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:

Madlib – Sound Ancestors: Review

Through the years many producers in Hip-Hop try to make a name for themselves by adding little quibbles in their opening stamp, like DJ Mustard’s “Mustard On The Beat Hoe.” Not everyone can make a new by following new trends. But for others, the true elegance comes from those who go through harrowing quietness and establishing themselves by their work and not plays. Madlib is one of the many who let the music speak more than telling the world who you are. His new album Sound Ancestor continues to show his elegance, with help from UK DJ/Musician Four Tet, as he takes his style to the future with an array of hip-hop/electronic hybrid tracks that cement his status as one of the greats.

When Kieran Hebden, or known better by his moniker Four Tet, was dropping a lot of work on YouTube through the pandemic, one thing came out worthy of note. And that was the news that he was working on a new album with producer MadLib. Four Tet’s time during the turn-of-the-century post IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) for the electronic music genre is heavily influential. His keen live instrumentation always enveloped one of the idiosyncrasies of his music, as one of the progressive artists at the time. 

So by bringing him into the fold with Madlib’s Jazz Hip-Hop – Sampledelic style is an odd pairing, but they make it work by never steering toward accessibility before reaching an Avant-Garde direction like the latin-music flare in the track “Latino Negro.” It’s embodiment of the Latin esoteric guitars and the lush and stagnant noise from the drum patterns.

After the initial taste in the intro’s simple high string keys and synth singularities, Sound Ancestors begins to take the melodic tones of Four Tet and makes a potent atmospheric undercurrent on the bombastic percussion center of the first few tracks. This is all before it gets to the lush and subtle stars that twinkle within the electronic currents, like on “Riddim Chant.” The illustrious track is embolden by electronic touches in the keys and what sounds like low barring wind chimes. 

These unique touches resonate throughout, even if they come unabashedly subtle, like in the track “New Normal,” which feels like a post mark of an early 2000s era of Boom-Bap-Jazz Hip Hop. And “Chino,” has that grit from a begotten era of New York where the DJ scratches had rule. It’s subtlety is as remarkable as the essence of the Golden Era sound, brought to the modern ages. 

This is why Sound Ancestors’ turn in the third section is where the momentum truly delivers. As the album keeps it rising with the first few tracks, the second half solidifies Madlib’s talent (along with Four Tet). The various sounds they work with are pieces of artistic beauty, especially “Two for 2 – For Dilla,” which acts as a homage to legendary instrumentalist and producer, J Dilla. It delivers a beautifully inspired track that makes great use of its jazz undertones.

Unfortunately at times the middle of the album feels almost like the middle of the road as a collective of notes don’t always hit with the same veracity as the first and third sectors flew out more. There are lowly vocalizations that add to the style and atmosphere and they heighten it further.

Madlib and Four Tet come strong with Sound Ancestors, and it comes as one of the many who have made January 2021 a strong month for music. They bring Jazz-Hip Hop to a new future with lush-overarching electronic coats on the music. The momentum bombastic and distinguishing instrumentations has a bit of a dip, though not enough to downplay the perfect mixing and editing. And that is enough to go back for smooth depth filled listening for any melancholic day at home.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.