Music

Why The Grammys Need To Honor Nipsey Hussle

Since Nipsey Hussle’s death on March 31, when he was shot and killed in front of his Marathon Clothing store in Los Angeles, the 33-year-old rapper’s legacy has transcended time. Neighborhood Nip continues to be memorialized and honored through his family, friends, and most importantly, his fans.

In October, Steven “Steve-O” Carless, co-founder of Nipsey Hussle’s Marathon Agency, gave an emotional speech after Nipsey won the Impact Award at Billboard and Vibe’s second annual R&B/Hip-Hop Power Players event in New York. Accepting the award on Nipsey’s behalf, Carless instructed the room to give Nip a moment of silence before fighting back tears as he spoke about his friend he wishes was still here. “What this means to me, it’s a testament to his hard work and dedication,” he said.

“I wish I could call you right now!” Carless wrote in an Instagram post after learning the rapper was posthumously nominated for three awards at the 2020 Grammys. “Congrats to Heaven! Leader of a Generation!” As of this writing, his comments have been filled with blue heart emojis and checkered flags – both signatures of the artist who viewed life not as a sprint, but as a marathon.

Nipsey earned three posthumous nominations, including Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song for “Racks In The Middle” featuring Roddy Ricch and Hit-Boy and Best Rap/Sung Performance for “Higher” with DJ Khaled and John Legend. He was previously nominated for Best Rap Album for his debut Victory Lap in 2019, telling interviewers while on the red carpet with his daughter Emani at the 2019 Grammys that he was “humbled” and “inspired.” This certainly isn’t the first time Nipsey will get recognition for his contributions to hip-hop and giving back to the community — nor should it be the last.

All signs point to the Grammys putting together some sort of tribute on Nipsey’s life and career. But the question is: Can the Grammys do him justice? History shows their credibility and relevance within the culture isn’t exactly the best, as some music fans had their own gripes about this year’s nominations. Among them: No Megan Thee Stallion or DaBaby for Best New Artist, Tyler The Creator’s Igor snubbed for Album Of The Year, Rapsody’s Eve not nominated for Best Rap Album (but she kept it positive with her disappointment) and a lack of women — who arguably ran rap in 2019 — in any of the genre’s categories. If the intentions are pure, could the Grammys pull off something better than platforms with more cultural cache have already accomplished?

The immediate comparison will be this year’s BET Awards, where Nipsey had a significant presence during the ceremony. He was given the Humanitarian Award, which is presented to a celebrity philanthropist who donated their time and money to a charitable cause. BET aired a video showing his entrepreneurial efforts and his vision for Crenshaw with commentary by Snoop Dogg and Ava DuVernay. T.I. then paid tribute to Nipsey in his speech, noting how his emphasis on “the power of equity and ownership of our art” helped lead the charge of “independence and created a blueprint for up-and-coming artists today to follow.”

His girlfriend Lauren London, his mother Angelique Smith, and members of his family accepted the award. Nipsey’s music was remembered through an ensemble performance of his songs, starting the medley with Marsha Ambrosius singing Victory Lap’s “Real Big,” YG performing his Nipsey collab “Last Time That I Checc’d,” and ending with DJ Khaled’s Father Of Asahd cut “Higher,” backed by a choir.

The Grammys usually choose to honor music icons who passed away through tribute performances and in its “In Memoriam” montage. Artists that receive individual tributes are usually the ones who have the most musical influence and have really changed music during their careers. In 2005, Ray Charles was the star of that Grammys, winning eight awards including Album Of The Year for Genius Loves Company and Record Of The Year for his Norah Jones duet “Here We Go Again.” Jamie Foxx and Alicia Keys teamed up to sing “Georgia On My Mind” and “If I Ain’t Got You” to tribute the late singer.

In subsequent years, we’ve seen the Grammys nail remembrances for Whitney Houston, Bob Marley (who was honored by his sons and artists influenced by him such as Sting, Bruno Mars, and Rihanna), David Bowie (through the eccentric Lady Gaga), B.B. King (with Chris Stapleton, Gary Clark Jr., and Bonnie Raitt performing his Grammy Award-winning song “The Thrill Is Gone”), and Aretha Franklin (with a special performance of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” from Andra Day, Yolanda Adams, and Fantasia).

It takes careful consideration in choosing which fallen stars are remembered during the Grammy’s three-hour block, believing viewers will have a stronger connection to artists who had a bigger prominence. Often, they will win posthumous awards, like Amy Winehouse, Chris Cornell, and Carrie Fisher did before. But for the many praises the awards show has had for getting it right in hip-hop -– acknowledging Mac Miller, Lil Peep, podcast pioneer and journalist Reggie “Combat Jack” Ossé (which made Questlove happy), and music executive Chris Lighty during past “in memoriams” -– there are just as many times when an obvious miss causes a commotion. Regardless of how you feel about XXXTentacion, who also died by gun violence, his not being acknowledged for his musical influence on the younger generation at last year’s Grammys still hurts his fans.

If the Grammys are truly set on changing to better represent the most popular genre in the world, the show must give Nipsey the tribute he rightfully deserves. Personally, I want to see “Dedication” with Kendrick Lamar go off during the telecast. I want to see his All Money In artists get some shine, especially J Stone, whose new album The Definition Of Loyalty begins with his Nipsey tribute “The Marathon Continues,” and Cobby Supreme, his day-one homie and frequent collaborator. I want to see Dave East, Snoop Dogg, The Game -– anyone who was touched by Nip and his words — get on that Grammy stage and tear it down. Nip’s nominations aren’t enough. I want to see him sweep in all three categories. “Racks In The Middle” was released after Nip’s Best Rap Album nomination to keep his momentum going, showing that the hustle never stops for him.

For the artists featured, it would be a bittersweet moment. For Hit-Boy, who once told me, “I was f*cking crying to ‘Racks In The Middle’ before Nip passed away;” for Roddy Ricch, who wrote on Twitter: “Grammy nominated in the studio shedding tears, all this money power fame but i can’t make u reappear Nipsey Hussle;” and for everyone else who interviewed Nip, who spoke to him one-on-one, who worked with him, who thanked him for his music, and who believed in his mission to build up the Crenshaw District in South Los Angeles he called home. The Grammys validating his art would surely be meaningful, but it’s an achievement that should’ve been enjoyed when he was alive.

So, come January 26, 2020, I hope Nipsey does get all the love and appreciation he deserves from the Grammys. Because there’s only one Ermias Asghedom — the rapper, innovator, father figure, and entrepreneur. The Marathon doesn’t stop; it’s forever.

Nipsey Hussle is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.

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