11 Takeaways From The 2020 Grammys
Motivators Are Rap’s Golden Standard
Looking at all the rap nominees for this year’s ceremony, it’s evident that the genre’s committee wanted to highlight songs and performances that dominated Pop Culture conversations in 2019. J. Cole and 21 Savage secured their first Grammy trophies with “a lot” in the Best Rap Song category, as did Nipsey Hussle and Roddy Ricch with “Racks In The Middle” in Best Rap Performance.
In the beginning months of 2019, 21 Savage and Nipsey Hussle made international headlines due to unfortunate circumstances. In those moments— 21 Savage’s ICE detainment and Nipsey Hussle’s assassination— the hip-hop community rallied behind both figures, simultaneously knighting them as heroes and vigilantes in their respective situations.
Guided by a smooth, soulful beat, the lyrics of “a lot” thoughtfully reflect on the struggles both 21 Savage and J. Cole conquered to earn their stellar careers. “Racks In The Middle,” on the opposite hand, delivers on believable storytelling and authentic energy from certified street hustlers. What’s more chilling about “Racks” victory is that the song is the last single that Nipsey Hussle released while alive — adding more urgency in voters’ minds for his win.
This year, rap categories seemed to go beyond the talent and hitmaking, and focused on artists with compelling storylines. J. Cole’s “Middle Child” nomination for Best Rap Song, as well as his label, Dreamville, receiving a Best Rap Album nod for Revenge of the Dreamers III, reveal that the Grammys respected the emcee’s mission of stepping further into an auteur and mentor role for the future of rap. One could argue that Nipsey Hussle was starting to take on that position as well, as his winning collaborator Roddy Ricch is currently the hottest rapper in the game with “The Box” going No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
DJ Khaled, who has executive produced all star albums and delivered endless club bangers in the span of a 14-year career, is also a first time Grammy winner. “Higher”— a motivational collaboration between himself, Hussle, and John Legend— winning Best Rap/Sung Performance seemed to be fitting following the Grammy tribute that celebrated Hussle’s life.
On the note of albums, Tyler The Creator’s first ever Grammy win is also significant. Audiences were shocked when the MTV Video Music Awards named him Best New Artist in 2011. Since then, his work ethic and ascent into top artistic form has been inspirational, with the artist delivering diverse albums that challenge the conventions of rap. IGOR was critically lauded for its daring interpretations of retro-funk, neo soul, and industrial hip-hop, making it the strongest representative of how much rap has evolved.
Anderson .Paak, The Present King of R&B
Ever since Jacquees claimed he was the King of R&B in December 2018, that term has found its way in almost every debate concerning the genre. One thing a King should be doing is securing Grammy wins— a sign that his peers want to acknowledge and reward his artistic strides. Anderson .Paak is now a three-time Grammy winner, earning both Best R&B Performance (“Come Home”) and Best R&B Album (Ventura) at this year’s ceremony.
The “where’s real R&B” arguments that have ensued online in the past few years have been answered by whom the Grammys decided to recognize for its 62nd ceremony. India Arie, Daniel Caesar, H.E.R., Lucky Daye, and BJ The Chicago Kid were a few nominated acts who continue to make soulful music that constitutes as traditional rhythm and blues. Although PJ Morton won Best R&B Song for his “Say So” duet with JoJo, Anderson .Paak has mastered the best vocal technique, musicianship, and album conception according to The Grammys.
On Ventura, Anderson .Paak continues to perfect his signature sound, fusing old school Motown sonics with funk, hip-hop, and psychedelic soul. “Come Home” features a rap verse from André 3000, and although that’s not necessarily R&B, the legend’s influence can be heard in shaping today’s R&B— eventually trickling to Anderson .Paak, who is currently carrying that torch.
Black Music Is… Rock, Americana, Blues & Regional
Another online debate— that’s since found its way in the world of music criticism and reporting— is the role Black artists have played in genres outside of R&B and rap/hip-hop. The success of “Old Town Road” on the Billboard Hot 100— and the controversy that followed— placed more emphasis on how Black artists have shaped the American cultural soundtrack since the late 1800s.
This year, the Grammys made a poignant point to honor Black artists in categories outside the rap and R&B fields during its pre-ceremony telecast. Keb’ Mo’, a guitarist who has been releasing blues and Americana albums since 1980, won Best Americana Album for Oklahoma. Interestingly enough, Oklahoma’s album art features a Grammy as Keb’ Mo’ won four prior to its release. Ranky Tanky, a quartet hailing from Charleston, South Carolina, secured Best Regional Roots Music Album, with Good Time highlighting the historic jazz musicianship of the Gullah community.
