I’ve already explained the problems I have with the nominees for Best Rap Album at the 2023 Grammys. But what I haven’t done is share why I think the Recording Academy needs to expand the categories they have for Rap/Hip-Hop.
To no surprise, the nominees for Best Rap Album are awful. While I think Kendrick Lamar, Pusha T and even Future were deserving, I do not think Jack Harlow or DJ Khaled was. Harlow’s album is mediocre at best and please find me one person other than DJ Khaled who thinks he has the best rap album of the past year. They don’t exist. But, even though I don’t agree with these nominations, I think it highlights a more dire issue with the Grammys: there are not enough rap categories.
Every year the nominations are released, no matter the genre or category, fans are upset with who was or who was not nominated. This is an unavoidable issue the Recording Academy is met with time and time again because there are so few nomination spots and thousands of albums that are submitted for contention every year. The Academy does its best to appease as many people as possible and it still isn’t enough. But this issue is most prevalent in the rap categories.
When it comes to album nominations in different genres, almost every genre outside of rap has multiple categories acknowledging different kinds of albums. For example, R&B has a category for Best Progressive R&B Album and Best R&B Album. Pop has a category for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album and Best Pop Vocal Album. Latin has a category for Best Latin Pop Album, Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album and Best Tropical Latin Album. Heck, even Gospel has categories for Best Gospel Album, Best Contemporary Christian Music Album and Best Roots Gospel Album. This isn’t meant to disrespect those other genres, it’s good they have that many categories to recognize albums, I just wish the same respect was given to rap music.
On Tuesday, the day the nominations were announced, rapper Denzel Curry correctly pointed out that many of the best releases this past year were not recognized by the Academy, including his own, Melt My Eyez See Your Future.
Many may wonder: Why does he care so much? Despite some in the past saying rap should boycott the Grammys, it’s still important to so many because once you’re nominated, your value as an artist instantly increases. Now and forever, it’s Grammy-nominated rapper Denzel Curry. More eyes will be on you, more people want to work with you and the cost of a feature or live show increases. It directly affects an artist’s bottom line.
So how can this be resolved? I suggest adding another rap category or two. Those categories should be Best Alternative Rap Album and/or Best Underground Rap Album. The Alternative Rap category could be for Albums that come from artists that aren’t necessarily underground and aren’t exactly mainstream, they live somewhere in the middle. Many of the artists Denzel Curry mentioned fall into that category: Smino, Joey Bada$$, Kenny Mason, Freddie Gibbs, Conway the Machine, Benny The Butcher, Isaiah Rashad, Earl Sweatshirt, Saba, Smino, JID, Jay Rock and Vince Staples.
Some of these MCs’ music is not considered “alternative,” but it’s just meant to give them a category where they can be acknowledged. These artists aren’t unknown, but they aren’t at the level of some of the biggest acts in mainstream music, let’s celebrate them on the biggest stage, the Grammys.
The Best Underground Rap Album category would be for artists that make music strictly for the backpackers. Artists that come to mind include Blu, Boldly James, Pink Siifu, Mike, Wiki, MAVI, Navy Blue, Mach-Hommy, Quelle Chris, Billy Woods, Fly Anakin, Rome Streetz and many others.
It’s time the Recording Academy gives more opportunities to Hip-Hop artists. In 2017, hip-hop/rap overtook pop and rock as the most popular genre in the U.S. Rap is no longer an unfamiliar genre to music listeners in this country, it’s listened to by millions who are Black, White, Hispanic, Jewish and Asian. The Recording Academy claims that the nominees are not based on sales or popularity, but purely on the quality of the music. But, as Curry pointed out, “they only care about building the majors.”