VIRANI: Even albums without Grammys are excellent
Opinions Column: From Breaks to Bars
2016 was an incredible year for music, especially hip-hop. It was another year of pushing the horizons of this ever-evolving genre, with projects coming from artists as diverse as Young Thug to Anderson .Paak. And it’s hard for the Grammys, or any awards program, to contain that wide scope of talent into a constricted list of nominations. There has always been some level of controversy surrounding award nominations, whether it was last year when Nicki Minaj called out the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) for overlooking black female artists, or this year when Frank Ocean refrained from submitting his album "Blonde" for consideration in the 2017 Grammys. The Grammys, in particular, has faced substantial backlash from the hip-hop community for not properly recognizing hip-hop in proportion to other genres, the most recent example being last year when Taylor Swift’s "1989" beat out Kendrick Lamar’s "To Pimp A Butterfly" for the Album of the Year award.
But this isn’t a criticism of the nominations for this year’s hip-hop album of the year award. Because Chance the Rapper's mixtape "Coloring Book" winning despite its streaming-only release was a win for indie hip-hop and independent artists everywhere. This, in honor of last weekend’s Grammy Awards, is a recap on 2016 hip-hop as a whole. These are some albums that, I think, despite not being nominated for Grammys this year, elevated the hip-hop industry last year.
After over two years since his last work, "Cilvia Demo," Isaiah Rashad finally released his second album "The Sun's Tirade," and it was well worth the wait. It is easily one of the most lyrically and musically powerful albums of the year. It begins with “where u at?”, a skit that acknowledges the frustration of people around Rashad as he continuously stalls his new project release. And from there, he takes us on a journey through his personal struggles, particularly his battle with substance abuse, which was a major reason his album took so long to release. As he takes the listener through his life, he folds in commentary on the rap industry and society as a whole, which solidifies his authority as a voice as a distinguished rapper. The switching from personal introspection to social observation come together to create a full tour of Rashad’s personal psyche, culminating in an album worth appreciating.
Maybe he didn’t submit it for Grammy consideration, or maybe the committee didn’t consider it a full album, but Kendrick Lamar has to be recognized as one of the rappers that made 2016 a great year for music. "Untitled Unmastered" may not have been as refined as K-Dot’s previous projects, nor did it have the same story-like progression through the songs like his past three studio albums. But this album brought another layer to Lamar’s discography, one that reveals the grittiness and raw intensity of his process through album creation.
The fact that Travis Scott wasn’t nominated represents what many think is wrong with the Grammys and their take on hip-hop music. Whatever what you think of trap music, you can’t deny that it continues to become a more prominent influence on hip-hop culture. 2016 was a monumental year for trap music because it was the year people stopped dismissing the genre and finally started recognizing it as a legitimate art form. It was a year where Donald Glover could go to the Emmys and call Migos the “Beatles of this generation,” and people actually listened. And if one trap album had to go to the Grammys, it had to be "Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight." Travis Scott created one of the most commercially successful and well-produced albums of the year. Featuring artists ranging from Bryson Tiller to Kendrick Lamar, it inevitably included a wide range of sound, each of which was crafted to perfection. And Scott should have been recognized for it.
Bas's album "Too High to Riot," is almost a year old, so it’s easy to forget that his sophomore album falls into this Grammy cycle. But when you realize that this album has been overlooked by the Grammys, and most music awards in general, it’s absolutely heartbreaking. Bas presented one of the best hip-hop albums of the year and, in my opinion, one of the best in all genres. Bas created a musical masterpiece of varying sounds that explore landscapes of jazz, blues, soul and every crevice in between. His lyricism fit together and melted into the music flawlessly, as he explored topics like his place in the chaos of society, the death of his aunt and his voice as a black American. It’s easily one of the most memorable, yet grossly underrated, projects of 2016.
Jhanvi Virani is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year majoring in Computer Science and History. Her column, “From Breaks to Bars,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.
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