With some time having gone by allowing me a chance to absorb the 2015 Grammys, I’ve come to the conclusion that Hip Hop was the night’s biggest loser. We’ll start with a few highlights as it wasn’t all bad for Hip Hop. LL Cool J did a good job emceeing the event. He’s done it before and has found his groove hosting, displaying a balance of energy and grace throughout the night that validates the Grammy organizers’ decision to bring him back. Common and John Legend closing out the show with a masterful performance of “Glory” was also a high point, as was Mary J. Blige’s duet with Sam Smith of Smith’s mega smash “Stay With Me”.
Sure it’s not a Rap or R&B song but anytime Mary J. Blige does anything, she inherently represents Hip Hop, as of course she’s been the undisputed Queen of Hip Hop Soul since the early 90s. Simply put, she knocked it out the park, as per usual. Her and Sam Smith going back and forth and vocally playing off each other was my favorite moment of the night. Fantastic performance. Additionally, Kanye West, who like Mary also inherently reps Hip Hop even when he’s stepping outside of the genre, delivered two solid performances, a solo with ‘Only One‘ and flanked by Rihanna and Paul McCartney on ‘FourFiveSeconds’. I wish that was all I had to say about Kanye in this write-up, but we’ll revisit his night in a bit. Lastly, Kendrick Lamar won a couple of Grammys. I’m happy for K. Dot and am glad he’s getting the crossover recognition and respect he deserves as the True School’s most prominent young torch-bearer (with apologies to J. Cole). But the positives end there as even Kendrick’s two victories don’t feel quite right, despite my joy that he’s now a multiple-time Grammy winner.
It’s hard to talk about Kendrick winning these two Grammys without shaking the feeling that they were ‘make-up’ awards for last year’s eye-popping (but not really, because it’s the Grammys) snubs. For those living under a rock, K. Dot was up for multiple awards, but got shut out altogether, leaving the 2014 Grammys with no hardware. His debut album, ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’, an unquestioned classic among not only Hip Hop heads but industry critics as well, lost the Best Rap Album category to Macklemore’s ‘The Heist’. This snub in particular irked a lot of people, most notably Hip Hop Nation, and even Macklemore himself apologized to Kendrick for what even he felt was an unfair victory.
So one year later K. Dot wins Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance for “i”, a fantastic, empowering track track I love. But should he have won twice? For Best Rap Performance, he was up against Childish Gambino’s “305”, Drake’s “0 to 100/ The Catch Up, Eminem’s “Rap God”, and Lecrae’s “All I Need Is You”. I don’t mind that he won this one as his performance on “i” is indeed transcendent. Eminem’s on ‘Rap God’ is as well however. In fact, on ‘Rap God’ Eminem set the Guinness World Record for most words in a song. That’s a pretty impressive performance in my book. For Best Rap Song he beat out Nicki Minaj’ “Anaconda”, Kanye West & Charlie Wilson’s “Bound 2”, Wiz Khalifa’s “We Dem Boyz”, and Drake’s “0 To 100/ The Catch Up”. I like “i” a lot, but I would argue “Anaconda” and “0 To 100” were bigger songs, if not necessarily better. My point in saying that is that given the Grammys propensity to award “hotter” or “more popular” records (over “better” or “more quality” records), it’s almost surprising “i” won this award. I personally expected “0 To 100” to take his category. Again, it feels like the Grammy voters offering Kendrick a mea culpa for last year’s snubs. It’s cool that he won, but in a way it feels cheapened. The fact remains that ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ never won a Grammy, so Kendrick’s victories just one year later for “i” just don’t carry the same punch that they should. Even one of the few Hip Hop positives from the 2015 Grammys just doesn’t feel right.
It’s downhill from there for Hip Hop at this year’s Grammys. One of the the more glaring losses Hip Hop took was that there were no actual Rap performances, unless you count LL’s quick rendition of ‘Going Back To Cali’ during the opening moments of the show. As far as Hip Hop acts go, we’ve spoken about Kanye, but what about Pharrell with that “Happy” performance? That was certainly… confusing. Though it picked up at the end, the version of the track Pharrell performed began with dark undertones; heavy strings, an edgy, chant-like rendition of the hook that starkly contrasts the song’s joyful vibes, and at one point a quick “hands-up, don’t shoot” demonstration that I wanted to applaud but just felt out of place in what amounted to a pseudo-dark rendition of “Happy”. It was like a three-fold discomfort, as the “hands-up, don’t shoot” gesture felt eerie against the dark undertones of the performance, flat-out wrong against the light-hearted nature inherent in the song’s title and carried out towards the end of the performance, and weird within the context of the set’s dark/happy juxtaposition. All in all it just amounted to a big fail and though this is isn’t a pure Rap song per se, Pharrell as a Hip Hop artist didn’t put his best foot forward. Maybe I missed the point, I’m actually sort of hoping I did… but overall I thought it was pretty bad. Another misfire for Hip Hop at the 2015 Grammys.
