By: Sam Fatula | A&E Editor
Another year, another snub. Has it been simply coincidence that black artists seem to be suffering from the Grammy Awards’ biggest upsets, or have R&B and hip-hop awards become a limitation to future music supremacy?
Last week’s 57th annual Grammy Awards sparked the latest trend of artists like Beyoncé being on the opposite end of the winner’s circle for honors of Album of the Year and Song of the Year, respectively handed to veteran Beck and Sam Smith. While there didn’t seem to be any debates circulating around Smith’s multiple victories throughout the evening, controversy stirred immediately when Morning Phase took Best Album, spearheaded by none other than Kanye West. The rapper took action per normal fashion; take to the stage and release a bold statement soon after, showing favoritism to Beyoncé’s self-titled release. West accused the Grammy academy of “playing” with nominees, and “diminishing art and not respecting the craft.”
A sample of the array of harsh words displayed by an artist who has won 21 awards from that same academy, all of which fall within the rap and R&B genre. But although West’s comments were not exactly directed as a message of discrimination, it resonated with me as such. It was a statement responsible as the catalyst for realizing that black artists, even in the 21st century, experience a great deal of disrespect in the music industry.
Perhaps designating artists under specific genres is at fault, where black people predominantly occupy the space of “rhythm and blues” and “hip-hop.” Truthfully, these are just terms coined by authors and opinion leaders to separate black from white music. In its early stage of existence, rap and R&B were refreshing styles of sonic expression. They didn’t have their own Grammy category to mark their significance, they rivaled pop and rock stars in Best Album categories.
Now, it feels like R&B, rap and urban contemporary artists are only nominated in major categories by sheer necessity; a pat on the back for representing the black community once again. But don’t worry, they will get their awards for “their” music.
I’m curious what qualifies a pop or rock album to be better than a rap or R&B album or vice versa. It’s well-known that the Grammy Academy doesn’t readily make this information available to the public, but lately it seems that Best Album must have traits of minimal snare beats and production, various instrumentation and white skin. Not since Outkast (2004) and Lauryn Hill (1999) has a black artist taken home a Grammy for Best Album. Personally, that’s been too long, given the quality of albums that have been released by D’Angelo, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Beyoncé and Prince.
This isn’t sour grapes that Beyoncé didn’t win Best Album or Kendrick Lamar losing Best Rap Album to Macklemore in 2013. The Internet has aired its grievances over those issues well enough. This is more of a statement that a black artist shouldn’t have to cross mainstream pop barriers (Michael Jackson) to become realized as a relevant icon in the music industry. Genres like rap and R&B are rich in tradition, and convey not only messages that have affected fellow listeners at one time or another, but also raise political arguments that bring people together in times of need. If the Grammy Academy wishes to remain the driving force that brings all styles of music together once every year, they need to respect all styles the same way. If that requires removing categories like Best Urban Contemporary Album which was surprisingly introduced in 2012, then maybe it’s for the best. Categories such as these only further the message that black artists should remain on their reservations and borderline prohibit their success over artists like Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Sam Smith … the list infinitely goes on.
I encourage you to reexamine West’s statement about his opinion on the Grammy’s from this perspective. You may not like him, and by some standards that is completely acceptable. But the message speaks much louder than the volume of his voice. The quality deserves to outweigh the questionable political implications of award shows. Music matters, and so do black artists.
(Follow @Sam_Fatula on Twitter for daily music & arts news)
On point. Genres compartmentalize in many ways