Two years ago, Nielsen’s end-of-year report revealed that hip-hop was the world’s most popular genre. Sitting upon the throne, it would be the first time in history that hip-hop could wear this crown. Through its near-50 year existence, hip-hop has expanded in a multitude of ways from its presence in mainstream media to the number of different styles. Today, hip-hop ranges from the modernized traditional forms of Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and more to the multilayered styles heard from the likes of Future and Young Thug. But, for reasons hip-hop lovers ponder each award season, the Grammys have refused to fully respect the world’s most popular genre.
Two nights ago, Diddy took the stage at Clive Davis’ pre-Grammys gala and proceeded to slam the Recording Academy for their lack of respect towards the hip-hop community. “Truth be told, hip-hop has never been respected by the Grammys. Black music has never been respected by the Grammys to the point that it should be.” The basis of Diddy’s message has been one that has been echoed, both vocally and silently, over the years.
From its birth, hip-hop has continuously been forced to obliterate obstacles in its way simply to stand alongside its musical peers and the Grammys is no exception. After nearly two decades of existence, hip-hop would finally force its way into the award show as the Best Rap Performance made its debut in 1989. Two years later, the category was split into the Best Rap Solo Performance and Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. The former was briefly split again in 2003 for the Best Male Rap Solo Performance and Best Female Rap Solo Performance. After a few more additions and changes over the years, today’s categories stand as Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song, Best Rap Performance, and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. Despite these changes, one thing that has not changed is the complaints from the black community towards the Grammys.
Winning the very first award for Best Rap Performance in 1989, Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff later voiced frustrations with the award show and boycotted it for not televising their victory. Thirty-one years later, the issue still remains the same as the world’s most popular genre still did not have all its categories televised, with airtime only given to Tyler The Creator (Best Rap Album) and DJ Khaled (Best Rap/Sung Collaboration). It was also only five years ago that the award show chose not to televise a single rap category for the award ceremony.
Another complaint that has traveled the three decades of hip-hop’s Grammy life: The award show’s refusal to grant rap an often well-deserved win in its big four categories. To this day, only Childish Gambino has claimed a win in the Song Of The Year and Record Of The Year categories. Only four hip-hop artists have won Best New Artist — Arrested Development (1993), Lauryn Hill (1999), Macklemore & Ryan Lews (2014), and Chance the Rapper (2017). Lauryn Hill (The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, 1999) and Outkast (Speakerboxx/The Love Below, 2004) are the only two hip-hop acts to ever win Album Of The Year, and the award show didn’t even consider Lauryn Hill’s debut to be hip-hop, putting nearly all her other nominations in the R&B categories.
Keeping the previous issues in mind, let’s consider the Grammys’ relationship with hip-hop over the decades. Through hip-hop’s continued growth in the 2000s and 2010s would come a new sub-genre in trap. Culturally, the sub-genre would eventually grow to be coveted and beloved by hip-hop fans despite an initial push back. Per usual, the Grammys were late to acknowledge the sub-genre, with the 2019 Grammys being the first year it was.
Two of today’s foremost artists in trap, Future and Young Thug, won their first Grammy awards last year, but their contributions came on songs that again didn’t force the award show out of their rocking chairs. This year, some of trap’s most popular acts — DaBaby, 21 Savage, Roddy Ricch, Lil Baby, and Gunna — all received nominations, signaling that some true attention was finally being paid to the world’s most popular genre. The improvement in hip-hop’s nominations can probably be attributed to the award show’s long-overdue decision to grant hip-hop its own nomination review committee in 2018 as a way to protect genre’s integrity and validate potential nominations. It was a decision that — despite other genres having similar committees — took 31 years to make. However, improvements have only extended as far as the nomination process, but not in the process of selecting a winner.
It is clear that ever since the Grammys opened the door to hip-hop, its willingness to honor and celebrate the genre has yet to surpass simply nominating them. Over the years, hip-hop nominations have transitioned from celebrating the honor to anticipating yet another loss with 50 Cent in 2004 (Best New Artist), Kanye in 2005 (Best New Artist and Song Of The Year), Drake in 2011 (Best New Artist) and Kendrick in 2014 (Best Rap Album) and 2015 (Album Of The Year and Song Of The Year) all missing out on honors many felt they should win. This twelve-year span presents the Grammys unwavering stubbornness in allowing hip-hop to be more than position-holders for its award show.
After 31 years, it can no longer be said that the Grammys are unaware of happenings throughout the world’s most popular genre. While the hip-hop community’s patience thins year after year, flicking the award show away to its demise as if it is some unwanted insect is far from the solution. Jay-Z said it perfectly in 2018: “…we can pretend we don’t care, but we do. We really care because we are seeing the most incredible artists stand on that stage and we aspire to be that.”
In his speech, Diddy granted the Grammys “365 days to get this sh*t together.” Thirty-one years of being overlooked and keeping hip-hop in a box labeled “Rap Only” have gone on too long. While the award show has had a multitude of opportunities to improve their relationship with hip-hop, they have chosen to ignore the ticking time bomb that is hip-hop. Leading the world in popularity, the show has yet again forced the hand of another one of the genre’s biggest contributors. The Grammys should take kindly to the request to “get this sh*t together,” because, with hip hop’s growth destined to continue, it will only get harder and harder to ignore its sh*t.