Cover story: The year of hip-hop at Grammy Awards 2018
Hip-hop is no longer an alternative movement or genre. This year’s nominations at the 60th Grammy Awards, hosted by The Recording Academy, proves exactly that. Hip-hop, and the diversity of voices that it brings with it, is emphatically here to stay.
For the first time since the inception of the ceremony in the 1950s, no white male is listed in the biggest award categories, such as Song and Record of the Year. It would appear that a lone woman along with people of colour have finally squeezed out the Grammy’s go-to demographic. Surprisingly, not a single rock act has been listed in the top four categories either. For hip-hop to emerge as a mainstream genre that demands your attention, foreshortened titles, acronyms and all, there’s no time better than now. As the Canadian rapper, Drake, waxed poetic, “Started from the bottom now we’re here.”
A quick scan through this year’s Grammy nominations list shows that socially conscious hip-hop music is what dominates the charts. The best example would be Jay-Z’s track The Story of O.J., nominated for Record of the Year, Best Rap Song, and Best Music Video, and we bet it will score at least one win. The animated video, in the style of a vintage cartoon, talks about racial segregation and race relations in the US with hard-hitting lyrics. The album 4.44, which includes the track, is also a strong contender in the Album of Year category.
Migos’ song Bad and Boujee, nominated for Best Rap Performance, was a hit earlier this year. Talking about rappers with new money (‘boujee’ being short slang for ‘bourgeois’), the song became the source of many memes, and also an anthem for a younger generation that identified with the video. But the song has tough competition in the category — Humble by Kendrick Lamar certainly needs no introduction, even to non-listeners of the genre. Humble is in the reckoning for Record of the Year along with Best Rap Performance. The groundbreaking song, and its startling video, discusses everything from God and religion to popular culture such as Grey Poupon Mustard and, expectedly, former US President Obama. Lamar’s album Damn, is nominated for Best Rap Album, and Album of the Year.
Meanwhile, rapper from the Bronx, Cardi B burst onto the scene with her no-holds-barred attitude earlier this year. Her track Bodak Yellow is an interpretation of her own loud style, and the popular number is nominated for both Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song, and we sure hope it picks up either one. Cardi B is also the only female rapper to make it to the list.
History of denial
The fact of the matter is that hip-hop is set for bigger things. Though record sales chart don’t always reflect it, over the years, the genre has transcended music and ingrained itself into the fabric of society.
Yet, The Recording Academy has always had a tumultuous relationship with hip-hop, often marred by boycotts. Legendary MCs like 2Pac, The Notorious B.I.G, Public Enemy and Snoop Dogg have been denied the golden gramophone, while Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below is the only hip-hop record ever to have won the coveted Album Of The Year. Ever.
A running joke among music aficionados is also about the academy labelling the 1998 album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, the debut solo by American singer and rapper Lauryn Hill, as R&B! The album, primarily of hip-hop and neo soul, went on to win Album of the Year, making it the first hip-hop album to ever receive that award. For some newcomers, a Grammy nod might not amount to much, though admittedly, there has never been a more influential stamp of musical recognition for the genre of hip-hop. It’s hard to deny, after all, that a Grammy can make or break a career. Back in 1989, when the Grammys (and the music industry as a whole) first acknowledged rap as a category, the winners never showed up at the ceremony. That’s because Fresh Prince (aka Will Smith) and his collaborator, DJ Jazzy Jeff, found out that the TV channels wouldn’t be recording or televising the segment at the 1989 Grammy Awards, where they were set to receive the first-ever Best Rap Performance award for their single, Parents Just Don’t Understand. Since then, hip-hop luminaries including Rihana (2014), Eminem (2015), 2 Chainz (2016) and Frank Ocean (2017) have showcased numerous forms of protests against the Grammys at different points in time.
The tide is slowly, but surely turning. The Recording Academy’s voting system is now online. Previously, not all of the academy’s 13,000 members could actively participate in the archaic ‘paper ballot’ voting procedure. That’s because its participants aren’t comprised only of ageing label juggernauts, sitting behind mouldy desks. They include music industry professionals who have creative or technical credits on at least six commercial tracks on a physical music release, or 12 on a digital album. This list also includes emerging songwriters, music producers, and young engineers, most of whom admittedly never actively participate in the process. But once things went online, it became easier for touring artistes to vote from anywhere on the planet and this has been reflected immensely in the nominee list.
On home turf
Back home in India too, hip-hip is the flavour of the season. Rapper Divine says, “With the coming generation, hip-hop will be more than a “filler” in Bollywood and the independent scene will just change it cause everyone is talking about life now. Which is authentic and real emotions coming out, no one can stop this movement.” Delhi-based rapper Prabh Deep feels the influence is already huge, “There's a Bollywood movie in the works about the hip-hop community (By Zoya Akhtar, starring Ranveer Singh), and we're slowly competing at the top of the music charts as well. The goal for hip-hop artists in this country is not to change their music to fit the mainstream but to bring the mainstream to the style of music they make,” he sums up eloquently.
For the rest of it, and to set the onward course for hip-hop, you can be sure, we will have our eyes — and ears — peeled at this year’s Grammy Awards.
The 60th Grammy Awards airs on
Monday, January 29, at 7.30 am, on Vh1.
While hip-hop may have emerged from the streets and the ghettos, rappers today are amongst some of the highest earning musicians in the world. The numbers
are definitely a testament to not just their popularity,
but also the influence that rappers have. These are the highest earning by rappers this year:
• Drake — $94 million
• Jay Z — $42 million
• Chance, the Rapper — $32 million
• Kendrick Lamar — $30 million
• Wiz Khalifa — $28 million
Reaching the masses
How do you get an organisation like The Recording Academy to change its seemingly iron-clad rules after 59 years? Ask Chance The Rapper. Before this Chicago-based artiste released Coloring Book, his streaming-only album in 2016, and won a Grammy for Best Rap Album—becoming the first mixtape to chart on the Billboard 200 without actually being sold, and signalling a shift in how mainstream music is consumed—internet-only releases were considered ineligible by the Academy.
Over the years, the golden gramophone has been awarded to some unlikely candidates. Besides Baha Men, whose track Who Let The Dogs Out won the Best Dance Recording the same year that the internet’s favourite Sandstorm by Darude was released, comic book creator Todd McFarlane has also won a Grammy. As unlikely as it would seem, the politicians Mikhail Gorbachev, Bill and Hillary Clinton are also past victors. In 2018, this list grows longer as 79-year-old American senator Bernie Sanders and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson each earn a
nomination in Best Spoken Word Album category.