being nominated for his “Big Poppa,” and in 1998, posthumously lost in best rap performance by a duo or group and best rap album — both to his former collaborator, label head, and friend, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs.
5. Nicki Minaj
Nicki Minaj has been one of the most popular rappers on the scene since she debuted in 2008, transforming from a MySpace sensation into a full-fledged hip-hop icon. She is the first female artist to register 100 entries on the Billboard Hot 100, including crossover smashes like “Moment 4 Life, “Super Bass,” and “Starships,” while her her albums Pink Friday and Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded both reached number one on the Billboard 200 albums chart. Her impressive accomplishments notwithstanding, the “Barbie Tingz” rapper has been nominated for a Grammy 10 times, but has yet to come away with any trophies. The shutout will continue through 2019, as Minaj received no nominations this year for 2018’s Queen LP or any of its accompanying singles.
In 1998, DMX did the unthinkable by releasing two multi-platinum albums within the same calendar year. Both LPs, It’s Dark Is and Hell Is Hot and Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 albums chart, each selling over 600,000 units in its first week of release. Amazingly, this feat did not garner DMX any Grammy nominations. It could be argued that X’s raw, aggressive style of MCing maybe didn’t bode well with the Recording Academy, who had a long track record of preferring more pop-oriented rappers as nominees and winners. His highest charting Hot 100 hit, “Party Up (Up In Here),” earned him a Grammy nomination for best rap solo performance in 2001, but ultimately lost out to Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady.”
7. Busta Rhymes
With an electric persona and supreme lyrical dexterity, Busta Rhymes is one of most beloved veteran MCs in hip-hop. Debuting in 1991 as member of the Leaders of the New School, he then launched an extremely successful solo career in the late ‘90s with hits like “Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check” (1996) “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” (1997) and “What’s It Gonna Be?!” featuring Janet Jackson (1999), each receiving Grammy noms for best rap performance. Throughout his storied career, Busta has charted seven songs in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100. But with smash hit singles, acclaimed albums, and legendary videos to his credit — as well as an impressive 12 Grammy nominations thus far — Busta is yet to walk away with the coveted prize.
8. J. Cole
J. Cole is one of the most highly regarded MCs today, but unlike his superstar contemporaries — namely Kendrick Lamar and Drake — he has yet to take home a Grammy. In 2011, he earned a best new artist nomination, and in 2014, his was nominated for best rap album for 2014 Forest Hills Drive. But when the 2019 Grammy nominations were announced, fans and critics alike were stunned that J. Cole’s well-received K.O.D. album didn’t make the cut. Of all the rap artists who were overlooked for this year’s Grammys, J. Cole is arguably one of this year’s most glaring omissions.
9. Ice Cube
Today, most people associate Ice Cube with his acting, producing, and directing of hit films, and even as the face of the summertime pro basketball league, the BIG 3. But none of that would be possible without him rising to stardom as one of the greatest MCs to ever grace the stage. Cube’s work with N.W.A has earned him enshrinement in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and as a solo artist, from the late ‘80s into the early ‘90s, Cube was the crème de la crème of MCs — dropping classic, sociopolitically timely albums like AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, Death Certificate, and The Predator. Amazingly, the “It Was A Good Day” rapper has never been nominated for a single Grammy in his entire career.
10. A Tribe Called Quest
A Tribe Called Quest will forever be etched in stone as one of the preeminent groups in hip-hop history. The creative ingenuity of Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed, Jarobi, and Q-Tip spawned one the most lauded catalogues in hip-hop, particularly their much-beloved first three LPs, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990), The Low End Theory (1991), and Midnight Marauders (1993). The outfit’s use of jazz samples, minimalist production, and infectious hooks made Tribe one of the most unique acts during the Golden Era of hip-hop. Interestingly, they weren’t nominated by the Recording Academy for any of those projects — though they finally received noms for best rap album for Beats, Rhymes, and Life in 1996 and for The Love Movement in 1998.
We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, the group’s final album, was released in 2016, following the death of Phife from diabetic complications at 45 years old. The project was celebrated by critics and loyal fans, but when the nominations for the Grammys were announced in 2017, the Tribe’s name was not mentioned. After being overlooked by the Academy once again, an exasperated Q-Tip took to social media to air out his grievances with the entire process.