Over time, as hip-hop’s influence has grown, it has developed—just go with me on the metaphor—this sort of hot, sexy relationship with pop. They’re the power couple in the music conversation.
Which would be nice enough, I suppose, if, along the way, hip-hop hadn’t broken R&B’s heart, chucking it the deuces as it ran off with Justin Timberlake and MTV for crossover success and worldwide domination.
As hip-hop crossed over, R&B sort of retreated. In 2004, around 80 percent of the songs that topped the Billboard charts were R&B offerings. In 2013, not one actual R&B song (or black artist) topped the charts.
R&B became the musical-genre version of a sidepiece. Sure, on the low, it was there waiting, available for a late-night text or discreet hookup—it still existed—but to the public eye: nah.
In 2014, however, for the first time in a long while, R&B bucked that trend of marginalization. Not only did the usual suspects—Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, Toni Braxton, Babyface, etc.—release some of the best work of their careers, but even more refreshing was the surplus of newer talent bursting onto the scene, hammering home just how strong and diverse the category had become.
But if history and VH1 have taught us anything, it’s that side chicks don’t win in the end … unless they’re Joseline Hernandez.
Despite rhythm and blues’ resurgence, the Grammys don’t seem to give just due to the R&B new school, particularly the young black women who are leading its revitalization. Yeah, Rihanna and even Ariana Grande will get some run—but what about Tinashe, who channels, these days, Janet’s peak sexy sultriness on tracks like “This Feeling” and “Pretend”?
It should be said, at this point, that complaining about artists getting overlooked by the Grammys is a bit like complaining about Iggy Azalea getting more run last year than any other rapper: it’s happening, bro, move on. But that said, as Very Smart Brothas’ Damon Young pointed out when talking about that “other” award show’s credibility, it’s hard to completely move on because, like it or not, these awards do matter.
To make a long story short, the Grammys need to update their formula. Even the industry folks who make the decisions on what gets nominated have admitted that the system is flawed: a sometimes oblivious bureaucracy, operating within a somewhat oblivious system, making, in some cases, oblivious decisions.
Basically, right now the Grammys are the NFL.
Spend enough time trying to figure out how the Baha Men have a Grammy while Bob Marley doesn’t, or how “Gangsta’s Paradise” beat out “Big Poppa” and “Dear Mama,” and you’ll be as dumbfounded as Roger was on that stage ducking and dodging those domestic violence questions.
The nomination process allows an insane number of academy members to vote on categories they may not know anything about. The categories are confusing: Can you explain the difference between “R&B song” and “traditional R&B song” (if you can, that’s 10 points for Gryffindor). And the Sept. 30 cutoff date delays the eligibility of nearly all fourth-quarter album releases.
Mostly, though, the Grammys have a habit of judging today’s music by yesterday’s standards.
That’s why, this year, the Grammys won’t be focused on Teyana Taylor blending smooth R&B with harder-edged hip-hop on tracks like “Broken Hearted Girl” from her fantastic debut album, VII.
The genre’s best this year steered in from a lane that was contemporary, experimental and a little zany—pretty much buzzwords for Grammy obscurity.
So they wait.
R&B, and the (mostly) women driving it, wait for their moment—and for the Grammys and others (remember us, hip-hop?) to recognize a good thing.
Aaron Randle is a Howard-bred writer living in Kansas City, Mo.