Sunday, January 26th, was the night of the much-anticipated Grammy Awards Ceremony. Each year, individuals and record labels from across the U.S. submit nominations to the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in order to honor “artistic achievement, technical proficiency and overall excellence in the recording industry, without regard to album sales or chart position.”
This year, the Grammys saw a controversial winner for Best Rap Album. After sifting through submissions, the Academy boiled public input and their own judgement down to four nominees: Drake’s Nothing was the Same, Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail, Kanye West’s Yeezus, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ The Heist, and a likely frontrunner, Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. After deliberation, the Academy decided to award Best Rap Album to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ The Heist, sparking widespread public outcry. Although The Heist has its merits as a respectable rap release, to many viewers the Academy’s decision seemed to be wide of the mark. In response to the uproar – and perhaps some level of personal guilt – Macklemore Instagrammed a picture of a text apparently sent to Kendrick Lamar’s phone that read: “You got robbed, I wanted you to win. You should have. It’s weird, I robbed you.” Macklemore’s response to the Academy’s decision, sincere or not, removed his culpability from the final verdict. Yet despite this respectful gesture, viewers continued to protest The Heist’s title of Best Rap Album of 2013.
Did Kendrick Lamar deserve the title over Macklemore? Probably. Good Kid, M.A.A.D City was filled with new sounds and styles while still maintaining the classic west coast hip-hop feel. Perhaps even more impressively, Kendrick Lamar delivered a very socially conscious message about the struggles of growing up in Compton, California, by outlining a day in the life of the forgotten youth. While Macklemore did have several impressive songs on The Heist’s track list, including the international sensation “Thrift Shop,” it failed to demonstrate any cohesiveness throughout the listen. With all the commotion surrounding the Academy’s decision, we have forgotten the real question we should be asking ourselves: why should we care?
The Grammys have recognized the category of Best Rap Album since 1996, when Naughty by Nature won the title for their work in Poverty’s Paradise. Rap’s recognition as a genre was long overdue, as it has existed since as early as the late 1970s. This late appreciation, coupled with the Academy’s inability to capture the taste and judgement of the average rap listener, is indicative of the lack of relevance the Grammys have in hip-hop. Why should Kendrick Lamar and the like seek recognition from the Academy? Rap artists have historically sought accolades through institutions such as XXL and The Source Magazine. The Source’s Five-Mic recognition system has honored and ranked the best rap albums of the time since 1988. While these publications have continued to prize hip-hop releases based on the rapper’s lyrical ability, flow, and production, the Grammy’s seem to brush over the nominees and reward the album with the highest amount of radio success.
The Grammys is just one example of how the mainstream media has yet to accept and understand hip-hop as a genre. Perhaps this transition will occur as rap matures; however, it is clear that up until now the judgement of the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences holds little water amongst rap listeners.