Hip-Hop Was Snubbed Again, But It’s Not Surprising

Justin Edwards/The Vine

Justin Edwards/The Vine

Kendrick Lamar

Alec Yu, Correspondent

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It seems like Kendrick Lamar’s every move is now considered a spectacle. After releasing the best reviewed rap album of 2012, good kid, m.A.A.d city (GKMC), he’s taken both the mainstream and hip-hop community by storm. Opening for Kanye West’s The Yeezus Tour, various hit singles and impactful features, especially the energizing “Control” verse in which he called out all up-and-coming MCs and reignited the competition, highlighted an eventful 2013. Lamar had seven nominations at the Grammys and his mashup with Imagine Dragons was the most electrifying performance on music’s biggest night. But they still didn’t give him a Grammy.

Out of the four nominations he garnered for his LP, including Album of the Year, none became more controversial than the award for Best Rap Album, a title many in the hip-hop community believe he deserved. Instead it went to Macklemore’s independent hit, The Heist. Strangely enough, the Grammys’ rap committee unsuccessfully tried to cut the “Thrift Shop” rapper’s work from its categories, due to the mainstream appeal and success of the album in radio and pop. Macklemore shared four nominations with Lamar, winning three of them.

Even Macklemore was surprised by the committee’s decision to give the accolade to him. “You got robbed. I wanted you to win,” he texted to fellow friend and artist Lamar, the day after the Grammys.  The message was Instagrammed following the award show. In the caption, the rapper was taking nothing away from his own album, but felt good kid, m.A.A.d city should have been given “its proper respect” in that category. “It’s weird and it sucks that I robbed you.”

In their search for a possible explanation regarding the outcome of the awards show, the public has pointed fingers everywhere, including complexion. Yes, Kendrick Lamar was the popular pick and is black, and Macklemore is white. Eminem was the only other white rapper to win the same accolade, but in 2006, his album Encore lost to Kanye West’s Late Registration. The backlash shouldn’t come purely from race. Though GKMC was packed with introspective rhymes and radio hits in a conscious narrative of Compton, there was no denying The Heist’s pop appeal and production. Singles like “Thrift Shop”, “Can’t Hold Us”, and the distinctive “Same Love” carried positive and moving undertones with massive mainstream success. Still, GKMC earned an astounding average of 91 on Metacritic while The Heist received 74. The Grammy committee has historically favoured popularity and appeal in their voting, critic’s reviews aside. It’s an inherent flaw in the way the awards are run.

Yet for artists, critics, and fan bases alike, the Grammys are often considered the pinnacle of popular music, accompanied by red carpet glam. Grand performances, celebrities, and music attracted a viewership of 28.5 million this year, and the numbers have not been below 25 million since 2009. However, the relationship between the awards show and the hip-hop community has been sour since its recognition by the committee in 1988. Early rap’s prevalent violence and misogyny slowed the acceptance of the genre in the 90s. At that time, the first awards for the category weren’t even publically broadcasted. In the same year, acclaimed Public Enemy rapper Chuck D asked, “who gives a f*ck about a goddamn Grammy?” The awards show usually overlooks rap candidates from its “Big Four” categories. Since 1988, only two rap albums have won Album of the Year.

Despite the Grammy Awards committee’s reluctance to acknowledge rap music, it’s apparent that many people care about giving the genre its well-deserved praise, and the Grammys should as well. Since 2000, six rap albums have topped the annual critic’s list, Pazz and Jop, more than any other genre. Kanye West, a vocal critic of the awards show who holds four No. 1 albums on the poll, has lost all three of his nominations for Album of the Year, and his 2010 universally lauded effort My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy did not even earn a nomination.

“What I think may be going on is a lack of respect for hip hop and its complexity from people who care about music but don’t know much about hip hop,” journalist Touré concluded on The Grammys snubbing MBDTF. It’s a sentiment still relevant in the wake of Lamar’s more traditional hip-hop album and Macklemore’s mainstream success. “Predictably, [The] Grammy[s] tend toward pop-friendly hip hop that’s easily understood by those who don’t understand hip hop.”

Still, hip-hop’s relevance in culture is bigger than ever before, with Macklemore, Kendrick Lamar and many others receiving acclaim and recognition. Lyrics are present in Vines, tweets, and other forms of pop culture. Obama listens to and is good friends with Jay Z and some rappers are also considered street/high fashion icons, like A$AP Rocky. In the current state of rap many veterans are still thriving commercially, if not critically, and the current generation shows much promise, including Drake, Danny Brown, Earl Sweatshirt, ScHoolboy Q, Kendrick Lamar, and Macklemore, all reaching an audience more eager to listen to talented MCs than in the past.

Maybe one day the critical body and the Grammy committee will agree with the hip-hop community in a night of solidarity. Though the Grammys do have a notoriously shoddy voting system that should change, the awards night allows for a powerful display of the genre’s ability to communicate. On January 26, 2014, this culminated in Macklemore joining Queen Latifah, Madonna, and 32 marrying couples in his uniting rendition of “Same Love”, a defining moment of the night.

Regardless of the controversy surrounding Best Rap Album, Lamar has nothing but respect for Macklemore, who among many others was inspired by his “Control” verse. Lamar is working on his second album due later this year; if it follows the commendable success of good kid, m.A.A.d city, it will surely be the catalyst that brings that unifying day closer. “It’s well deserved; he did what he did man… Everything happens for a reason. The universe comes around, that’s how it go [sic],” Lamar said to XXL Magazine following the award show. “I definitely feel like they should always have more of the culture up in there, for sure, because we definitely stand out just like any other genre. We part of the world […] everything moves as far as sound and vibrations, and that’s how it goes. And we are a part of that.”

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Hip-Hop Was Snubbed Again, But It’s Not Surprising