This story is over 5 years old.


The Grammys Aren’t Racist, They Just Don't Know Much About Hip-Hop

Look at the history, it's embarrassing.
Ryan Bassil
London, GB

With the exception of Frank Ocean at the 2013 Brit Awards, the people in charge of award shows are nearly always one hundred percent wrong about who they choose to win, and the people critiquing them are nearly always one hundred percent right.

This has long been the status quo and it’s why, when Macklemore won the Grammy Awards for best Rap Song, Rap Album and Rap Performance over the likes of Drake, Kanye, A$AP and Kendrick, everyone was as surprised as an indifferent teaspoon.


Of course, it shouldn’t be this way. It should be an anomaly, a blip-year that Macklemore won, and we should be beyond surprised and running to the Staples Center with pitchforks in retaliation for such a fuck-up. Kendrick Lamar is the people’s champion, good kid, m.A.A.d city is this generation’s Illmatic, and damn right K Dot should have won that award straight up one hundred percent I don’t care go away leave me alone I AM RIGHT HE IS THE BEST.

*deep breath*

But it wasn’t a blip, it wasn’t an anomaly, and no matter how many famous people, real people, and pretend internet parody accounts say that Kendrick should have won, Macklemore will still be waking up this morning as a Grammy Award winner. And every morning after that forever and ever.

Because Macklemore is a white, politically correct artist who your Mum likes and Kendrick is a black youth from Compton, it would be easy to call up 2013’s star-player – the race-card – and wave it in the air screaming inequality and an attempted white-washing of hip-hop by fat men in suits. But Macklemore didn’t win because he’s white and he didn’t win because the lizards behind the Grammy’s want to paint hip-hop as uncivil. Macklemore won because, although some people behind the Grammy’s run hip-hop labels and work with artists, the vast majority know fuck all about hip-hop and “Thrift Shop” sold like, 6 million copies, so obviously it’s the biggest thing to happen to hip-hop in the last year in their minds.


The point is that the majority of people on the Grammy voting panel have always been a little less knowledgable about hip-hop. Back in 1989, when the genre was incarnated by the Grammy overlords, it had one single award category – Best Rap Performance. Apparently, despite Straight Outta Compton, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back, and The Great Adventures of Slick Rick all having been released, rap was seen by the Grammy’s as a “singles genre” and not the groundbreaking album release vehicle it was becoming. The award for Best Rap Performance was then won by Will Smith and Jazzy Jeff with their hit radio-crossover “Parent’s Just Don’t Understand” soooooo, go figure.

Rap albums were finally integrated into the full award ceremony in 1996, but that didn’t stop the committee from making all sorts of dumb-founded decisions.

The Black Eyed Peas “Let’s Get It Started” won Best Rap Performance in 2005, beating “Ch-Check It Out”, “Drop It Like It’s Hot”, and “Lean Back”. In the year that Ready to Die, Illmatic and Outkast’s debut record were released, Tony Bennett, an old, boring dude who would totally NOT influence an entire generation, won Album of The Year. When you consider that the Grammy Award winners are usually those who sell the most records, then both of the above make sense. The Black Eyed Peas killed the charts and at the time, Outkast were relatively underground and no doubt Illmatic and Ready to Die wouldn’t have been listened to by anyone outside of hip-hop fandom, which is why they weren’t nominated.


Most people argue that the Grammys are just a reflection of radio play and sales, and that those albums that performed best over the year inevitably get the most votes from the industry. That makes sense within the rap categories, the past few winners of Rap Album of the Year - Take Care, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Tha Carter III - were all deserving alongside best-selling. But the Grammy team don’t play by their own rules when it comes to the general awards. In 2001, despite 1.7 milli first week sales, The Marshall Mathers LP lost Album of the Year to Steely Dan. Similarly, Tha Carter III lost out to a duet record from bluegrass singer Allisson Krauss and Robert Plant. Seems like it’s a sales award for hip-hop, but about personal taste when it comes to the prestigious awards the panel actually care about. The result is that life-changing and iconic pieces of art miss out on awards to some dipshit like Mumford and Sons.

The only time that a rap album has won Album of the Year was in 2004, with Speakerboxx / The Love Below, a record that has been CERTIFIED DIAMOND and went ELEVEN TIMES PLATINUM. It’s great that Outkast won, I’m real happy for them, and I’m not going to make that joke BUT. Lots of other great, worthy, life-changing rap records could, and should have won Album of the Year after them.

As the Macklemore debacle proves, the approach of whoever sells the most wins the most, no longer makes sense. The Grammy’s have never, ever, ever understood hip-hop in the same way that I have never, ever, ever understood how microwaves work differently when put on the defrost setting. To them, Rap is a side-category, not yet worthy of competing against the musical preferences of the majority on the voting committee.


So, what’s the solution?

The Grammy’s are voted for by members of the National Academy of Recording Arts or Sciences so if you really wanted, you could sign-up, read the small-print, tick the boxes, and vote for who you think should win. Except, it’s not really that much of an open-and-easy process so basically, there is no solution. Sorry. Instead, the people in charge are still in charge. Rap music sells millions in America and at the end of the day, it’s an embarrassment when public opinion is more forward thinking than those handing out the awards.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @RyanBassil

Read more like this:

What we Learnt From the Grammys 2014