Hip-hop and the Grammy’s have never really gotten along. Sure, the artists and albums that have been granted the coveted award are — typically — a respected choice amongst the hip-hop community. From Fugees in ‘97 to Chance’s Coloring Book in 2017, it’s not that the Grammy voters and committee don’t “know” hip-hop, but rather they don’t really seem to care.
This year’s round of rap nominations felt manicured, but not exactly surprising. Jack Harlow’s involvement with Generation Now and his skyrocketing superstar status in the past year made him an easy choice, just as Khaled’s inclusion of hip-hop royalty all across his album made his nomination a lock from the start. The shortlist of nominations appearing streamlined makes sense when you consider the Recording Academy’s pool of industry experts (to join, you must get two strong recommendations from industry peers). The politics are sensical, but that doesn’t make it wholly representative of the best rap music from the past year.
Kendrick Lamar winning Best Album for “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers” is a good thing. But when so many other groundbreaking artists and albums are left in the ceremonial dust, it’s a keen reminder that the Grammy’s aren’t here to put great art on a pedestal, but re-commodify what’s already proven to be profitable, adding an additional coat of platinum paint atop an already esteemed piece of work.
Like myself, many were shocked to see JID’s triumphant third studio album The Forever Story snubbed in the nominations for the 2023 Grammys. An artist, coming up through J. Cole’s camp, who has been building upon his idiosyncratic vocal tones and thought-out rhymes for years now, somehow is failed to be recognized. The disheartenment is truly felt through the mainstream duds in God Did and Come Home The Kids Miss You taking the nomination slots that JID clearly deserves. What’s even stranger is the fact that The Forever Story isn’t an underground album in the slightest, either. Expertly produced, engineered, arranged and culminated through the Atlanta artist, it’s also not the only strange omission when it comes to rappers at the 2023 Grammys.
The hip-hop community is far too familiar with admired albums being nominated and sometimes even favored to win, but then get shut out. The prime — and most controversial — example of this comes from 2019 Grammys, where Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy took the award over Pusha T’s Daytona, Nipsey Hussle’s Victory Lap, Travis Scott’s Astroworld and Mac Miller’s first posthumous album, Swimming. All great albums in their own right, but context is king: Travis Scott was the fan favorite going in, with him essentially towering any and every other artist in the mainstream space that year with the music and live shows surrounding “Astroworld.”
The real kicker is that the Grammy’s invited Miller’s family to the awards show to accept the award for him posthumously, but he didn’t win. It still feels like an unnecessary jab, and one that many took immense issue with, particularly Ariana Grande, who was quick to call the stunt “literal bullsh*t.”
With all of this being said, the Grammys did try and give hip-hop the shine that it’s always deserved with the “50 Years of Hip-Hop” performance, which sparked some exciting discourse. Showcasing several decades of talent with 33 groundbreaking rappers — from Run DMC, LL Cool J and Ice T, to Queen Latifah, Missy Elliot and The Roots — nothing was left out of consideration, even those who weren’t on stage. The overlaid names along the backdrop feels like the icing on the cake, as it truly made everyone feel involved in hip-hop’s special night.
Undoubtedly moving in the right direction, the ceremony cast a wide, far reaching net with this celebration of hip-hop and managed to pull it off in a way that didn’t feel forced or manufactured. But still, this isn’t an excuse to dismiss the innovative voices that deserve both representation and recognition.
The suits and ties that parade the genre’s accomplishments always seem to have their finger on the viral pulse, but wait for mainstream approval before they roll them out on a red carpet. The primary example of that this year comes from the unprecedented success behind Yeat. When peering at the “Best New Artist” category, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a rapper in there — despite hip-hop artists winning and being nominated in past years. The difference with Yeat is almost ten-fold, as the 22-year-old alt-rage pioneer released a couple of charting albums, singles and even a Minions movie placement for his “Rich Minion” track within the span of a year — and he wasn’t even getting radio play during this time.
That last factor is a typical warning sign, but also an ominous double standard: What places Yeat’s music outside of the mainstream’s palpability? His music continues to show its relevance with the demographics of kids, teens and young adults, which should’ve been a recipe for success. His signing to Interscope and Geffen Records makes this all the more confusing too, as these powerhouses have the influence — and money — to campaign their young talent to the Grammys. Yet, it’s all about who you know.
Maybe it’s a fear of the unknown. Will these ultra-viral artists find longevity in this industry? Will JID lose to Kendrick even if he’s nominated? The answers are as arbitrary as they are unpredictable when being asked from the mountain top. The fans, musicians and artists beneath do all they can to prove their worth, but are still shunned from the industry that makes millions off of their work.