When Sean “Diddy” Combs accepted the Salute to Industry Icons Award at the Clive Davis and Recording Academy’s Pre-Grammy Gala last evening (Jan. 25), he brought the elephant in the room—the broiling controversy surrounding the Academy—front and center. Catching everyone in the Beverly Hilton Hotel ballroom by surprise, he threw down his own gauntlet to the Academy on behalf of artists and other music industry creatives: “You’ve got 365 days’ notice to get this sh-t together.”
The admonishment came in the last six minutes of Combs’ 40-minute speech after he’d accepted the award from the Recording Academy’s board chairman and interim president/CEO Harvey Mason Jr. Standing before a diverse audience that included Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Jimmy Iovine, Keith Urban, Joni Mitchell, Dua Lipa, Cardi B, Migos, Janet Jackson, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and other members of the Academy’s board of trustees, Combs revealed that he’d “been conflicted” about receiving the award in the days leading up to the gala.
Prefacing that his remarks were being said with love and that it wasn’t about bashing the Academy, Combs pulled no punches as he took the organization to task for its lack of diversity and transparency. “Truth be told, hip-hop has never been respected by the Grammys,” he noted, interrupted by cheers and loud applause. “Black music has never been respected by the Grammys to the point that it should be … And that stops right now.
“I’m officially starting the clock,” he continued in part. “You’ve got 365 days to get this sh-t together. We need transparency, we need diversity. They’re [the Academy] a non-profit organization that’s supposed to protect the welfare of the musical community. But it’s going to take all of us to get this done. It’s going to take the artists and executives to recognize their power. So sign me up. I’m here to help make a difference and help us have a positive outcome.
In closing, Combs dedicated his Industry Icon Award to Beyoncé (Lemonade), Kanye West (Graduation) and other artists with seminal projects that have endured Grammy snubs over the years.
Here’s a complete transcription of Combs’ comments:
Now to my other family, my musical family. During the hardest year of my life [the death of longtime love Kim Porter], all of you were there to check on me and push me up. And I want to tell you I appreciate that. I love that. And I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t get those messages. I want to thank everybody here from the bottom of my heart that really cared about me. And we are a musical family. We have to be there for each other.
And now because we are a family, I have to be honest. The last few days I’ve been conflicted. I’m being honored by the industry that I love, the family that I love. But there’s an elephant in the room, and it’s not just about the Grammys. There’s discrimination and injustice everywhere, at an all-time high. But there’s something I need to say to the Grammys. I changed my middle name to love. So it’s Sean “Love” Combs now. So I say this with love to the Grammys because you really need to know this.
Every year, you all be killing us, man. Man, you talk about the pain. I’m speaking for all the artists here, the producers and the executives. The amount of time that it takes to make these records, to pour your heart out into it … and you just want an even playing field. In the great words of Erykah Badu, we are artists and we are sensitive about our shit. We are passionate. For most of us, this is all we’ve got. This is our only hope.
Truth be told, hip-hop has never been respected by the Grammys. Black music has never been respected by the Grammys to the point that it should be. So right now in this current situation, it’s not a revelation. This thing’s been going on. It’s not just going on in music. It’s going on in film, going on in sports and going on around the world. And for years we’ve allowed institutions that have never had our best interests at heart to judge us. And that stops right now.
I’m officially starting the clock. You’ve got 365 days to get this shit together. We need the artists to take back control, we need transparency, we need diversity. This is the room that has the power to make the changes that need to be made. They have to make the changes for us. They’re a non-profit organization that’s supposed to protect the welfare of the musical community. That’s what it says on the mission statement. That’s the truth. They work for us.
We have the power. We decide what’s hot. If we don’t go, nobody goes. If we don’t support, nobody supports. We control what’s cool, we control what’s hot. We control what your kids listen to, what they dance to, we control what’s a video game, we control how they wear their pants, sag their pants … we control everything.
Now we’re not going to solve this tonight. But it’s going to take all of us to get this done. It’s going to take the artists and executives to recognize their power. And I’m standing here today not to just bash you all because as I said, you’re a non-profit organization. We just need to get it right. And I’m here for the artists.
So sign me up. I’m here to help make a difference and help us have a positive outcome. I believe all of my brothers and sisters out there will be willing to work on getting this right. Because we just want it right. We just want to be able to go to the Grammys. You’ve got to understand. We’ve seen Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson; Michael Jackson’s holding eight Grammys and he was dropping the Grammys. But you know why he was dropping the Grammys and why he got eight Grammys? Because they never nominated him for Off the Wall. So Thriller was his revenge. It wasn’t his honest work. It was his revenge. He’s like, all right, you all want to fuck with me? I’m going to take your souls. And then we had Thriller.
My goal used to be about making hit records. Now it’s about ensuring that the culture moves forward. My culture. Our culture. The black culture. And for me to be worthy of receiving an icon award, I have to use my experience to help to make a change. On that note, I’m finishing up: You all got 365 days.
And I want to dedicate this award to Michael Jackson for Off the Wall, Prince for 1999, Beyoncé for Lemonade, Missy Elliott for The Real World, Snoop Dogg for Doggystyle, Kanye West for Graduation and Nas for Illmatic.