One of the night's biggest winners is Gary Clark, Jr. who delivered a rising and fiery performance of “This Land” featuring The Roots. Clark walked away with three Grammys, bringing his overall total to four. This Land won Best Blues Album, while the title song which has an unapologetic chorus (“ni**a run, ni**a run/Go back where you came from”) won Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song. Somewhere the late greats Chuck Berry, B.B. King, Sister Rosetta Thorpe, and Jimi Hendrix are smiling at those victories.
“African Music Has Been The Bedrock of Every Music”
During her speech for Best World Music Album, Angélique Kidjo included the line “African music has been the bedrock of every music.” Although the Benin legend’s interpretation of Celia Cruz’s salsa and bolero classics through the lens of West African genres (CELIA) defeated Burna Boy’s afropop and R&B statement piece, African Giant, Kidjo made sure to acknowledge his trendsetting.
“The new generation of artists from Africa are going to take you by storm, and the time has come,” she notified the audience before dedicating her award to Burna Boy. A major indicator of her statement is the nomination of Beyoncé’s The Lion King: The Gift in Best Pop Vocal Album category. With that move the Grammys have now opened the door for songs with afropop, Gqom, and Highlife influences (like on The Gift) to be recognized in pop categories.
Reggae’s Best Cup of Koffee
Billie Eilish’s Big Four sweep may be the main talk of most Grammy-related headlines, but another Gen Z artist made her own history. At 19, Koffee became the youngest person to win Best Reggae Album and the first woman since the category’s start in 1985.
Her five-track EP Rapture highlights the direction reggae and dancehall will be going in the future. “Toast” made a splash for its crafty and celebratory blend of ubiquitous afropop with reggae, while other tracks like “Raggamuffin” document the genre of the same name. It’s been rumored that Koffee worked on a few tracks for Rihanna’s upcoming reggae-inspired album. This Grammy win could hint at the impending shapeshift that reggae and dancehall will face if this union manifests on commercial wax.
The Definition of Gospel is Kirk Franklin
Since he released Whatcha Lookin’ 4 in 1996 and God’s Property from Kirk Franklin’s Nu Nation in ‘97, Kirk Franklin has constantly pushed the boundaries of gospel music in a contemporary fashion. Both albums earned him his first two of 16 career Grammys. Last night, he earned Best Gospel Performance/Song for his radio hit “Love Theory” and Best Gospel Album for Long Live Love. At this point, Kirk Franklin is undeniably living up to his title of Reigning King of Gospel, and it’s going to take for someone else to make sure their Gospel is reaching broader audiences before he lets up the crown.
Visuals Are The A-List’s Golden Ticket To Win
More and more each year, A-list pop stars and their labels are investing in visual mediums to enhance their music eras. This year, Lil Nas X won Best Music Video for his “Old Town Road” short film. Beyoncé earned Best Music Film for her Netflix documentary HOMECOMING; while “Spirit” from The Lion King was nominated for Best Pop Vocal Performance. Even Lady Gaga won two Grammys for her music from A Star Is Born. Visuals and music inspired by Hollywood cinema are adding new Grammy life to pop acts who are getting snubbed more and more each year in the Big Four categories.
Comedians (1), Political Correctness (0)
When Dave Chappelle’s Sticks & Stones comedy special started streaming on Netflix in August, it opened the floodgates for what is acceptable comedy for modern times. For years, comedians like Chappelle have quipped about how what they view as censorship in this politically woke and savvy age of the internet is harming their comedic freedom. Due to his controversial brand of blunt observation humor, Sticks & Stones made Chappelle a major target for audiences who were offended by his jokes about the LGBTQ community.
The Grammys have sided with Dave Chappelle, and all his other comedic peers who want to remain reckless for the sake of laughs. His televised win for Best Comedy Album for the special’s live audio recording proves that comedy is still allowed to operate with different rules from what society expects. It also reveals that eye-opening humor successfully reveals human flaws, and that some of our comedic faves will always be considered golden by someone.
Thank U… Trap
One of the biggest snubs of the night is Ariana Grande who walked away empty handed following nominations in Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Record of the Year. Her pop-minded album thank u, next incorporated the sounds of R&B and trap, notably under the guise of her longtime songwriting and production collaborators Victoria Monét, Tommy Brown, and Tayla Parx. Grande’s centerstage performance of “7 rings” found her channeling the trap tropes that graced the music video.
Billie Eilish also cleaned up: “Bad Guy,” an alternative pop ditty with an underlying trap vibe, won Song and Record of the Year. When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go ended up winning Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album— with more trap influences and attitude propelling it to victory.
