Between nominees Kendrick Lamar and Macklemore, there's a sizable chance the Grammy Awards are about to crown the third ever hip hop Album of the Year. So why does the timing feel more depressing than exciting?
Ok, sure. It's the Grammys. Straggling a decade or three behind the culturesphere is practically built into its DNA.
And really, this year's lineup isn't so dreadful by Grammy standards. At least voters don't have the option of stiffing Kendrick Lamar in favor of, say, a Steely Dan b-sides collection beamed directly into your dad's Volvo. Of the five contenders, only Daft Punk was active prior to 2000. That's a shallow metric, sure, but a not insignificant one given the Grammys' boomer-shaded goggles.
They do have the option of stiffing Lamar in favor of Macklemore, which'll ignite the Macklemore 'White Savior' Thinkpiece Industrial Complex all over again. But Lamar, whose good kid, m.A.A.d city has been rightly hailed as a brash and inventive throwback to hip hop's golden '90s, will remain the critical favorite. If it seems like you haven't seen it on any year-end lists lately, bear in mind the Grammys' often confusing frame of eligibility: the award considers music released between Oct. 1, 2012 and Sept. 30, 2013. Good kid arrived in late 2012, hence the awkward gap in time.
But still, as for the hip hop thing, there's a glaring omission putting a dent in any celebration. You could hardly expect the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences to give nods to critical picks like Chance the Rapper's Acid Rap (technically a mixtape) or Ka's The Night's Gambit, but really? No Yeezus?
Or maybe it isn't a surprise:
Yeezus is, among other things, a huge fuck-you to the music industry and its rules. Of course the Grammys didn't recognize it for AOTY.— SimonVozick-Levinson (@simonwilliam) December 7, 2013
Kanye, being Kanye, has noticed. Of course he has. The less revolutionary but no less critically acclaimed My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was also boxed out of the prestige category, a fact the rapper highlighted in his recent interview with Steve McQueen:
I've been nominated for Best Album maybe three times. I made Dark Fantasy and Watch the Throne less than a year apart and neither of them got nominated. "Ni**as in Paris" [off Watch the Throne] wasn't nominated for Best Song either. But let's go into the fact that I have the most Grammys of any 36-year-old or 40-year-old or whatever, and I've never won a Grammy outside of the Rap or R&B categories. "Jesus Walks" lost Best Song to some other song; "Ni**as in Paris" wasn't nominated in that category. But those are the labels that people want to put on you.
Kanye's sick of being categorized, squashed into a corner. Fair. But the Grammys are nothing if not a vehicle for the sleek categorization of popular music, and the Album of the Year prize famously awards conservatism over innovation, skirting pop's bleeding edge in favor of its slushy middle ground. So while Lamar's record is a deserved pick, it's no wonder the Academy favored it over Yeezus. The former celebrates rap's glory days, a fitting choice for an award that has historically paid tribute to artists and genres by recognizing them decades late. Yeezus, by contrast, feels like a brick being pummeled from a future sort of hip hop that may well only exist in Kanye's head.
Kanye should know this by now. And if he does, he should hold up his snub as a rather prestigious award in its own right. He made the most talked-about hip hop record of the year, one that so righteously refuses to color within the lines, it's been blocked from the award that anyone would reasonably expect to snub such an album. Bravo.