Since its inception, hip-hop has been marred with controversy. Granted, most new forms of music are met with confusion and resistance, but not quite like hip-hop. Punk music and heavy metal might have pissed off a few parents, but not the FBI.
In 1989 Milt Ahlerich, assistant director of the FBI, sent a letter to Ruthless Records and its distributor, Priority Records, in an attempt to censor N.W.A. Ahlerich accused the group of advocating violence and assault, adding “We in the law enforcement community take exception to such action.” The letter backfired, only creating more publicity for a group already banned from radio.
Eventually, law enforcement realized they have more important things to do than to worry about censorship, and hip-hop came to dominate the airways. It’s inched its way closer to receiving the same recognition as other genres, with only a few speed bumps along the way (e.g. the uproar over Common performing at the White House). So why haven’t the Grammys followed suit?
The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences added best rap performance to the award show in 1989. This came years after pioneers Run D.M.C., L.L. Cool J and the Beastie Boys became superstars, but it was better late than never.
It took another seven years for best rap album to make the awards, meaning classic albums like Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic,” Nas’ “Illmatic,” and Wu Tang’s “Enter the Wu-Tang” were entirely ignored by the award show. Each received a rare five mics rating from hip-hop magazine, The Source, but not the acknowledgment every musician craves.
With a full lineup of awards now set for hip-hop, the Grammys have still managed to insult the genre. Too often, the nominations are completely out of touch with hip-hop culture. It’s as if the NARAS is either completely unaware of their ignorance or doesn't even bother to correct it.
Flo Rida was nominated for best rap album in 2010. Let me repeat that: Flo Rida was nominated for best rap album. R.O.O.T.S. gave birth to the huge single “Right Round,” but a cohesive album it was not. Metacritic assigned it a rating of 62, putting it in line with a rapper’s album past his prime: 50 Cent’s Before I Self Destruct and another far past his prime: Snoop Dogg’s “Malice in Wonderland.” Meanwhile, UGK’s UGK 4 Life a grand celebration of the southern hip-hop giants split apart by the death of Pimp C, was nowhere to be found among the nominees.
Eminem took that year’s award for Relapse, a smudge on his otherwise flawless track record. The album was met with criticism from the media, with a Metacritic score of 59, and Eminem, himself. On the song “Cinderella Man” from his next album, he rapped, “Fuck my last CD, that shit’s in my trash.”
This year, the Grammys committed perhaps their biggest slight by not nominating Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy for album of the year. His genre-bending, grandiose album was met with unprecedented acclaim. Billboard, Pitchfork Media, Spin and Rolling Stone all named it the best album of 2010 (eligibility for the 2012 Grammys ran from Oct. 1, 2010 to Sept. 30, 2011). MBDTF was undoubtedly more deserving of a nomination than Doo-Wops and Hooligans by Bruno Mars, who’s known for producing catchy singles rather than great albums.
Adele’s 21 was the clear winner because her best competition had already been eliminated before the show even aired.
Hip-Hop is now in our beer commercials, our late night shows and even our White House. It’s gone from an underground taboo to a prominent part of the public eye. Still, the Grammys don’t give hip-hop a good look. They must be blind.