Lizzo may have collected Best Traditional R&B Performance with “Jerome,” but her trap-pop sing-rap “Truth Hurts” also won Best Pop Vocal Performance. Lil Nas X won Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for the Billy Ray Cyrus version of “Old Town Road,” a song classified as country-trap.
All four aforementioned trap-pop hits dominated radio and streaming, each going No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Trap is dominating pop music, and now the Grammys seem to have no issue with acknowledging this sonic shift that’s been going on for the past decade. However, it’s telling that pop stars who are influenced by trap (which was once critically deemed insufferable) get Grammy recognition, while the trap influencers (like Offset from Migos) still remain Grammyless.
Another Year, Another “Urban” Controversy
“I don’t like that ‘urban’ word; it’s just another politically correct way of saying the n-word,” Tyler, The Creator said at The Grammys radio/TV spin room after his win for Best Rap Album.
The term “urban” has been used to categorize genre-bending R&B and pop music. Usually, Black artists that are making progressive music are labeled as “urban” with their music serviced to “urban” formatted radio stations. Lizzo earned Best Urban Contemporary Album for Cuz I Love You, which features “Truth Hurts” and “Jerome” as well as the pop&B anthem “Good As Hell” and the rap-bounce track “Tempo.” Although the win is surely an honor for Lizzo, she’s (as well as countless others in the category) slyly been told by the Academy that Cuz I Love You is the best “n-word” album of 2019 according to Tyler, The Creator.
The Grammys have been facing this controversy for a while, and it seems as though they won’t be letting up soon. What complicates the term even more is Rosalía winning Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album for El Mar Querer. Although she claims Latin heritage and records Nuevo flamenco which fuses hip-hop and pop conventions into her brand of Spanish-language music, there have been ongoing debates about whether Rosalía should be honored in Latin categories. Some critics have argued that Rosalía should be disqualified based on her European heritage which doesn’t make her Latinx.
It’s clear the Grammys still struggle with classifying genre-bending music with their limiting category titles. What this year proved is that the Grammys should really go beyond the coded race categories. *Cough, “World Music,” cough* Everyone — regardless of race— is recording and fusing all sorts of music. It’s about time to eradicate the term “Urban.”
Diddy’s 365-Day Challenge
Every year, new Grammy controversies come around because of this bottom line: fans, industry insiders, and the artists themselves can never be 100 percent satisfied on who’s nominated and who wins. However, it is unfair to fault artists for wanting to participate in the process and showing up with the hopes of being honored. In layman terms, an artist complaining about the Grammys procedure just to show up for the accolades mirrors complaining about a 9 to 5, just to be elated by an “employee of the month” award. Humans are sensitive when it comes to recognition for their hard work.
Diddy received calls of hypocrisy online after receiving Clive Davis’s 2020 Salute To Icons Award. During his acceptance speech, the rap mogul addressed the lack of diversity in The Grammys. “Every year y’all be killing us,” he said. “...Truth be told, hip-hop has never been respected by the Grammys”.
This year, hip-hop music may have shined bright in the rap category, but the records valued most by the community at large didn’t make it in any of the Big Four categories. Lizzo and Lil Nas X were rap’s pseudo-representatives in the major fields with “Truth Hurts” and “Old Town Road” nominations respectively, but those songs were also placed in pop categories. Lizzo was nominated for Album of the Year, as was Lil Nas X for his 7 EP, but both projects occupy more genres than just pure hip-hop and rap.
It’s jarring that Tyler The Creator’s Best Rap Album IGOR (which was critically acclaimed and topped the charts in dramatic fashion) didn’t receive an Album of the Year nomination. Hip-hop staples in 2019 that launched into pop culture phenomenons like DaBaby’s “Suge,” 21 Savage’s “a lot,” or Nipsey Hussle’s “Racks In The Middle” were snubbed for Record and Song of the Year. Even Producer of the Year, Non-Classical (which went to Billie Eilish’s brother, Finneas) featured no hip-hop producers as nominees. Responsible for crafting hits that made just as much of an impact as “Bad Guy” or “Truth Hurts,” producers like London On Da Track, Tay Keith, and J. White Did It were snubbed from the honor.
What will it take for primarily hip-hop artists, rappers, and producers— who are most likely Black— to earn a top prize? Even the R&B artists who incorporate hip-hop genres into their sound? Do we have to continue to ask this question every year while reviewing the glaring evidence?
“Black Music has never been respected by The Grammys to the point that it should be,” Diddy fired off, to thunderous applause. “For years we’ve allowed institutions that never had our best interests at heart judge us— and that stops now … Y’all got 365 days.”
Until then, we’ll have to wait and see how this all pans out for the 63rd Grammys Awards in 2021.