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Making a case for every Grammy Rap Album of the Year nominee

This year’s 2022 Grammy Rap Album of the Year category is as star-powered, high-quality and competitive as it has been in years. With artists in Nas, Kanye West, J. Cole and Tyler, The Creator all nominated for Rap Album of the Year, the Grammy committee has made it quite difficult for themselves to choose a clear-cut winner.

The 64th Annual Grammy Awards’ nominees were announced on Nov. 23, and hip-hop fans haven’t seen a “Rap Album of the Year” list like this since 2014’s award ceremony — when Drake‘s Nothing Was the Same, JAY-Z‘s Magna Carta Holy Grail, Ye’s Yeezus and Kendrick Lamar‘s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City were all controversially snubbed by Macklemore’s The Heist.

While Drake’s Certified Lover Boy was originally slated as a RAOTY contender, the Toronto icon suddenly rescinded his Grammy selections Monday (Dec. 6) due to unforeseen circumstances. The rapper has spoke on his disdain towards the award ceremony in the past, as the four albums chosen to battle for this year’s Rap Album of the Year are named below.

J. Cole – The Off-Season
Nas – King’s Disease II
Tyler, The Creator – Call Me If You Get Lost
Kanye West – Donda

While these albums are all worthy of taking home the hip-hop’s top prize, here’s our case for how each of the five nominees will win Rap Album of the Year in January.

J. Cole – The Off-Season

J. Cole’s first solo album in over three years was far from a break from the grind, as The Off-Season sees Cole at the top of his game serving a perfect screenshot of his artistry at this moment. While chasing down other pursuits such as a professional basketball career overseas and tending to his family and child, Cole unites his arsenal of always sharp rapping ability and production that matches his tone exceptionally, with continuously improving sung melodies.

Songs like “l e t . g o . m y . h a n d” with Bas and 6lack bring us into Cole’s bittersweet mindstate — similar to any father watching his son grow up before his eyes — as he realizes he will need to allow his son the space to grow into his own. On “p u n c h i n ‘ . t h e . c l o c k,” Cole utilizes a fitting interlude of Damian Lillard discussing life in the NBA playoff bubble to consecrate the marriage of hip-hop and basketball in his life. Overall, Cole’s approach to the album is simple, playing to his strengths and using his feature guests like Morray and Lil Baby as they shine to enhance the project even more.

J. Cole won his first Grammy in 2020 for best rap song with “A Lot” assisting 21 Savage, which is really a travesty when framing his career. This is the third time he has been nominated for Rap Album of the Year — as an album that tells his story this perfectly deserves to bring him home the award he has so closely tailed for years.

Nas – King’s Disease II

Nas has continued to put on for all hip-hop legends in recent years, and it appears the Grammy’s are still listening. After securing 2020’s Rap Album of the Year, Nas spun the block to craft an equally compelling sequel a year later with King’s Disease II.

Nas truly struck gold in his resurgence when he linked with Hit-Boy, as his production is equally as compelling as the limitless stash of bars he’s cultivated since the start of his iconic career. On King’s Disease II, he plugs features into his tracks as perfectly as square pegs fit into their holes in children’s toys. Legend Charlie Wilson and emerging Cali rapper Blxst’s consecutive hooks on “No Phony Love” and “Brunch on Sundays” are exquisite additions to the tracklist.

Nas is rapping just as good as anybody in the industry on this project, evident in lyrics like “The world on my shoulders, it’s gettin’ too heavy / I been bench pressing the problems, ain’t even get sweaty / Cops brutalizing kids, I see it too steadily / Correctional facilities never do it correctly” on the opener “The Pressure.”

After he won his first-ever Grammy with KDII’s predecessor King’s Disease, he’s seemingly still hungry for more: “They finally gave Nas a Grammy, just front me the gold / That wasn’t the goal / First clip was a warning shot, n***a, we spinnin’ back up the road” on 40 Side.”

If The Grammy committee truly felt KD was last year’s best to offer in the rap game, it would be silly for them to not have the same sentiment for its grandiose follow-up.

Tyler, The Creator – Call Me If You Get Lost

At the moment, nobody in hip-hop is as impressive at reinventing themselves as Tyler, The Creator is. However, with Call Me If You Get Lost, Tyler essentially crafts an amalgamation of all the eras in his career thus far. While leaning mostly to his brash, aggressive rapping that he focused on early in his career, the album also inserts glistening melodies and advanced production techniques found on his two prior records IGOR and Flower Boy.

In 2020, he took home the Rap Album of the Year Grammy for IGOR — his most ambitious and sonically impressive work to date. He returns to his rough around the edges aura with CMIYGL, using songs like “CORSO” and “LUMBERJACK” to remind fans of the assertiveness that drew them to him in the first place. To add to the nostalgia of the early 2010s rap era, the DJ Drama narration to emulate a Gangsta Grillz mixtape is a cherry on top of the project. Features like NBA YoungBoy and Lil Uzi Vert also further prove Tyler’s ability to make charming music with any prominent artist in the genre, regardless of their music style.

If The Grammys found IGOR to be the superior album two years ago, they should surely recognize CMIYGL is an essential rekindling of the Tyler, The Creator that allowed himself to exist at the capacity he does today.

Kanye West – Donda

With Kanye West not allowed to perform at the GRAMMYs due to his “online behavior” as of late, his summer 2021 album was amazing nevertheless. It’s been half a decade since we have seen West craft a full-length, intensively-produced project. After weeks of awe-inspiring listening parties, critical delays and month long studio sessions inside Mercedes Benz Stadium, Donda saw Ye return to peak form.

Calling on rap peers both old and new to assist with career-defining feature verses, and employing his famed Sunday Service choir to inject the album with God’s spirit, the lengthy album is all any Kanye fan could have asked for, and then some. While yes, Ye did urinate on his Grammy in the forever viral video, that does not take away from the triumphant effort and execution of his tenth studio album.

It really is not necessary to put into words the excellence of Donda, because one listen tells the perfect story of who Kanye West has been as a musician his whole career, and who he is now personality-wise as a devout Christian. If the Grammy committee wants to finally be taken seriously after their several transgressions against the hip-hop community, Donda is a top choice for Rap Album of the Year.

Drake – Certified Lover Boy

While Drake has taken CLB off the Grammy radar, it’s still worthy to note the Lover Boy mania that ensued in 2021. Drake had the world on its toes for months as we waited for his sixth studio album Certified Lover Boy. Whether it be cryptic ESPN promotions, Nike deals or billboards in the hometowns of the artists featured on the album, Drake’s ability to captivate hip-hop and pop fans is still unmatched.

The album is a masterclass of every aspect of Drake’s essence. His petty slights at flings, his clever spins on common relationship motifs, his unique ability to craft an earworm hook and his all too familiar tendency to match the vibe of any artist he hops on a track with were all put on display for CLB.

This album was nominated for Rap Album of the Year Grammy simply because it’s the best we’ve heard from Drake since 2017’s More Life. As hip-hop’s king of streaming and smash-hits, CLB’s surface is just as appealing as the B-sides. The charcuterie board of sounds Drizzy provides here with bangers like “Way 2 Sexy” with Young Thug and Future and poised ballads like “TSU” exemplify his relevance and importance in the rap landscape that he has dominated for the past decade.

Who do you think should be awarded the Grammy for Rap Album of the Year?