Last night a travesty occurred at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards. A night that is dubbed, “the biggest night in music,” left many viewers perplexed, myself included. How did Kendrick Lamar, who released one of the best albums of 2013 with his Compton coming of age saga, good kid, m.A.A.d city get completely shut out at the Grammy’s? Kendrick Lamar was nominated for seven Grammy’s last night…seven!!! And he walked away with none. But what made matters worse was Kendrick Lamar lost all three of the rap categories to…Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Yup! Macklemore and Ryan Lewis won Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song for “Thrift Shop,” and won Best Rap Album for The Heist. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis both happen to be white. Kendrick Lamar is black. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis dominated mainstream radio all year long. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis were definitely the safe choice in all three of these categories. But it was also Macklemore and Ryan Lewis who according to numerous press outlets were being questioned as to whether or not they should even be considered appearing in rap categories due to the tremendous pop success of their hit record, The Heist. Supposedly the Grammy rap committee did not want Macklemore and Ryan Lewis to be nominated in any of their categories citing their overwhelming success on mainstream radio to be the reason. Well, they ended up overturning that, and not only were Macklemore and Ryan Lewis included in all three categories, but they won all three!
Now first off, I like Macklemore, so I don’t want this article to come off as a hate on Macklemore, because I think the homie can rap pretty well and you have to give props where props is due. The Heist was a very good album from two independent artists that dominated pop radio in 2013. But it is not the Best Rap Album of the year and they are not the best rap artists of the year. Not even close. They may have been the most commercial rap act of this past year, but record sales don’t make you the best, by any means, because if that is the case, white rappers, specifically Eminem and Macklemore, would be the two best rappers in the world. Why? Because they are the ones who sell the most records. Clearly, the Grammy’s recognized the fact that The Heist had three massive singles from it, “Thrift Shop,” “Can’t Hold Us,” and “Same Love” and maybe decided that those three hits combined were too big to overlook. Who knows? Did good kid, m.A.A.d city not have enough hit songs? Did Yeezus by Kanye West, or Nothing Was the Same by Drake, two other competitors in the Best Rap Album category that were also very strong records in hip hop this past year, not have enough big singles? Or was it because all of those artists, Kanye West, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar happen to be black. I don’t want to have to pull race into this matter, but it seems rather odd, that in the rap categories, and again I am saying rap categories, no one of color won. I guess that isn’t entirely true. Jay Z won with Justin Timberlake for “Holy Grail” for Best Rap/Sung Duo Performance, but Justin is white too. Doesn’t that seem a little odd to you? Is it because the Academy is made up of large majority of older white people? It just doesn’t seem like that category is fairly judged.
The irony of this situation is that Macklemore doesn”t seem to be too happy about all of his wins last night. Why? Because he knows now that he will be the target of some probably unfair criticism and he also knows that something shady went on with the Grammy voting. According to the website Hypetrak, Macklemore went to social media, using Instagram, showing a text he sent to Kendrick. (Kendrick and Macklemore are friends) The text said, “You got robbed. I wanted you to win. You should have. It’s weird and sucks that I robbed you,” wrote the Seattle rapper. “I was gonna say that during the speech. Then the music started playing during my speech and I froze. Anyway, you know what it is. Congrats on this year and your music. Appreciate you as an artist and as a friend. Much love.” That photo of the text was also sent with this statement from Macklemore. “My text to Kendrick after the show. He deserved best rap album… I’m honored and completely blown away to win anything much less 4 Grammys. But in that category, he should have won IMO. And that’s taking nothing away from The Heist. Just giving GKMC (Good Kid, Maad City) it’s proper respect.. With that being said, thank you to the fans. You’re the reason we were on that stage tonight. And to play Same Love on that platform was a career highlight. The greatest honor of all. That’s what this is about. Progress and art. Thank you. #grammys.”
That was a pretty standout thing to do, and I have no doubt it was sent with sincerity. It’s gotta be hard to win an award that you know you probably didn’t deserve, especially when that person is a friend. In the weeks leading up to the Grammy’s Macklemore had went on record to say that he felt that Kendrick had the Rap Album of the year. “We obviously had massive success on commercial radio, and I think that, in ways, The Heist was a bigger album, but Kendrick has a better rap album.” And I don’t think that there would be an issue at all today if Kendrick Lamar would have won just one Grammy last night, Best Rap Album, but he didn’t win any. And he lost all of the rap categories to his white counterparts, and that is what is puzzling on this day after.
