VALDEZ: Grammys are hollow honors for rap music

Opinion Column: The Power of an Open Mind

Throughout the history of mankind, people have craved validation. When someone was being crowned king in ancient times, they were being validated by their people. They were considered by the general population to have the leadership skills necessary for the job. The same thing happens when athletes win championships, or a new president gets elected. Thanks to their hard work, these select individuals have been recognized and celebrated as high-performing members of their respective professions. Who would not enjoy this coveted honor?

This concept also applies to music artists at the Grammy Awards. It is the biggest stage for famous acts in the field to be recognized for their talents. Despite its popularity though, it has been heavily criticized, particularly in the hip-hop community. For as long as the genre has been around, notable rap artists have voiced their displeasure with the institution. LL Cool J, Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff boycotted the Grammy ceremonies in 1989. Jay-Z followed suit from 1999 to 2003. This year, Childish Gambino decided not to show up. 

Time and time again, A-list and B-list rap artists have refused to support the Grammys. They often attribute their displeasure to the Recording Academy’s bias against the genre. Who can blame them? Out of the 30 years in which rap music has been included in the award considerations, a rap project has only won Album of the Year twice: Lauryn Hill's “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” and OutKast's “Speakerboxx/The Love Below.” Ironically, a large portion of each of those bodies of work had R&B songs. It begs the question: do the judges in the Recording Academy properly analyze the submissions before classifying them?

With hip-hop being my favorite genre, I have rarely been pleased with the Recording Academy’s choices over the years. Not only does it repeatedly fail to recognize hip-hop for the biggest categories, but they even make questionable choices within the genre. In 2017, Drake himself was annoyed that his hit single “Hotline Bling” won Best Rap Song. 

“I’m apparently a rapper, even though ‘Hotline Bling’ is not a rap song,” he said in an interview with BBC’s DJ Semtex. “The only category they can manage to fit me in is in a rap category, maybe because I’ve rapped in the past or because I’m Black. I can't figure out why.” 

As time has passed, I have realized an important truth: the Grammys care about the “safe” pick. Whichever selection that has the most sales and radio airplay out of the nominations is likely to win. Honoring the mainstream appeal means that it will satisfy the most viewers, which increases the chances of them coming back to watch. Maintaining its ratings helps it make profit. Like many things in life, it all comes back to money — how surprising.

This year, when Cardi B won Best Rap Album for “Invasion of Privacy,” I rolled my eyes. Even though it was an enjoyable listen, I did not personally feel that it was the best in terms of quality. Pusha-T’s “Daytona,” for example, received plenty of critical acclaim, including the Album of the Year honor from Complex. The global success of Travis Scott’s “Astroworld” catapulted his star power to new heights, earning him stage time during the Super Bowl LIII halftime performance. 

While I was pleased that non-radio artists such as Pusha-T, Nipsey Hussle and Mac Miller were even nominated in the first place, it served as yet another reminder of the Academy’s priorities. Cardi’s mainstream appeal, combined with her being the lone female candidate, especially made her a “safe” pick. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing fellow Hispanics being nationally recognized for their talents. On the other hand, it is always important to remember the context. 

Just two years ago, the Academy faced backlash when it gave Adele’s "25" Album of the Year over Beyoncé’s “Lemonade.” Nobody, including Adele, could believe it. It refueled the long-standing notion of the Grammys being biased against minority artists. Even though the issue was not about race in this year’s case, it was presented with an opportunity to cater to a different historically disadvantaged group: women. I cannot help but think that they gave Cardi B the hardware in hopes of repairing its public image, rather than genuine appreciation for her work.

Despite annual and justified criticism from high-profile music figures, as well as normal fans, millions of people still pay attention to the Grammys every year. Many of the same artists who bashed them still accept their awards with a smile on their face, such as Jay-Z this year. Why do artists and fans still care? Validation. The artists enjoy winning, and us fans want our favorites to win. No matter the circumstances, there is no feeling like being recognized on a grand stage.

Josh Valdez is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in journalism and media studies and minoring in creative writing. His column, “The Power of an Open Mind,” runs on alternate Thursdays.


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