When The Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff won the first Best Rap Performance, they didn’t go because they knew ahead of time their win wouldn’t get televised. After another year, that award wouldn’t see the light of day for 22 years. However, there have been more puzzling choices in the category beyond the album award, like “Hotline Bling” winning Best Rap Song when it isn’t a rap song – I guess Drake in name alone is rap? Hey Drake, resubmit a country song as rap and see if they bite. Jokes aside, one might understand the shiftiness of presenting live; the Grammys don’t show every award because they award over 70+ categories yearly, but when it 86’d a genre – of course – there would be protests. We didn’t have Best Rap Album till’ 1996, with a few performance categories that would subsequently get replaced with Melodic Performance and Rap Song. And still, one thing many in the general audience harp at is the nominations.
Like with the most prestigious awards, we balk at the nominations for categories we hold close to heart. But for Hip-Hop, we’ve had lapses in sub-categories and the shifting choice of which award to present. I prefer Best Rap Album as it is the cream of the crop, but sometimes it’s Best Rap Song, Best Melodic Rap Performance, or Best Rap Performance. Though we aren’t the only ones subjected to it, it’s the lack of a presence in the universal Gen-Pop awards throughout the years. Over the past two decades, we’ve seen slow growth in finding general acceptance in those awards, especially with the more Alternative albums (2) – to standard hip-hop – winning the big one – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and SpeakerBoxxx/The Love Below. These days, a win is a win, but it hasn’t been honkey dory, especially for us nomination balkers who see worst mistakes than the year the Academy gave Paul Haggis’ film Crash, Best Picture. Unfortunately, they still make mistakes, and this post is about nomination mistakes, especially in 2015 and today.
One of the most egregiously what the hell moments for nominations was in 2015, Iggy Azalea’s boorish pop-rap effort on The New Classic and Wiz Khalifa’s poor attempt at creating Trap music, “We Dem Boyz” aside. If either went on to win, it would have been the weakest winner among the many, but they are safe choices. 2015 had the albums, My Name is My Name by Pusha T, Piñata by Freddie Gibbs, PTSD by Pharoahe Monch, My Krazy Life by YG, and more that could have snuck to replace them, but like the film academy, niche styles won’t see the proper praise. I say this considering how focused it is on the G-Funk/Gangsta Rap My Krazy Life by YG is or the gritty percussion and synths of Monch and Pusha T. They reflect the genre discussion in film. I’m talking about the more whimsical work from creators like Wes Anderson, who rarely get looked at due to his niche style until it becomes more generally appealing, like The Grand Budapest Hotel. Fortunately, the last few years saw some consistency of diversity, as we saw artists you wouldn’t think the academy would find appeal in, like Tyler, the Creator, who has won twice, along with honoring albums that were some of the best that weren’t pop-like.
Additionally, we’ve seen nominations for Laila’s Wisdom by Rapsody and Victory Lap by Nipsey Hustle, two albums by rappers whose commercial appeal never translated into the vast world of pop but got nominated in back-to-back years, respectively. Though oddly, Nipsey’s world did converge with that of the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fandom; however, I digress. It’s been many familiar faces, aka rappers with the highest commercial appeal, some non-debatable, others more so until recently, like that triumphant moment for Nas, winning his first Grammy after 27 years in the game. It’s been part great since 2015, but with an influx in quality from the growing number of artists, debates will continue to spark about what did and didn’t deserve a nomination.
2015 wasn’t the first time I felt flustered by the array of nominations considering the vast plains of music to get discovered outside the R&B-like Pop Rap of the 2000s. But it’s the first I’ve sensed they didn’t hear everything that was out there except for what’s on the radio. Universal Mind Control by Common, a winter 2008 release, was nominated in 2010, the same year as the overly dull and sugary R.O.O.T.S. by Flo Rida over more deserving entries like the DJ Quik and Kurupt Collab Album Blaqkout or Ludacris’ Theater of the Mind. It happened and happens currently because the Academy has a wonky, designated calendar for eligibility. Usually, their calendar year is October to October, disregarding the November and December months like film companies when they were releasing more potential critical failures, like wear found footage horror films, in January and February in the 2010s. Not saying those releases never brought forth greatness, but with an influx of covers and best-of lists, reviews can get drowned beneath it.
Rare moments like 2015, where many nominations weren’t reflective of the best work that year, and another came this year, where we saw three of the nominations bring out questions from fans. We got Jack Harlow, DJ Khaled, and one of Future’s weakest albums in his discography. And this isn’t to discredit these artists, as they have delivered fantastic surfeit work, Jack Harlow, aside. Unfortunately, the love for pop we’ve seen with Eminem and Kanye winning multiple, further making past flawed nominations make sense, especially since the late 00s. The Iggy Azaleas and DJ Khaleds – Khaled, who continuously finds himself in Best Rap Album, despite mediocre releases over the past decade – and legacy nominations that don’t always get heard through a critical lens and are nominated for the name alone – see the “Hotline Bling” nomination for Best Rap Song. It doesn’t discredit the 90% + nominations that merit the nomination. This year just left me floored when there are better albums viable for the award, like The Forever Story by JID and Traumazine by Megan thee Stallion – this includes non-submitted work like Gods Don’t Make Mistake by Conway the Machine and Cheat Codes by Danger Mouse and Black Thought.
I can understand the Future and DJ Khaled nominations, but with Jack Harlow, it felt like 2015, where there was little merit within the album to even come up with an argument for its inclusion. It’s what you’d expect from some white rapper who wants to be Drake but without much swagger. It was an overall boring album riding the highs of a Drake feature and a dope Fergie sample. Similarly, God Did by DJ Khaled is riding the coattails of a few decent songs, this remarkable Jay-Z verse on the title track, and memes. Future; well, it’s sad this is his first Best Rap Album nomination, considering how many great projects he’s released over the past decade. I didn’t hate I Never Liked You, but it isn’t Dirty Sprite 2 or Evol. It just leaves me flustered that they made it look like such a give-me for either of the other nominees, which I wouldn’t be mad if either won – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers and It’s Almost Dry.
2022 will be like 2015 all over again, with fantastic performances and a ceremonious win, where the big shock would come if Future upset the two clear front runners. Though one could expect Kendrick Lamar to win, he did lose to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, so anything is on the table. Unfortunately, Best Rap Album isn’t always “locked,” and here you could see Jack Harlow sneaking his way in for a win. His tacky apropos style never left anything to the imagination, almost feeling standard in approach – I Never Liked You isn’t tacky but is tried and, sometimes, forgettable. I’m here thinking about past years while trying to come to grips with it. And DJ Khaled, mediocre as it is, is forgettable outside that Jay-Z verse, so it leaves me curious about how it got nominated. It doesn’t define Hip-Hop/Rap, and frankly, I tune more into the yearly BET cyphers at their Hip-Hop awards, which is a much better and understanding award show about the world of Hip-Hop. Hope Kendrick Lamar wins, and cheers to the nominees…well, most of them.
Here are some past wins and speeches I’ve loved: