Why We All Need to Stop Worrying About Hip-Hop at the Grammys
Iggy Azalea might NOT be Mephistopheles
Julia Altenburger via Wikimedia Commons
Last night 57th Annual Grammy Awards hypnotized the music industry with 23 performances, 83 awards and thousands upon thousands of “I CAN’T BELIEVE THEY GAVE IGGY A GRAMMY” tweets unreleased. The pending backlash of what some believed was inevitable proved to actually be quite "evitable" after all, as the controversial Australian rap artist was shut out entirely of every hip-hop category.
But really, it doesn’t matter.
For the record, I’m not saying that as an anti-Grammy hate machine. I unabashedly, unironically and unapologetically love award shows. The Grammys in particular hold a special place in my heart for annually marking one day a year that the world stops and samples a little bit of every genre, reminding us all that music exists outside our personal playlists and creating new lifelong listeners every year. That’s pretty cool. As a hip-hop head I also have fond memories of ODB rushing the stage in ’98, Busta Rhymes shamelessly plugging Rah Digga in 2000 and Andre 3000’s redefining the acceptance speech by just saying “Stank you.”
Despite how much those moments stand out, The Grammys have never, ever been an accurate barometer for what’s happening in hip-hop, and Iggy Azalea losing (or winning) wouldn’t have changed that.
Now, there’s a lot of reasons to be critical of Azalea and this is by no means meant to give her a pass. She’s said some things that have come off as racist as well as obliviously, racially insensitive. That’s on her as a person. And as an MC and participant in hip-hop culture, she’s an outrageously awful live performer.
But the Grammys don’t award live performances. They award recordings and the personnel that make those recording possible. Iggy’s “Fancy” caught on this past year and happened to land her a string of nominations. When you have a radio-friendly rap song that takes off, people remember your name and that’s how you land Grammy nominations. That’s really it.
Look at the other nominations this year. Iggy lost two Grammys to Eminem (for his 14th and 15th wins) and two to Kendrick Lamar, whom many, including winner Macklemore, felt got robbed at the awards last year. But with the possible exception of Kendrick affiliate Schoolboy Q and Christian rapper Lecrae (the first artist ever nominated in gospel, contemporary Christian and rap categories in the same year), her other competition consisted of Common, Childish Gambino, Wiz Khalifa, Drake, Kanye West and Nikki Minaj, all tenured, obscenely famous rap artists with a strong enough media presence that their Grammy nominations are practically automatic.
The rap Grammys are a popularity contest. They’ve always been that way. While this year the major label critical and commercial smash that was YG’s My Krazy Life was shockingly omitted, ultimately there’s never been a year when the Grammy nominations reflect the best or most culturally significant works within hip-hop. We saw that last year when Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ The Heist beat Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City.
Even worse was what happened in 2007, when T.I.’s masterpiece King, the only hip-hop album released in all of 2006 that went platinum, lost Album of the Year to Ludacris’ lukewarm Release Therapy.
Those two gaffs right there should show you how little hip-hop and the Grammys mean to each other. If you want further proof, even with the Iggy snub in mind, revisit the hip-hop portions of last night’s telecast.
The three-and-a-half hour program began with highlights from last year, the first two being the Macklemore wedding performance and Jay-Z and Beyonce. From there, host LL Cool J entered performing the hook from his classic “Goin’ Back to Cali.” While it's great that the hip-hop icon is hosting music’s biggest night for the fourth consecutive year, Cool J was noticeably barely onscreen this year.
Beyond LL's occasional appearances, we got two Kanye West performances that were more his Auto-Tuned singing stuff than rapping, mentions of Sugar Hill Gang’s Big Bank Hank and A$AP Yams in the "In Memorial" montage, and John Legend and Common closing the show.
Not a single hip-hop award was given on the entire broadcast.
But most of hip-hop wasn’t even at the awards themselves. Aforementioned winner Kendrick Lamar and nominee Schoolboy Q both weren’t at the ceremonies, and Drake flat-out blew the awards off to instead attend rap battle league King of the Dot’s Blackout 5 event. Iggy Azalea, who actually was in attendance herself, spent the night fighting with pizza franchise Papa John’s on Twitter.
So while you can disagree with the nominations and winners, it’s misguided to harbor vitriol towards an individual over the worthiness of their rap Grammy nominations. The Academy is the establishment. Hip-hop is the counter-culture. Most of the time, the Academy is not going to get what hip-hop is doing. It’s unfortunate. But luckily, because of that dynamic, when the wrong choice is made by the Academy, it doesn’t affect hip-hop at all.
But occasionally, thanks to the Grammys' performances, quality hip-hop gets beamed into millions of homes. Grandmaster Flash scratching on turntables next to Herbie Hancock live at The Grammys in 1984 created an entire generation of new hip-hop listeners and practitioners. Common closing the show may have done that last night as well. When hip-hop can’t be denied, it’s worth celebrating.
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