The Grammys have little credibility in the hip-hop community. Here’s why.


A year after winning his first Grammy for “King Disease,” rapper Nas delivered his first solo Grammy performance, a career-spanning medley featuring songs from his 1994 debut album to his latest, “King’s Disease II. ‘, which scored a nomination for Best Rap Album this year.

It might seem odd that one of rap’s most famous lyricists is achieving those firsts now, nearly three decades into his career.

But rapper and producer Sean “Diddy” Combs offered an explanation for that snub in a speech he gave at a 2020 pre-Grammys gala, in which he criticized the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences ( NARAS). “Hip-hop has never been respected by the Grammys,” he says. Black music has never been respected by the Grammys.

This criticism is rooted in historical fact. The otherness of black music dates back as far as Billboard’s “Harlem Hit Parade” chart, introduced in 1942. Black albums would eventually be called “race records”, then “rhythm and blues”, then “soul” and ultimately “urban”. contemporary” in the 1970s. Relegating black music to these distinct and unequal categories imposed a system of racially based music segregation before the birth of hip-hop and NARAS’s decision to award Grammys for rap a decade and a half later.

As it grew in popularity in the 1980s, rap music was embroiled in controversy. In 1986, Run-DMC headlined a national tour for the band’s third album, “Raising Hell”. Stops in Madison Square Garden and Long Beach, Calif., were marred by violence that police and media attributed to rap lyrics and culture.

This perception, however, has not dampened the popularity of hip-hop. “Hey! MTV Raps,” the network’s first hip-hop show, debuted in 1988 to stellar ratings, and it would help bring hip-hop to a global audience.

Recognizing this growing popularity, NARAS added a rap category in 1989 – Best Rap Performance Grammy.

But the first winners, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, who won for “Parents Just Don’t Understand”, were not on hand to receive the award, as they boycotted the ceremony following the decision of the Academy not to televise the presentation of the award to the winner. Many other chart-topping rap artists of the moment, including Public Enemy, LL Cool J and Salt-N-Pepa, joined this boycott.

Rapper Kool Moe Dee was in attendance and presented the award during the pre-broadcast ceremony. But he spoke defiantly on behalf of “all the emcees, my colleagues and the other nominees”, saying they personified “power and a drug-free spirit”, and that “the whole world knows that rap is here to stay.”

With “Parents Just Don’t Understand”, DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince showed rap’s potential to enter the pop mainstream and become a widespread cultural force. For artists nominated for the first rap Grammy, the award was a win — long overdue for hip-hop, many argued. But without recognition on TV, artists felt marginalized, their music coded as too dark for the Grammys. Jazzy Jeff underlined the light-heartedness by ostensibly inquiring about the honors given to country music artists: “[Y]You’re going to give them nine TV categories, and you can’t give us one?

This episode initiated the contentious relationship between NARAS and rap artists who wanted the Grammys — traditionally a bastion of whiteness — to not only honor hip-hop, but also recognize and represent the black people who made the music.

In 1990, NARAS backtracked and televised the Best Rap Performance Grammy award. Young MC’s “Bust a Move” won the award, which didn’t exactly boost the credibility of the awards in the minds of rap fans and artists alike. As with the previous year’s recipient, the winning song’s pop-crossover appeal seemed to suggest that NARAS was more invested in awarding popular records than “the best” judging by fans and hip-hop artists. poof.

To better accommodate the growing popularity of rap, in 1991 NARAS split the award into two categories, Best Solo Rap Performance and Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group – and these will remain the categories until in 2011.

In 1995, the rap duo Salt-N-Pepa, participating in the 1989 Grammys boycott, won the duo or group category for the song “None of Your Business”. Queen Latifah won Best Rap Solo Performance in the same year. The two acts were the first women to receive rap Grammys.

In 1998, nearly a decade after the boycott, Will Smith finally took the Grammy stage for the first time. At that time, he was a multi-Grammy artist. Smith performed “Men In Black” and “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” and won Best Rap Solo Performance. But it was during what Smith called, in his acceptance speech, “the dark age of rap” that followed the deaths of Tupac Shakur and Notorious BIG, two immensely popular and well-regarded artists who, like Smith and d others have noted, have never received a Grammy award. .

These snubs continued the trend of respected rap artists being overlooked in favor of those who turned to pop music and gained the most white fans. This fueled sentiment among hip-hop artists that the Grammys were less interested in recognizing top rap performances and were more focused on scoring crossover appeal.

For rappers and many of their fans, it undermined the credibility of the Grammys. That’s why Jay-Z boycotted the awards show in 1999, the year he won his first Grammy. NARAS had only won the Best Rap Album category three times before winning it for “Vol. 2…Hit Life Hard.” But Jay-Z decided not to attend because NARAS didn’t nominate DMX, who released two #1 albums the previous year: “It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot”. and “Flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood”.

White rapper Eminem won Grammys for best rap solo performance in 2000, 2001, 2004 and 2011, which only added to that consternation, underscoring the racial component of the snubs.

Controversy mounted in 2014 when white rapper Macklemore won awards for Best Rap Performance, Best Rap Song and Best Rap Album. Anticipating outrage from the rap world over his wins, Macklemore sent an apology to Kendrick Lamar, who earned nominations but no awards that year. Macklemore posted a screenshot of his text on social media, telling Lamar, “You got robbed.”

Even though white artists have won a disproportionate number of rap Grammys, black artists who have ventured outside of hip-hop conventions have still found themselves ranked as rappers and unable to earn nominations in other genre categories. reinforcing the feeling that rap is coded as black music. — a musical ghetto.

Tyler the Creator won the Grammy for Best Rap Album in 2020 and now in 2022. After his first win, he called the categorization of his rap music a “devious compliment.” And dishonest. In 2014, Macklemore swept through the rap genre categories and scored nominations for Song, Album and Video of the Year. From 2019 to 2021, white rapper Post Malone garnered multiple Rap Grammy Award nominations and won awards for Pop Performance and Record, Song and Album of the Year. Tyler verbalized the issue, saying, “It sucks that every time we — and I mean guys who look like me — do something gender-changing… they always classify it in a rap or urban category. For him, “urban” was just a “politically correct” way to express a racial slur.

After Tyler’s remarks and amid global protests over the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, NARAS decided to remove the word “urban” from the names of several of its categories, possibly including its offensive connotation, evoking images of racially segregated spaces due to practices such as redlining.

Perhaps that decision, along with Nas’ performance at this year’s Grammys, is a sign of progress. TV audiences saw Baby Keem and Kendrick Lamar win the Grammy for Best Rap Performance for “Family Ties,” after all.

Even so, it was the only one of the current four Grammy rap categories aired on television. And many of rap’s biggest stars weren’t on the TV show.

This reflects NARAS and the Grammys’ lack of credibility with the hip-hop community. The fact that Nas finally performed at the Grammys nearly three decades into his career reveals that while NARAS has taken some steps to address the issue, they are overdue. The history of this relationship, including Nas’ historic performance, reflects America’s adversarial relationship with black people — self-gratifying celebrations of black cultural contributions that come far too late.


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