Back to Kanye, who managed to sully two solid performances with his “I’mma let Beck finish” non-interruption of the Album of the Year award. Sure, it was great that he didn’t actually grab the mic and announce to the world that Beyonce should’ve won, as he did when he rushed the stage during Taylor Swift’s victory at 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. As a stand-alone act, it was pretty funny, as evidenced by the crowd’s laughter. It’s only with his declaration that Beck shouldn’t have beaten Beyonce and that the Grammys are disrespecting inspiration during his post Grammy interview that the moment gets ruined. ‘Ye asserts during the interview that though he didn’t actually crash the acceptance speech, his running up to the stage was a symbolic display of his disagreeing with Beck’s victory and in turn, Beyonce’s defeat. Now let me be clear here. I’m not mad at Kanye for stepping up for Beyonce’s self-titled masterpiece. I thought it was going to win myself. I appreciate his intention’s. I just think his actions backfired. More people are upset that he went off on the Grammys and rushed the stage (even though he stopped short of grabbing the mic…) than are defending the merits of Beyonce’s record. In 2009, he pissed a lot of people off but a good chunk of those people also conceded that ‘Ye was right, Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” was one of the best videos of all-time. That’s not happening this time around. People are just mad at ‘Ye. And some, unfairly… mad at Hip Hop. Ugh.
And the biggest L Hip Hop took at the Grammys? NONE OF THE HIP HOP AWARDS WERE TELEVISED! They were all announced before the show. And you know what? Nobody seemed to care. In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t even care myself. The most compelling Hip Hop stories leading into this year’s Grammys were all centered around whether Australian born Iggy Azalea, amidst constant heat for her appropriation of Hip Hop culture, would win any of the Hip Hop categories. Some predicted Hip Hop would symbolically riot (i.e. go nuts on social media) if Iggy’s ‘The New Classic‘ took home the Best Rap Album. I didn’t want to see that happen. I’m not going to outright hate on the ‘The New Classic‘ (I gave it a 3 out of 5 Limes in my review) or Iggy. I enjoy her music for what it is; a fun, club-friendly, EDM/Hip Pop hybrid with a strong serving of (mis)appropriated ratchetness, but she didn’t have the Best Rap Album this year. I was pulling for Childish Gambino’s ‘Because The Internet’.
Neither won. Eminem did. And the Twitterverse wasn’t all the way thrilled. Eminem fans (and there are many) were, but many others expressed displeasure, albeit not with anywhere near the same level of anger and disappointment as had Iggy won. In fact, with all the anticipation of Hip Hop’s potential backlash surrounding even one Iggy victory, that she got shut out proved anti-climactic. However, Hip Hop purists found it difficult to revel in Iggy’s loss because it was Eminem, the other white emcee nominated for Best Rap Album, that beat her. It felt like winning a used Hyundai. Sure you won a car, but it’s a used Hyundai. Yeah, it’s great the white girl grossly misappropriating Hip Hop didn’t win, but the white guy did… Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that Eminem doesn’t get love from Hip Hop Nation, he absolutely does and deserves it, as do the Beastie Boys, MC Serch, and Yelawolf, among other white emcees. He’s earned his Hip Hop stripes and he’s generally been extremely humble about his accolades and respectful of his place in Hip Hop culture. But it’s undeniable that Eminem, more than any other before him or since, has benefited from white privilege at the Grammys. Every single one of his albums has been Grammy nominated, and all but ‘Encore’ have scored victories. I’m the last person to hate on Eminem, but I refuse to believe that every single one of his records should’ve won (or garnered nominations). He now has 6 Best Rap Albums. I’ll give him 3 tops (‘The Slim Shady LP’, ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ and maybe ‘Relapse’) and he’s definitely deserving of many of his Grammys for his hit singles, but he always wins. Literally. It’s getting old.
So as unfair as it is to Eminem that this particular victory has a big white Australian cloud looming over it, much like Kendrick’s victories for “i”, the win doesn’t feel right. Not to me or any True School Hip Hop type. I didn’t even mind that it wasn’t televised. Given that it took artists like Salt & Pepa, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, and Public Enemy to unite and spearhead the 1989 Grammy Boycott of Hip Hop artists to convince the Academy to televise the presentation of Hip Hop awards in the first place, the fact that nobody seems to care that they weren’t televised in 2015 is emblematic at how crappy a night it was. Sam Smith may have had the best night of his life, but for Hip Hop Nation, the results weren’t so good. Hip Hop was indeed the biggest loser at the 2015 Grammys. Hopefully things’ll look up next year, they sure can’t get any worse.