The Grammys Are Making Changes To Do Better By Rap. Now Maybe Snoop & Nas Can Win.
Since the Grammy Awards began to include Rap music as a category in 1989, the eventual winners often have been suspect, at best. While many might consider DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince a fitting choice for the first ever award–facing off against LL Cool J, Salt-N-Pepa, Kool Moe Dee and J.J. Fad–all credibility went out the window in 1990, when Young MC’s “Bust A Move” won over groundbreaking and critically-acclaimed songs like De La Soul’s “Me, Myself & I,” and Public Enemy’s still relevant anthem, “Fight The Power.” Over the years, an alarming number of Hip-Hop greats have never taken home a statue, including Tupac, Biggie, Busta Rhymes, Run-D.M.C., Ice Cube, DMX, Snoop Dogg, Nas and Rakim.
Among the chief criticisms that the Recording Academy, the organization that nominates acts and chooses the winners, has faced are that voting is too inconvenient, leaving older more diehard members to make decisions about music with which they might not be familiar. Many times, those members are seen as defaulting to the most popular acts. This has particularly affected Rap music, with its legions of underground artists who might not be mainstays on radio, and steady stream of respected emerging artists who have not yet penetrated the mainstream. This was the case in 2013, when Macklemore & Ryan Lewis bested Kendrick Lamar in the Best Rap Album category, despite Macklemore himself believing Kendrick to have made the best album of the year.
Today, The Recording Academy has announced that it is taking a number of steps to address these issues. For the first time ever, members will vote online, rather than casting paper ballots. Bill Freimuth, the Academy’s SVP of Awards, told Variety that ““[m]ore than just convenience, the real benefits of this are being able to get more votes from musicians on tour who have trouble catching up with their paper ballots — and they can [fill out the voting forms] on their phone or pad, not just their desktop. It also increases participation from all voters.” Freimuth also noted that voters also would be able to listen to all of the nominated recordings on the same site where they cast their votes. That is a seismic step toward leveling the playing field for artists that may not have enjoyed the same exposure as their more popular counterparts.
Regarding Rap music, a Nominations Review Committee will be established to take a closer look at the nominations and ensure there are not biases against emerging artists, independent artists, projects released later in the year, and other entrants that may have not received equal treatment in the past. These types of committees have been implemented across other genres in the past, including Rock. Freimuth said of the Rap Nominations Review Committee, ““The most recent [prior community] we heard from about this was Rock. People felt there was too much of a lean toward legacy artists and the softer side of rock, and this year we heard from Rap, Contemporary Instrumental and New Age. For Rap, and the other categories to a degree, a lot of their argument was kind of similar — it was going more to big-name folks and felt like more of a popularity contest. That’s not to say that someone who’s very famous can’t put out a fantastic track or album, but maybe some younger up-and-coming folks deserve that spotlight.”
In 2016, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences made sweeping changes after suffering massive criticism for its lack of diversity in that year’s nominations. As a result, several actors of color received nominations and awards in 2017 and Moonlight, a film with a Black director and predominantly Black cast, ended up taking home the Best Picture award (albeit with some controversy). It remains to be seen whether the steps the Grammy Awards are taking will have similar impact.