The Grammy Awards first gave out the Best Rap Album Grammy in 1996. They have been running this category now for 18 years. Eminem has won this award five times. He won this award for every solo album that he has ever dropped, with the exception of Encore (which was horrible btw) that lost to Kanye West’s Graduation. I would say most of his wins were justified, although Relapse was a pretty bad album, and he won for that too. Throughout those wins, Eminem beat out albums by Nas, Jay Z, Dr. Dre, The Roots, Busta Rhymes, Ludacris, Common, Drake, and Mos Def, just to name a few. Did the Academy always get it right? Probably not, but Eminem appeals to all audiences, and by all I mean white audiences, just like Macklemore does. That is why they were victorious. Eminems albums always sell, and they sell big. Just look at MMLP2 which came out this year. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis beat out strong albums by Kanye, Drake, and Jay Z this year in the Best Rap Album category. That just doesn’t add up to me. Macklemore considers himself a rapper but his songs dominated the pop charts this year and they didn’t catch on with urban radio until late. “Thrift Shop,” the duo’s biggest single never topped the Bilboard R&B/Hip Hop airplay chart, yet it topped the Bilboard Top 100 Pop Chart. I don’t think that the amount of spins a song gets or as many records that an album sells should determine what the best album of the year is. Macklemore is a hip hop artist and deserved to be nominated in the category. But he just didn’t deserve to win. Albums that skew more pop should fall into the pop categories. The Heist featured rappers and some pretty good rapping, but as a whole it just wasn’t the best rap album. An album with radio hits filled with catchy lyrics and funny videos doesn’t always equal the most quality and impressive music.
Image also is something that must come into play when deciding who wins in these rap categories. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Macklemore discussed his place in hip hop when it comes to mainstream Americans. “I’m a white guy. Parents feel safe. They let their six year olds listen to my music.” Kendrick is from Compton, and although soft spoken in public and a seemingly nice guy, did come from the inner city, so he is perceived to be more “hood.” His image isn’t as cookie cutter as the two white boys from Seattle. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, whose biggest hit is an anti-materialistc radio jam, although energetic and talented, present an image that no one needs to be afraid of. So is that the reason why they swept the rap categories last night? Does that make them real hip hop? Because they are harmless and safe? Kanye West, whose Yeezus album was considered the Best Album of the Year by many major music publications (Spin, Entertainment Weekly, Stereogum, Complex, Time, and The Guardian, and was voted number 2 by Rolling Stone, New York Magazine, and the Washington Post) didn’t get any love in any rap categories either. Was that because there is so much backlash against Kanye for his antics and his ego? Is that because he is a tabloid whore who rubs people the wrong way with his social commentary? Should that take away from the fact that he made one of the most impressive albums of the year, one which is definitely more creative and artistic than The Heist because he is outspoken? Kanye has won Grammy’s before so I’m not going to say the Academy has anything against him, but clearly Yeezus is a strong collection of work that got discarded this year as well. Maybe his brash image has something to do with it. I think the Grammy’s and their rap committee need to take a strong look at how they determine their criteria for picking winners, because when they screw up badly, like they did this year, it makes you question the validity of the whole system. If you want to recognize Macklemore and Ryan Lewis on their tremendous year, that’s cool. You did so with the Best New Artist award, and I can even see “Thift Shop” winning one of it’s other categories, possibly Best Rap Performance, because it was a huge record. But to say that song was better than “Fucking Problems” by Asap Rocky, Kendrick, Drake, and 2 Chainz, or “Holy Grail” by Hova and JT, or “Started from the Bottom” by Drake, and “New Slaves” by Kanye is just crazy to me. All four of those songs were better “rap” songs than the chorus heavy, catchy, safe, and pop “Thirft Shop.” Sometimes it’s not about playing it safe, it’s about playing fair. White is not always right, especially in a typically “black” category.
The Grammy’s have come a long way in terms of keeping up with modern times and modern music. But they still have not got this rap category right and it’s something that needs to be addressed quick because the outrage from within the rap community is only going to get louder as they continue to make these grand mistakes. The safe play for the Grammy’s last night would have been to spread the awards around to the most nominated artists. Jay Z, Daft Punk, Lorde, Kendrick, and Macklemore all had huge years in music, and all could have walked home with something. But to not give Kendrick Lamar, a seven time nominee, nothing, feels like a huge injustice to me. It feels like Kendrick was the guy that was good enough to be invited to the party but really had no place being there. And that’s sad. This is supposed to be hip hop right?