Another year, another bittersweet Grammy ceremony for hip-hop. While it’s true that efforts to improve voter diversity in previous years has resulted in a more representative sample of the best the genre had to offer in 2018, it didn’t seem that increased diversity resulted in any more credibility for the honors among rap’s upper echelon.
In fact, it almost seemed to go in reverse, with some of rap’s biggest names — Childish Gambino, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar — declining performance offers and even foregoing the ceremony altogether. The one who did briefly attend, Drake, used his podium time to downplay the award show’s importance despite his win for Best Rap Song. J. Cole echoed his sentiments the next day on Twitter. If anything, the night seemed to signify that rap’s attitude towards the Grammys is changing, and there’s little, if anything, the Grammys can do to change that.
Drake and the rest did miss some history being made, sure. Cardi B won Best Rap Album, making her the first solo female rapper to pull off that feat in the 30 years since rap awards were first installed. Childish Gambino also broke ground for the genre, becoming the first rapper to secure either Record Of The Year or Song Of The Year — and he even won both, despite never showing up to claim them. That’s impressive, yes, but by the end of the night, the only award anyone in which anyone truly seemed invested felt like a foregone conclusion.
“Of course, it was going to go to the white girl,” was the unspoken sentiment among rappers and their fans when Kacey Musgraves was announced the winner of Album Of The Year for Golden Hour. Never mind the artistic merit of the album itself; no less than four rappers were nominated for the honor (five if you include Janelle Monae’s swaggering verse on “Django Jane” from her futuristic funk-pop masterpiece, Dirty Computer), but once again, hip-hop went home unvalidated, unacknowledged, and basically discarded by the Recording Academy’s voting process.
It’s no wonder few established rappers even bothered to show up and the few who did were willing to risk censure to diminish the value of the golden phonograph. Once coveted among rappers as a symbol of “making it,” the Grammy award has become just another meaningless accolade for hip-hop. Rappers, on the whole, seem to be saying, “If the Grammys don’t recognize us, we won’t recognize them.” That’s bad for the Grammys, as rap becomes more ingrained in pop culture. It’s already the most popular genre in the US by airplay, it’s more and more likely to reflect the mindset of the youth in the future, leaving the Grammys — never the most forward-thinking institution — in the dust.