In recent years, the Grammy Awards have transformed from what was once one of the most prestigious honors in the recording industry into a lack-luster event, primarily for hip-hop and alternative artists.
The Grammy Awards are presented annually by The Recording Academy and is said to honor artists’ excellence in the recording arts. According to their own website, The Recording Academy claims that the Grammy is intended to award artists for their artistic or technical achievement, regardless of sales or chart positions. To me, the awards, primarily in the hip hop and alternative genres, have failed to nominate artists based on this criteria, and have made it nearly impossible to capture a Grammy without multiple radio hits or high chart ratings. This is why, this year, I will once again not be watching the Grammy’s on television.
The Grammy’s have become a platform for mainstream artists to thrive, rather than recognizing artists purely based on musical excellence. The same household names are likely to be nominated every year, even if they put out mediocre work. For example, Drake’s album, “Views,” was nominated for best album. As a Drake fan, I felt that this album wasn’t bad, but it was by far his worst solo album to date. The sound of the album just felt too predictable and didn’t bring anything new to the table, however it produced a number of radio hits. My point is the Grammy’s have stopped acknowledging artists for pushing the boundaries and revolutionizing their genres, and have started settling for who’s the hottest and most popular with the biggest group of people.
For me, this all started back in January of 2014 when I was watching the event. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ album, “The Heist,” took home the award for best rap album, beating out Kendrick Lamar’s “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City.” Now, regardless of my status as a Kendrick Lamar fan, it was widely accepted that something was very flawed with this outcome, hell, even Macklemore himself texted Lamar saying “You got robbed. I wanted you to win.” Yes, Macklemore may have had a larger audience and fan base to whom his music appealed to, but his album lacked a sense of flow, it was just a collection of songs.
“Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” featured a combination of lyrics, beats, and skits that all worked together to tell a story that everybody wanted to listen to, and many lower-class, black Americans could relate to. Lamar used music like nobody ever has before to convey his experiences of growing up in Compton and express his conflictions of emotion caused from the harsh environment and obstacles in his environment. Where as Kendrick Lamar did not have radio hits on his album, “The Heist” contained several. The Grammy’s may have redeemed themselves by honoring Lamar with best rap album two years later, but the damage was already done to the reputation of the award.
As I look through nominees for this years Grammy’s, I catch myself cringing often. I basically see a list of the songs I heard the most on the radio in every category. Under best rap song I see, “All The Way Up,” by Fat Joe next to “Ultralight Beam” by Kanye West and Chance the Rapper…What? It’s insulting to the work of Kanye and Chance to include that song in the same category, or even the same sentence as theirs. Where is Travis Scott? Nowhere to be found. It just goes to show that a popular banger that everybody gets annoyed of after three months can still win a Grammy.
I believe Chance the Rapper gives this year’s awards an opportunity for some redemption in the hip-hop genre. In my opinion, Chance has had the biggest year of any artist of any genre (Keep in mind, I like Chance, but he was never in my top five or anything). From commercials to appearances on late night television shows, Chance was everywhere this year. Not only that, but it was the way his performances in those shows which was impressive, such as Saturday Night Live and Jimmy Kimmel Live. It felt like watching a miniature concert on television.
Aside from his emerging stardom, his album “The Coloring Book” was an incredible piece of work, which will be remembered for years to come. It was the first ever streaming-only, Grammy-nominated mixtape in history of the awards. It sounded unlike anything I’ve heard before. The way Chance expressed his love for music, his love for Chicago, and the way he put out a feel-good hip-hop project rather than a typical sounding rap song that was refreshing. It reminded me a lot of Kanye West and how he pushed the boundaries with “808’s and Heartbreak”, which also won a Grammy back in 2009. Not only was Chance’s music incredible, he also had his tour as well as his Magnificent Coloring Day festival in Chicago. If you ask me, Chance owned 2016, but the mainstream appeal of the Grammy’s may not recognize this. If Chance fails to walk away with at least a couple Grammy’s I will be stunned.
I believe the Grammy’s have a chance to redeem themselves this year, but they have to quit playing it safe and selecting the most popular and most played artists. Like in the past, they need to get back to acknowledging artists for quality of music and not just their likeability and widespread success. The Hip Hop genre has become so big and influential that the nominations for these awards should be justified. I’d like to start seeing a little more of artists such as Isaiah Rashad and Childish Gambino rather than Bruno Mars and Drake.