Spending long days and nights perfecting his craft in Queensbridge, a young Nasir Jones probably never imagined he’d someday win a Grammy for the same words that flowed so effortlessly from his pen. Rap itself only began to be recognized at the famed award show in 1996; one year later, Nas was among good company with his nomination for “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That).”
Twenty years and a hell of a career later, Jones has racked up 13 Grammy nominations — but still hasn’t taken home a single trophy. Snoop Dogg has an even more impressive history of Grammy snubs, boasting an egregious 17 unsung nominations for stone-cold classics including “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” “Still D.R.E.,” and “Gin And Juice.” The list of rappers that the world at large has recognized as legends who have never won a Grammy is maddening, and begs the question: Does the honor actually indicates anything about the success of an otherwise untouchable hip-hop career?
Though actually walking home with a Grammy might not be the most important thing in any particular career, simply being in the conversation might be. When describing Grammys and other awards we — and those using them as a means of braggadocio on the record — generally stick to numbers as a means of measurement. You don’t often hear artists say things like, “I won (insert Grammy category here) in 2003,” but Jay-Z will boast, “21 Grammys, I’m a savage.” Expressing such a stacked statistic is an easier method of gloating, but winning one specific Grammy is arguably not nearly as important as losing one.
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My text to Kendrick after the show. He deserved best rap album… I'm honored and completely blown away to win anything much less 4 Grammys. But in that category, he should have won IMO. And that's taking nothing away from The Heist. Just giving GKMC it's proper respect.. With that being said, thank you to the fans. You're the reason we were on that stage tonight. And to play Same Love on that platform was a career highlight. The greatest honor of all. That's what this is about. Progress and art. Thank you. #grammys
A blue text bubble that reads, “you got robbed” springs to mind for all those who remember the anger they felt when Macklemore racked up four new pieces of hardware in 2014, notably beating out Good Kid, m.A.A.d City for Best Rap Album. Yes, Kendrick Lamar left his first Grammys empty-handed after being nominated seven times. Not only did Macklemore figuratively steal an award that nearly the entire hip-hop community considered to be the property of Kendrick, but he made things worse by later texting the Compton rapper expressing his guilt, and posting said text to Instagram. If the Seattle native really thought K.Dot’s gritty tales of one of hip-hop’s most vital cities was more deserving of Best Rap Album than his record, why didn’t he acknowledge that from the stage? Or maybe Macklemore’s scrambling thereafter was an effort to help himself win back the hearts of a community already largely dismissive of his place in the genre.
While it would’ve been spectacular to see the hard work of Lamar’s debut studio album be vindicated by winning Best Rap Album, his loss got more publicity than winning an award ever could’ve. In a flubbed attempt at winning back his public perception by posting his apology message to K.Dot on Instagram, Macklemore ended up only driving more fans, more recognition, and more success Kendrick’s way. Since then, Mr. Duckworth has now taken home seven Grammys, but in retrospect, the defining moment that followed his upsetting snub in 2014 was arguably one of the best things that could have happened for the newly prospering rapper.
In another more publicized example, it’s hard to imagine that for Beyonce Knowles, who has 22 Grammys under her belt, losing one of the 63 nominations she’s received would do more for her career than boasting the most wins of any black female artist ever — but that just might be the case. Along with the keywords “Beyonce,” and “awards ceremony,” most people who are at least semi-plugged-into pop culture make the logical progression to Kanye West next. Both artists share a combined 43 Grammys wins which, without context, would behoove anyone to think their losses aren’t huge milestones in comparison to their victories.
But a bottle of Hennessy ignited Mr. West’s passionate plea for Beyonce at the 2009 MTV Video Awards, and that upheaval did more to help Taylor Swift than it did anyone else. Ye managed to turn Swift from victorious into a victim, and that’s largely due to the fact that Beyonce already had enough accolades under her belt for the general public to feel little sympathy for her snub — at least at that point.
The glaring racial reality comes into play in this situation, as it often does, given the Recording Academy’s long history of neglecting proper recognition for black artists. When an outspoken, vehement black man rushed the stage to steal the moment from a timid, unsuspecting young white woman — especially in an effort to say another black artist should have won the award — the rallying cries for Taylor were heard ‘round the world. Though Swift technically won the award, her perceived personal loss on that stage is still one of the biggest moments of her own career.
ANd, despite her infinite success in every other realm, Beyonce’s Grammy snubs continued through the next two award shows, particularly 2017, where Adele’s 25 snagged Album Of the Year over Lemonade. Macklemore should take notes on how to gracefully pay homage to a fellow artist deserving of a victory; Adele not only announced during her speech that she couldn’t accept the award but tore her gramophone in half to shift the night’s praises toward Bey, who she deemed more deserving. But that depicts even more conspicuously how much of a problem exists: If the artist who actually walked home with the trophy is confused about another’s misfortune, how is The Academy blind to that same glaring reality?
Fans were equally disturbed by Lemonade’s oversight. While Adele had already won the same honor a few years prior for her sophomore album, Beyonce’s two-decade-long industry-changing career has not been awarded a single Album Of The Year Grammy. As the most recent example in an industry filled with plentiful snubs, it also depicts the shifting tides in which the hip-hop community is demanding recognition for their contributions to popular culture. For what was undoubtedly Beyonce’s blackest album yet, it stung even more to see the rug pulled from under her by a white woman with shorter tenure and far less cultural impact.
It took the Grammys over a decade to start recognizing hip-hop in the first place, and now more than 20 years later, the recognition is still minimal at best. When awards are out of their rap category confines, the one or two Black artists who receive an Album of The Year or Best New Artist nomination rarely ever materialize into a victory. There’s a reason why rap anthems are ridden with exclamations like Chuck D’s, “Who gives a f*ck about a goddamn Grammy?” Because the Grammys don’t give a f*ck about hip-hop.
Still, given the perspective of time, there are plenty of reasons why losing a Grammy can genuinely help a career more than winning can. Juxtaposing a musician’s remarkable career with their lack of proper achievements usually works to further emphasizes how incredible that artist is, and it also drives home the point that awards don’t mean anything in the grand scheme of a storied career. Some of the most iconic instances in music industry history came out of a moment when the general public wholeheartedly disagreed with the academy.
With soundbites like Andre 3000 promising, “The South got something to say,” while getting booed for Outkast’s upsetting win at The Source Awards and Kanye’s infamous “Imma let you finish” interruption, moments that industry insiders reference frequently usually stem from a time when the crowd favorite wasn’t also a legitimate winner. And in an industry where all publicity is good publicity, there really is no bigger win than losing.