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:

Future – I Never Liked You: Review

Recently, GQ dropped a profile on Future where they declared him the best rapper alive. Though the writer may have his merits, he clearly doesn’t understand or listen to hip-hop as a whole, which may have swayed the title. It isn’t to discredit Future, as he is amongst the best to ever do it; however, his lyrical and technical prowess is only as strong as the construct backing it. We’ve heard him at peak greatness with his first three albums, subsequent mixtapes, and dwindle with his last few Hip-Hop albums. It continues to be the case with his new album, I Never Liked You. There are excellent tracks, but it flops as it juggles weak features, boring content, and poor contrasts of similar styles.

Future begins I Never Liked You strong, but it becomes a misconception of how the rest of the plays out. It’s inconsistent; Future is tapping into boastful and sensitive emotions, trying to display range, but sometimes it left me yawning. It’s what separates the appeal between tracks that go hard like “I’m Dat N****” and “Love You Better.” While the former expresses that keen flex-Future, the latter tries and fails to capture the nuances of Future’s R&B moment with HNDRXX. But there are like-minded tracks that flow better within the R&B-sphere, like “Voodoo” with Kodak Black. Though Future is primarily rapping, he brings melodic flows matching the potency of the moody-piano-driven production. Kodak and Kaash Paige add remarkable harmonies to the fold in the chorus and bridge, respectively. It all intertwines into one a great heart-break banger.

Unfortunately, Kodak Black is one of three features that land and the one that doesn’t fit the mold of the album since Future’s choruses barely reach that level of singing at its core. Most of the features fall flat, which includes Drake’s first verse, who comes dialing it in with little emotion or ingenuity. It turns “Wait For U” from a heartfelt dance track to a write-off that should have been left on the cutting room floor, like the previously mentioned track “Love You Better.” But we get a handful of Future’s boastful–rightfully so–which has a soft layer of nuance as he comes with a perfected craft and a consistent delivery that gets lost through levels of inconsistencies like the oblique verses from Gunna and Young Thug on “For A Nut.” Future is composed, instead of Young Thug who raps “I just put some diamonds in her butt (Butt)/And I seen it shinin’ when she nut (Nut).” 

Kanye West’s appearance on “Keep It Burnin” is delivered with arrogance excellently; he contrasts Future’s eloquent confidence and modesty, further creating this bombastic banger that stands as one of the best tracks. It’s there with “I’m On One,” which is the second track with Drake. Like Lil Yatchy, hearing Drake on trap beats is fun, ear-popping with his braggadocio persona coming across naturally with hard-hitting bars. His verse is snarky and smooth with dominant lines like: “I don’t know why the fuck niggas tryna test me, what/I’m just all about my goals like Ovechkin, what.” Contextually and musically, it offers a great contrast in style between features, as they elevate each track with Future. Though it doesn’t say much since I Never Liked You boasts a handful of quality tracks, and they are undermined by the bad, which are poor features and boring content. 

Adjacently the content of some tracks doesn’t have enough creativity and feels half-baked, like “Massaging Me” and “Chickens.” Or they carry some redundancies like on “The Way Things Going;” it creates these oblique moments that take you away from the good on a first listen, that it could’ve used some trimming on the fat to have a more concise album, where the extra tracks are weighted properly. Though it’s more stagnant in appearance, it keeps I Never Liked You from being more than just an okay album with enough in the tank to replay. Besides Future, a lot of it is due to the consistent production from some usuals, like ATL Jacob, Wheezy, and Southside. The percussion stays on a path of vibrant consistency, giving you something fresh and new as it’s incorporated within these distinguishing overlays, like the energetic, hard-hitting “I’m Dat N****.”

There is enough to marvel and enough to throw in the trash bin, which has been the case with Future. It’s hard to mask the weak within explosive rhymes, but maybe that’s what he meant by the track “Mask Off.” I kid; this album by Future doesn’t incur the thought, as it carries the external potency expected of a Future album, without much of the gravitas.

Rating: 6 out of 10.