In 1989, the Grammys debuted the first hip-hop award category: Best Rap Performance. But the young, exciting and increasingly popular genre wouldn't get to have its moment in the spotlight as the award wasn't televised. This led to one of the most famous Grammy boycotts, with bold-faced names like DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, LL Cool J and Salt-N-Pepa abstaining from attendance. "We was like, ‘We’re not going,’ and Salt-N-Pepa was like, ‘We’re not going.’ So everybody decided ‘Let’s not go!’” Jazzy Jeff explained later. He and Will Smith would win the award. “I’m not disrespecting country [music]. But you’re gonna give them nine categories televised, and you can’t give us one?”
Fast forward to 2022 and music's big night hasn't changed all that much. Hip-hop is verifiably the biggest genre and Black creators influence all aspects of music, fashion and art but rappers were relegated to the back.
Most of the Rap categories were aired in the pre-show (which is the industry way of saying, "Sorry, you're just not famous enough to bring in ratings.") The sole hip-hop performance was veteran Nas doing a medley (We're not going to count Jack Harlow as Lil Nas X's special guest). Fun fact: Nas only won his first Grammy last year. Yes, the guy who made Illmatic only won his first award in 2021...so the irony of the performance was not lost.
Kanye West, arguably, the most exciting (and polarizing) artist of our time was reportedly banned from performing. Ye, a 22-time Grammy winner, said that he was pulled from the performances because of his online behavior ostensibly involving ex-wife, Kim Kardashian, her boyfriend, Pete Davidson and Grammys host Trevor Noah. The rapper was nominated for several big accolades: album of the year, melodic rap performance, rap album and rap song. Noah himself said that he didn't want West "cancelled". Regardless, Mr. West was not in the building— and I for one, missed his Donda-esque theatrics of pyrotechnics, gospel choirs and galoshes.
Another person not in the building was Tyler, the Creator, who won Best Rap Album. According to New York Times reporter Joe Coscarelli, the Best Rap Album was supposed to be presented during the show but got swapped for Best Rap Performance at the last minute, since that winner (Baby Keem) was present. Great look for Keem but why not air both?! Tyler is always a delight, artistically and aesthetically, at these shows.
The Grammys' age was also showing with a slew of popular young artists being M.I.A. Take a look at the Billboard charts and perhaps more importantly, the TikTok charts and there was a huge gap. Where was Polo G, 24kGoldn, Coi Leray or Kid Laroi? J. Cole threw his annual Dreamville Festival on the same day, a nice middle finger to the establishment. And why were Doja Cat and Megan the Stallion in the audience but not performing? Doja gave one of the few memorable moments in the 3.5 hour telecast (Ah! Why so long?!) when she almost missed winning her award due to a poorly-timed bathroom break.
I get it: Famous people don't want to sit in a room, unless they know they'll be rewarded.
Award shows are a roomful of industry people praising other industry people. Aren't we so amazing? Largely based on politics and who campaigns (Translation: spends) the most. Those who don't win usually get drunk in their seats. Others are thinking about what they're going to eat the second they get out of their uncomfortable heels and Spanx.
But still, artists want to win. Ego is ego. It's the same rush of dopamine you got when your teacher gave you a gold star on your homework or that diploma hanging on your wall. Even rich and famous people want hardware, a tangible representation of success; something to show you're better than
everyone your peers and that looks good on the mantle.
As long as there are artist egos, there will be awards shaped like gold gramophones to stroke them. But "music's biggest night" is still out of tune— and out of touch.
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