By DRE CHANDLER
Nearing the end of this past decade, it isn’t a secret that the Grammys have yet to catch up with the modern shift in music. Possibly their most notable failure is the delay in recognizing hip-hop as its own genre, the new “pop” music of this generation, rather than a genre lumped in with Rap and R&B.
But let me be clear- the Grammys don’t have a hip-hop problem, the Grammys ARE the problem. With rap and R&B surpassing rock as today’s most listened-to genres, it appears hip-hop needs the Grammys less than the Grammys need hip-hop each year.
Let’s look at two major moments during the show that the Grammys tried desperately to avoid. Both illustrate how far the Recording Academy has to go to retain any relevance with the modern day audience. Both instances using opposing figures on rap’s spectrum of success, Childish Gambino and Drake.
This year’s Grammys seemed to be overrun with hip-hop music. With performers like Travis Scott being nominated for multiple awards, and rapper Cardi B even winning Rap Album of the Year. This year we saw a huge lean towards R&B and hip-hop artists, though Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino went as far to as to not even show up. And why should they?
Including this year, only 12 black artists have won the Album of the Year award out the 61 years it has been awarded and only four of the winners were hip-hop artists. People of all races and backgrounds listen to rap and R&B, but it doesn’t seem they are truly hearing the artists. Rather, it’s party music, hype music- and the content of it arguably isn’t taken as seriously as songs produced in other genres, and neither are the artists.
The Grammys refuses to appreciate these genres, and black culture as a whole, the way it should be. And to be completely honest, it’s going to take more than one night of minimal “corrections” to fix the decades-old disconnect of an institution built around America’s racial and cultural politics.
Despite all the awards Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” won (including the only one it truly deserved: Best Music Video), it’s clear that the Academy -and much of America- still haven’t really understood its meaning. The seemingly simple and repetitive song is actually a song declaring that black bodies are treated as commodities instead of humans in this country, the blatant exploitation of black trauma, and how black culture is gentrified as a distraction from, and an abstraction of, America’s anti-blackness. If Gambino were to show up to “music’s biggest night” and accept an award, or worse, to perform the song on the Grammy stage accompanied by shirtless choreography, it would have completely and utterly destroyed the entire message and intent of “This Is America.”
Drake, in a surprise move, decided to cross the picket line. After winning his Grammy he appeared seemingly out of thin air on stage to accept his Best Rap Song award for “God’s Plan.” Drake humbly accepted his award and began his arguably controversial speech. The Toronto rapper offered words of encouragement to fellow artists during his acceptance speech.
“I want to take this opportunity while I’m up here to just talk to all the kids that are watching this, aspiring to do music,” Drake said. “All my peers that make music from their heart that do things pure and tell the truth, I wanna let you know we’re playing in an opinion-based sport not a factual-based sport. So it’s not the NBA where at the end of the year you’re holding a trophy because you made the right decisions or won the games.”
He also seemed to allude to the Academy’s iffy track record with hip-hop and artists of color.
“This is a business where sometimes it’s up to a bunch of people who might not understand what a mixed race kid from Canada has to say or a fly Spanish girl from New York or anybody else, or a brother from Houston right there, my brother Travis [Scott]. But my point is you’ve already won if you have people singing your songs word for word, if you’re a hero in your hometown. Look, if there’s people who have regular jobs who are coming out in the rain, in the snow, spending their hard earned money to buy tickets to come to your shows, you don’t need this right here. I promise you, you already won.”
Without even the benefit of wrap-up music, mid-sentence, the show cut to commercial, leading to a groan in the media room that could probably be heard all the way into the arena, where Drake was presumably still finishing his eloquent boycott of the Grammys. Whether he knew or not, Drake wasn’t in a hurry to leave; he was seen later enjoying a performance by friend Travis Scott.
Social media timelines immediately began fill with tweets and posts discussing the speech. Some claimed that Drake was sending subliminal shots at the award show, that in the past has generally not rewarded him with its most highly coveted awards. However, I don’t think this was the case at all. Drake spoke from his experiences and his heart, delivering a speech that the Academy and many watching at home needed to hear.
After the show, a representative for the Grammys clarified to reporters that producers did not intentionally cut off Drake, but were under the impression that he had finished his speech.
The allegations that Drake was sending shots at the Grammys are unwarranted, however his speech isn’t the protest. It wasn’t even the spirited middle finger for which hip-hop is so notorious. It was hip-hop’s message in a bottle, acknowledging that the dynamic has shifted, the tables have turned, and the culture is too busy ruling its own domain to be bothered to show up for the annual “retirement party,” that is the Grammys. Consider it a wake-up call.