Despite being the biggest night in music and the biggest music genre, the Grammys and hip-hop have had a … tense relationship. For hip-hop, it seems like it just can’t get any respect from the Grammys. The Grammys, meanwhile, need hip-hop’s youth and relevance (not to mention, its sizable audience), but can’t quite seem to stop getting it wrong when it comes to rap, resulting in some controversial wins and awful misses for The Recording Academy.
For one thing, the Grammys keep ignoring rap or downplaying its importance to pop culture. It took ten years to embrace the genre, then declined to air the first-ever rap award, causing a boycott and setting the precedent for the next 30 years. Talk about getting off on the wrong foot. That’s why, when the show whiffs on high-profile awards, as it did in 2014 by giving the Best Rap Album award to Macklemore over Kendrick Lamar’s seminal debut Good Kid, MAAD City, it always seems to sting a little more and build the wall between both institutions a little higher.
The Grammys have to hope that the barrier isn’t surmountable, but with three of rap’s biggest names turning down offers to perform, it’s starting to look like the show is running out of real estate for error. The show’s producer, Ken Ehrlich, thinks he knows the solution: Making sure rap gets some of the higher honors to reverse the perception that the Academy doesn’t know or care about rap.
For now, though, the course is set and Ehrlich has to be praying the voters got it right, if only to stem the tide and give the show time to right the ship. Will 2019 be the year they finally stop digging the hole they started three decades ago? That remains to be seen, but here are some of the ways the Grammys can screw over hip-hop with this year’s show, and how to avoid them.
Wrong Rap Category Winners
Admittedly, it’d be difficult for the Grammys to mess these up. Hypothetically, pretty much any of the nominees for awards such as Best Rap Performance, Best Rap/Sung Performance, Best Rap Song, and Best Rap Album would be legitimate and appreciated (theoretically) by most hip-hop fans. Of course, there are plenty of sexists who’d pull out their hair at the thought of Cardi B having the best rap album in the country, or rap purists who will spill their Mountain Dew if Post Malone wins anything and Eminem doesn’t. But the baseline picks are for the most part solid, meaning no one but the most stalwart backpacker should be too annoyed.
However, we can sort of guess which picks would be the least popular or most controversial. For instance, for Best Rap Performance, anything other than “Sicko Mode,” the most recent and widely-beloved nominee of the five (“Be Careful” by Cardi B, “Nice For What” by Drake, “King’s Dead” by Kendrick Lamar and Jay Rock, and “Bubblin’” by Anderson .Paak), would inspire much head-scratching and side-eyeing. No one who’s seen an arena full of people go ballistic for Travis Scott’s Drake-featuring hit would ever think the others live up to that effect. Meanwhile, the most egregious pick in Best Rap/Sung Performance would obviously be Christina Aguilera featuring Goldlink. No disrespect to either artist but I’d bet many readers saw that pairing and thought I was joking and didn’t realize “Like I Do” even happened. Compared to the utterly seismic responses to “This Is America,” “All Of The Stars,” and “Rockstar,” all of which experienced extended shelf life thanks to some creative marketing and unfortunate legal circumstances, it’s hard to argue that “Like I Do” even moved the needle.