On Nov 28, 2017, the Grammys announced the nominees for its 60th annual awards. After years of watching hip-hop receive the cold shoulder from the Recording Academy, the culture rejoiced, as JAY-Z and Kendrick Lamar topped their peers with a combined 15 nominations, including five nods in the Big Four (album of the year, song of the year, record of the year and best new artist) categories.
In addition, this year, we witnessed an increase in rap nominations in general categories — as there were a total seven across the Big Four in comparison to a lowly two in the Big Four categories from the 2017 award show, signaling an improvement within the nomination process. The stage was set for hip-hop to seek its redemption after years of enduring brutal upsets, such as 50 Cent’s loss to Evanescence for best new artist at the 2004 Grammys, or Ray Charles’ win for album of the year over Kanye West’s College Dropout in 2005.
The losses that gnawed away at the heart of the culture for years instilled cautious optimism last November at the sight of Hov and Lamar’s nominations. But, instead of having a storybook ending, which included wins for JAY-Z in his backyard of New York City, or a long overdue album of the year victory lap for Lamar, the hip-hop culture was shown once again to have been bamboozled.
Though Lamar swept the major rap categories and reeled in five awards, fans were dumbfounded after Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic trumped Kendrick Lamar’s socially woke and politically charged DAMN. for album of the year. Mars’ win sealed his sixth award for the evening, and agitated Kendrick fans, who desperately sought out answers for his loss. Later, Mars relished his unblemished night with his acceptance speech, and while he attempted to lessen the wounds of his fellow nominees with his effusive praise — “You guys are the reason why I’m in the studio pulling my hair out, because I know you guys are going to come with the top-shelf artistry and music” — the damage was already done.
Mars’ win marked the third time that Lamar was up for album of the year and lost. His previous two Ls came at the hands of pop blockbusters from Daft Punk (Random Access Memories in 2013) and Taylor Swift (1989 in 2015). Though the Grammy committee gave Lamar seven nominations in 2018, the DAMN. virtuoso again fell short in album of the year — as well as record of the year, where he was a first-time nominee for “HUMBLE.” — despite his momentous night.
Since OutKast’s 2004 Speakerboxx/ The Love Below, the Grammys have failed to crown a rap project album of the year. To make matters worse, a hip-hop song has never won either record or song of the year. JAY-Z, who previously denounced the Grammys in 1999 and boycotted the event, failed to nab a gold trophy on Sunday night, despite leading the way with eight nominations for his grown ass masterpiece, 4:44.
Hov’s decision to boycott the Grammys in ’99 emanated from the committee’s failure to acknowledge DMX for his torrid run in 1998, which included two No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 with It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot and Flesh of my Flesh, Blood of my Blood. (“DMX had an incredible album. He didn’t get a nomination. I was like, ‘Nah, that’s crazy,'” JAY-Z explained in a 2002 interview with MTV News.) Though Hov did win best rap album with his sophomore endeavor, Vol. 2 Hard Knock Life, his decision to watch from afar made everyone second guess the committee’s validity.
Since JAY-Z’s decision to sit out in ’99, a bevy of notable artists have since followed suit, including Kanye West, Frank Ocean and most recently, Drake. With Drake bulldozing his way past every milestone in sight, including his 13 Billboard Music Awards in 2017 (which he even brags about on his new song “Diplomatic Immunity”), his desire for Grammy success has dissipated. Last year, after More Life soared to the No. 1 slot on the Billboard 200 and crushed both Apple and Spotify streaming records, he failed to submit his project to the Grammys. Was the move intentional? Probably.
With the Grammys continuing to fail hip-hop by rewarding less vital artists — including an abysmal 5-15 combined showing between Hov and Kendrick, two of the genre’s most revered stars — what ground has the genre truly gained at the Grammys? The gaudy nominations and starry appearances bode well for the show itself, but once again, the culture has been forced to applaud politely from the sidelines.
Last June, the committee implemented changes to its voting process to help sharpen the lens for the rap genre, including “nomination review committees” but after Sunday night, it seems as if the Grammys have a blurred perspective on the culture’s influence, leaving us to wonder, does the Recording Academy really care about hip-hop? And if they truly don’t, maybe we should heed JAY-Z’s speech last Saturday at Clive Davis’ annual Pre-Grammy gala — “Bob Marley is going to be Bob Marley, whether he’s nominated for a Grammy or not. Tupac is going to be Tupac, Biggie is going to be Biggie” — and stop giving a damn in the first place.