Because the Internet – A Look At the Best Rap Album Nominations For The 65th Grammy Awards

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:

DJ Khaled – God Did: Review

Mid-way through the 2010s, DJ Khaled saw a significant pivot in quality, where an onslaught of mediocre singles and albums rolled out, leaving us with little to return. He wants to be like other heavyweights in the game, like DJ Drama, DJ Kay Slay, and DJ Don Cannon–to name a few–but he hasn’t found his voice after all these years. Instead of being respectable 100% of the time, Khaled is choosing to be more of a meme, rather, an apparition that haunts you whenever you question his presence, like this year’s Academy Awards. However, he’s still capable of orchestrating and producing quality tracks where the delivery is enough to reflect competency; though it wasn’t pertinent on his last album, his follow-up, God Did, mirrors the quality of Major Key, though that isn’t high praise. God Did bears intriguing features and directions for Khaled, which don’t always work, but it’s fresh to hear a concise approach as opposed to Khaled Khaled.

Given the context of how DJ Khaled constructs his albums–creating distinct hitmakers, at times wavering toward a concept–there is merely so much you can take away outside of hip-hop or reggae/dancehall club hits. You add them to rotation, and like the previously mentioned DJs, that DJ KHALED yell at the beginning is a signifier of bangers. But as he’s grown, he’s learned to over-sizzle his presence and bore us with basic motivational drab that you want to skip to the first featured artist’s vocals. It happens immediately after a quick and forgettable Drake intro with the title track and a bit more frequently than expected down the line. It delivers one of Khaled’s better tracks in some time, with a lot of credit going to detail to make an 8-minute epic feel epic. With Rick Ross and Lil Wayne offering crisp 16s before Jay-Z comes and raps for 4 minutes straight. Khaled sets up a kind of thematic motif that represents humbleness and grace as you rack up success, but it’s sonically displaced as Khaled fizzles the gospel approach to hip-hop that many enjoyed from Ye.

After, it’s one stumble before it begins to sway between various ideas that never go anywhere, like that spiritual-esque motif that shines on their approach when flexing–which becomes forgotten, at times hypocritically expressing what is considered sinful, like pride–or ineffective deliveries. With “It Ain’t Safe,” featuring Nardo Wick & Kodak Black–though the latter speaks for itself–Nardo Wick doesn’t mince words–in his first verse, he spits: “​​She see the way I pull a bitch/You see the way these diamonds hit/Nigga try to touch my chain, you gon’ see the way this 40 kick.” There are hints of pride and violent threats, but I digress as the song is effective on its own, but when you think about the direction Khaled is seemingly aiming for, it misses. It does so on the remix to “Use This Gospel,” a Ye track from Jesus Is King, remixed/produced by Dr. Dre, Timbaland, Federico Vindver & Angel López, and featuring Eminem. If you ever had doubts about Eminem on a gospel track with no cursing, expect the best he can without synergy since Eminem’s style doesn’t adequately parallel a style sketched by the original.

Other stagnant aspects deter from what one expects after listening to the first three tracks. Though that isn’t to say the–immediate–subsequent tracks falter. “Big Time” and “Keep Going” shine by encapsulating the featured artists’ strengths and allowing them to direct their perspective identity with the beat. It’s a consistent positive within Khaled’s talents; he can build something great in his mind, despite the execution never landing, like on “Let’s Pray” or “Beautiful,” where individual artist delivery can’t buoy the song from being more rudimentary comparatively. It doesn’t benefit from relegating SZA to a chorus role when Future is retreading verses from his last album, albeit a breezy flow. Likewise, other missteps become more apparent, like some sample use like on “Staying Alive.” It’s an egregiously dull and derivative use of a Bee Gee’s song–the base production is simple, outright basic, and unappealing. Adding the interpolations of the chorus with some overly monotonous Drake vocals makes it one of the more annoying stop-gaps that can halt any listen. It’s an absent idea that sees him wanting to find a trend between disco nostalgia and hip-hop but misses the mark. 

Lacking subtlety, its use of samples gets used to boast the effectiveness of Khaled’s sonic direction, offering a rich layer that’s either emotional or outright fun, like on “Party” with Offset & Takeoff. “Party” samples the Eddie Murphy hit, “Party All The Time,” and as I heard the filtered synth sample and the slightly distant reverb in the chorus from the song made me laugh at first. But as I kept returning, it dawned on me how effective its use is as they make it their own without an abundance of Khaled. Similarly, “Way Past Luck” beautifully incorporates samples of the production from “All This” by Barbara Jean English. Confident pivots leave tracks independent from the mold, capable of holding weight amongst as it stands on a corner delivering concrete fluidity. It’s especially the case with the three songs that immediately follow “Way Past Luck,” considering his inclusion of Juice Wrld was both enjoyable and respectable, as it builds hype toward a thrilling Jadakiss interlude. It may be stagnant, but DJ Khaled still somewhat delivers on the orchestration side.

