The 56th Grammy Awards held on Jan. 26 saw the Best Rap Album category as the only one of 15 genre categories in which every album nominated also achieved a Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) platinum recognition.
Platinum is the designation used by the RIAA to denote albums which sell over one million copies, either through records and CDs or through downloads and streaming.
The rap category was only added to the awards program in 1996 and the first Best Rap Album award was granted to Naughty by Nature for their seminal “Poverty’s Paradise,” which was certified as gold that year.
Three years later, Lauryn Hill was awarded Album of the Year for her genre-defying album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” This would be the only time for five years that a hip hop album was given that recognition, followed by the ground-breaking double-album “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” released by the revered Atlanta hip hop duo OutKast. However, both “Miseducation” and “Speakerboxxx” could be described justifiably as having predominant influences from funk, soul and alternative rather than just rap or hip hop, and the point still stands that the genre has not been given its dues by the Recording Academy.
Hip hop has grown since the 1980s to become one of the most significant genres in modern American music. Now most pop music involves rap, or is hip hop influenced. Yet the Grammys do not reflect this. The Best Rap Album award is given during the preshow, prioritized below all the awards given in the actual ceremony. Its nominations also omit most of the incredibly broad spectrum of talented rap artists in favor of mainstream, financially successful artists. An example of this is Jay Z, who was nominated for the award despite releasing an album that was widely regarded as a lackluster and uninspired piece of work.
While hip hop has been an underground movement in the past, in recent years, the Internet has allowed people to gain access to music which would have otherwise be too obscure to discover. People are no longer restricted to Top 40 radio stations and record store shelves, but when the Grammys roll around each year, people are forced to see only the best-selling artists represented.
Although hip hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis were awarded Best New Artist this year, Macklemore released his first EP 14 years ago. If the award is based on his artistry and talent, and the Grammy committee was truly in touch with hip hop culture, shouldn’t one of Macklemore’s previous albums, which are arguably better than The Heist, have won an award long before now?
While the outstanding success of the albums nominated for Best Rap Album seems to be proof that hip hop has redefined the mainstream, a rap song has never been presented with the Song of The Year award at the Grammys. Fans argue that the institution reflects little to no respect for hip hop as a genre. Even Macklemore himself admitted that he “robbed” nominee Kendrick Lamar of the Rap Album of the Year award that a majority of hip hop fans felt he deserved for his universally acclaimed debut, “good kid, m.A.A.d. city.” This show of ignorance leaves Hip Hop fans questioning whether this is due to a lack of appreciation for the genre’s musical value, some judgement of quality they don’t understand, or straight up racism by the institution that is the Grammys.