Another year, another torturous Grammy ceremony.
Unless you’re Chance the Rapper. Taking home awards for Best New Artist, Best Rap Album for Coloring Book, and Best Rap Performance for “No Problem,” Chance had a monumental night. Not only was he the first artist to be nominated for music that was only available via streaming, he was also the first artist to win under that new criterion.
His acceptance speeches overflowed with gratitude, to his God and to his team. Likewise, his performance, a mashup of “All We Got” and “How Great,” his odes to his god and his talent, was pure exaltation, backed by a choir, a band, and a springy Kirk Franklin.
Drake, rap’s only other winner of the night, received his awards in absentia. Both of his awards, Best Rap/Sung Performance and Best Rap Song, were issued for his juggernaut single “Hotline Bling.”
Drake and Chance’s victories faintly suggest that Grammy voters are finally beginning to recognize the internet as the epicenter of culture. Both artists released their albums through exclusive arrangements with Apple Music and Drake’s “Hotline Bling” was initially released via SoundCloud. Somewhere out there, an undeleted, glitter-strewn MySpace page sparkles with pride.
The catch is that the internet as envisioned by Grammy voters is still defined by gatekeepers. Drake and Chance deserve their credit, but it can’t be overlooked that they were both rubber-stamped by Apple Music. This isn’t surprising given that the “acceptance” of streaming-only music is limited by design, with only streaming services with subscriptions or a paid tier — Apple Music, Spotify, Google Play, Tidal — being eligible. But it does mar the symbolism of Chance’s victories. In both his Best New Artist and Best Rap Album acceptance speeches Chance thanked his God repeatedly, also harping on artistic freedom and shouting out his collaborators and his city. Apple Music went unmentioned.
Most of 2016’s larger moments in rap were neglected in the nominations and in the events of the ceremony, but Drake and Chance still feel like appropriate representatives of that strange, twisted year. Both rappers spent the year as ambassadors, visiting the White House, SNL, ESPN, and everywhere in between as the country swelled with racism and animosity. Chance was a constant source of black joy in those bleak times, relatable and affable even as the nation imploded, so radiant and warm that he managed to even cheer Kanye up. Alongside D.R.A.M. and Yachty and Young Thug, Chance was a constant reminder of the audacity of joy.
On the other hand, Drake was a paranoiac, so vigilant in his skepticism and distrust that he became a broken record — and produced one. But even in his egocentric paranoia, he tapped into the ambient malaise, the sense that something disastrous was near and we couldn’t stop it. This was the spectrum of experience that defined 2016 and these two were some of the best mediums of the moment.
Of course, the slights of the 59th Grammy Awards cannot be ignored: Young Thug’s unstoppable Jeffery, Aesop Rock’s The Impossible Kid, YG’s excellent Still Brazy, Kamaiyah’s unexpected breakout A Good Night In The Ghetto, 2 Chainz soldiering on with Daniel Son; Necklace Don, etc. But if the Grammy awards must unfairly represent the year in rap, as they always do, this is one time I’m not too displeased.