God Did is a better album than DJ Khaled’s last outing, but the standards he has set for himself get properly reflected here, even if he could go higher. Though, like most Khaled albums, there are bangers to return to, despite wrought inconsistencies. I had a somewhat fascinating and fun time going through the album, which I expect from most, even if it doesn’t tread toward the quality of projects like Suffering From Success.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10.

Khaled Khaled Is A Simple Chore You Wouldn’t Want To Circle Back To: Review

Record executive, producer, meme, and posse cut legend; DJ Khaled is back with another album that perfectly emboldens the idea that nepotism may sometimes lead down a path with us questioning why. His newest album, Khaled Khaled, is a continuation in a down spiral full of laziness and overly poor engineering. DJ Khaled has always been one to deliver many solid track on the albums he’s dropped, but the closer we got to his next step in life the easier it was to pinpoint the laziness in almost every aspect of the album; however that isn’t to discredit some of the solid cuts within each album prior. However, this new album, from DJ Khaled, has barely anything of note to highlight; from the poor engineering to the influx of questionable choices, lazy deliveries, and more, there is a lot that makes it one of the worst projects of the year and his worst to project to date.

Khaled Khaled has production that carries a lot of keen details that makes them unique, but with some features taking the easy way out, it makes some of the tracks almost unplayable upon replay. “Big Paper” with Cardi B, has some key moments where it keeps a solid rhythm and momentum, but the chorus is lazily written and mirrors some of the weak and stagnant – like delivery of the choruses of older NY Hip-Hop, it doesn’t have the nuance. It’s this ever-growing problem with Khaled, as well. He knows how to orchestrate; and how to deliver, but going through the album feels more like a haphazard chore you don’t really want to do, especially as a fan. Like Cardi B, the amount of current A-List/B-List artists is there in abundance, and yet, there is no clear direction, while lacking the feel of an overall event.

It’s sad because we know how easy it is for DJ Khaled to grab the hottest rappers and singers and make anthems on top of anthems from various sonic angles, like the powerhouse and melodic “No New Friend,” but that isn’t the case here. When Khaled Khaled was announced earlier this week, the mind wandered ever so slightly in different directions, especially because the first track almost unequivocally represents the kind of quality we’d be receiving. And it’s unfortunate because prior to there was this constant thought lingering about the quality of the music when the tracklist was fully revealed. A lot of the features made it look like it could be a bunch of bonafide hits and sadly, only a few hit that stride. These tracks, like “Every Chance I Get,” and “Popstar,” hit that landing and edge out the very poor mixing, making that a clear afterthought.

With themes of grandeur and love, amongst other basicness, there are some questionable moments that leave you rolling your eyes. For example, the track “Body In Motion” has Lil Baby and Roddy Rich rapping about their respective partners. There are lines about power dynamics in the relationship in both, but as Roddy Rich points out in his verse, he bought his girl plastic implants, as well creating an analogy about getting a deep-throat blow job is like an ostrich in a lobster… which, um, okay. However, Lil Baby is less dirty and weird as he reflects on the importance of appearance, but even then, he tonally brings a shallow appeal. So when it all mixes and closes on an inspirational speech by Khaled, that negates half the things they said… then it really just feels hypocritically cretinous. To add fuel to that fire, we are given the typical questionable Rick Ross line, “straight drop dead, Len Bias,” which just plays on a tragedy oh so poorly.

However, there are some other highlights, but what starts great then slowly turns into slight mediocrity from the featured artist that further shows the poor mixing job. There is “Sorry Not Sorry,” with Nas, Jay-Z, and underrated singer James Faultenroy. The track has a stellar instrumental, a fluid and quality verse by Nas, great vocal performance from Faultenroy, and then Jay-Z hits you with a verse about the discrepancies and hate he gets for being rich, or easily put – most Jay-Z verses since 2010.  

Another highlight comes from the two appearances of the MVP, H.E.R, who delivers these two eccentric and unique vocal performances, less akin to what we’ve gotten on the whole from her music. In a switch from R&B complexities, she goes on to hype up the crowd with both “We Going Crazy” and “I Can Have It All.” Unfortunately the latter has a weak and poor verse from Meek Mill and the former gives us 30 seconds of 2015 Migos and it works amazingly here to boost the overall hype, the problem is, for lack of a better term, under usage of Migos.

Khaled Khaled is a continuous descension into more mediocrity for the producer who once turned out hit after hit after hit. There is very little merit to take out of this and honestly feels too much of a chore to get to, especially if you care for the technical aspects of the music. DJ Khaled brings a lot of vibrant instrumentals, but the rough patches are just so hard to get through. 

Rating: 2.5 out of 10.