2016 Grammy Preview: Rap & Hip-Hop
Kendrick, Fetty, Nicki and Kanye go at it in the most-talked about categories.
By Jayson Rodriguez and Ralph Bristout
For rap fans, the Grammy Awards consist of only two awards: Best Rap Album and, well, whatever album makes it on the Album of the Year category. Fortunately, this past year saw plenty of great hip-hop moments so categories like Best Rap Song, Rap/Sung Collaboration and of course the Best Rap Album are all stacked with well-deserved nominations. Heavy-hitters like J. Cole, Nicki Minaj, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West and Dr. Dre all make up the lists, and here we give our thoughts on who should get what.
Jayson: “Apparently” has my heart and “Alright” soundtracked an incredibly movement in the country, but I can’t help but feel this one is gonna come down to “Back To Back” and “Trap Queen.” It’s still crazy a dis track got a Grammy nod and it would only make for more Meek memes if it won, but “Trap Queen” was inescapable and launched Fetty’s career. I think its worthy and in a Grammy pool will be worthwhile enough. I’m going with Nu Jerz. You?
Ralph: Well, after the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis sweep-gate of the 56th Grammy Awards, I feel like Kendrick Lamar, who picked up a win for “i” in this category last year, will get the deserved win. Like you mentioned, “Alight” soundtracked many historic moments last year, from its association to “Black Lives Matter” to getting recognized as the unofficial “unifying soundtrack,” to get overlooked. In terms of impact, substance, and influence, it’s by far the most powerful record in that entire category. But I’m a fool for going with my heart on this one, because after all, we’re talking about the Grammys here, the ceremony where favorability and momentum doesn’t really mean much.
So switching over to my gut feeling, we might see Kanye pick up the win with “All Day.” Why? Well, other than this being the first time since 2013 that he’s been nominated in this category, he’s also got Paul McCartney with him as an added bonus. It sure wasn’t an inescapable record like “Trap Queen” or “Alright,” but on “All Day” we have a Recording Academy’s wet dream with Kanye and the Macca together for one song. To recap, my heart is with “Alight” but my gut is with “All Day.”
Jayson: Ha! Got it. To wit, re: your heart, I do think “Alright” should win Best Rap Song. This is where the Grammys may lose some viewers, since it’s a mix of songwriter stuff and popular songs. But, where I think “Trap Queen” is the Best Rap Performance ’cause the song rings out; and there’s a reward in touching the populace. And I also think when we look back on 2015, certainly the rise of Fetty is a big part of the story. Especially how outsized this record became by just him and his crew. There was no remix or big features. Now, I think “Alright” is gonna be the Best Rap Song cause it’s a such a strong piece of writing and composition. And the category is more of a songwriter recognition. That’s exactly what it was associated with Black Lives Matter like you mentioned. This feels like a category where heart and head align, and what rap fans want and what the NARAS votes on will be simpatico.
Ralph: Absolutely. But check this, what about the nominations in the Rap/Sung Collaboration category? A lot of good selections here, from Jidenna with “Classic Man” (Brooklyn!) to Nicki Minaj and her super-powered “Only,” and… wait, “Glory” is on here too? There goes the recipient for that Golden Gramophone. Granted the momentum behind Common and John Legend’s riveting ballad has since passed, the impact this record had on the country (à la “Alright”) is still undeniable. The song has already captured an Oscar and Golden Globe Award, so in a perfect world a Grammy win should wrap this up in a fitting bow. Another one to watch, however, is Big Sean and his Dark Sky Paradise standout, “One Man Can Change the World.” It’s such a great, impactful ballad that features Sean honoring his late grandmother and introducing the world to his introspectiveness. I really want to see my guy win big, considering this album is the one that has properly launched him into the rap stratosphere he always deserved to be a part of. I see “Glory” taking a win, but I really want Big Sean to get that G.O.O.D. look.
Jayson: “Classic Man” is a head scratcher. It has the DNA of an R&B record, to me. This category is a bit zzzz, from its existence to these nominees; apologies to your triumphant plea for “Glory.” Like, if you won this one and they asked you what you got a Grammy for, you’d mumble the response. It’s like the knockoff Jordans of categories. Matter of fact, whoever wins, I want the Internet to Mike Jordan meme them up!
Ralph: Hahaha. Well in that case, I guess we’ll have Big Sean and Common/John Legend potentially getting crying-Jordan’d. Good thing we have the Best Rap Song category to legitimize things a little more. And in that list, I got the same two I mentioned earlier with Kanye’s “All Day” and K. Dot’s “Alright.” I really feel like the former is a dud, but considering Ye’s streak with the Grammys (21 to his name so far), as well as Sir Paul McCartney himself (18 wins), there’s a great chance these guys can win. Think of the narrative that creates: ‘Kanye lands Paul McCartney his first Grammy in a rap category.’ Now that’s legendary. Speaking of legendary though, what about the following three words: Best Rap Album.
First things first, we should acknowledge the fact that this is the first time in years that the Best Rap Album category is filled with actual great Rap Albums. What Nicki Minaj pulled off with her consecutive chart-topping LP, The Pinkprint, which is now certified double-platinum, is incredible. We have Cole jumping from rap favorite to certified superstar on 2014 Forest Hills Drive. Drake going platinum and earning a Grammy nod over a mixtape. Dr. Dre making his big Grammy return with Compton. There are so many narratives here that deserve a proper Grammy highlight. But the main release that we all want to see grab the honor is K. Dot’s, dare I say, magnum opus — To Pimp A Butterfly. Let’s face it: The Recording Academy f’d up when they overlooked good kid, m.A.A.d city two years ago and since then, it seems like they’ve been trying their best to make up for it. He swept the rap categories last year with his single “i” and has appeared in just about every promotion for tonight’s big show since nominations were announced last year. Fun fact: They recently did an oral history on the album. If that doesn’t spell out a win for the good kid, then I don’t know what else can.
All that considered, a win by K. Dot here wouldn’t be because the Grammy execs are still kicking themselves in the ass for past mistakes. Instead, a win here will be way more deserved than it was the last time Kendrick earned a nod for Best Rap Album. From the flood of think pieces its garnered to its inclusion into classroom lectures around the country, To Pimp A Butterfly is, was, and continues to be one of the most-talked about albums in recent memory. Plus the impact, the influence, and the importance behind it speaks volumes in- and outside the music.
Jayson: Agreed. This is a solid nominations list. I’d like to have seen Future in over Dr. Dre. DS2 isn’t the artistic feat we think of when it comes to Grammy nods, but he unanimously won over the streets and I think there’s a lot of honor to being nominated even if the winner was already etched in stone from the time they announced it. Drake, Future and others own the populace, but as a body of work, no one has topped Kendrick’s in terms of execution, thoughtfulness and a meaningful project that’s stitched together from beginning to end with a see-through that he sticks too and that theme wasn’t loss. It’s not exactly a concept LP, but a testimony of the times that we should be proud to look back on 10 years from now and say, they got it right. This was the album of the moment.