- Christopher Polk/Getty
- The Grammys has a history of snubbing challenging hip-hop works and rewarding apolitical pop music.
- Kendrick Lamar’s loss to Bruno Mars in the three major Grammy categories on Sunday, including album of the year, fits a pattern.
With Bruno Mars’ sweep of the three major Grammy categories on Sunday, including album of the year, the Recording Academy yet again thumbed its nose at great, challenging works of hip hop – and chose safe and apolitical pop music.
While Kendrick Lamar took home five awards in total for his critically acclaimed album “DAMN.,” the rapper lost out on the night’s top prize, album of the year, for the third time in his career.
Lamar opened the Grammys on Sunday with a riveting performance of his politically charged tracks “XXX” and “King’s Dead” that electrified social media.
But by the end of the night, Lamar found himself shut out entirely from the show’s top categories by Mars, whose album of the year win for the funk-pop collection “24K Magic” is emblematic of the music that the Recording Academy has made a pattern of favoring – to the noted exclusion of great hip-hop and rap.
A history of snubbing hip-hop
Only two albums by hip-hop artists have won the Grammys’ prestigious album of the year award: Lauryn Hill’s “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” in 1999 and Outkast’s “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” in 2004.
Lamar first lost out on the prize in 2013 for his classic debut album, “good kid, m.a.a.d city,” to Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories,” an acclaimed album from a deserving and veteran group.
But in the same year, Lamar won none of the seven categories he was nominated for. This included a shocking loss to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis for best rap album, to which Macklemore later apologized to Lamar in a publicized text, saying, “You got robbed.”
In 2015, Lamar came to the Grammys with a certified-platinum album that critics universally deemed a masterpiece in “To Pimp a Butterfly.”
An overtly political and radically artistic meditation on America and the black experience, which notably inspired the likes of David Bowie and Barack Obama, “To Pimp a Butterfly” lost the album of the year award to Taylor Swift, another apolitical pop star.
Kanye West, who in 2016 called the Grammys’ awarding system “way off and completely out of touch,” has also lost the album of the year category three times for three deserving, critically acclaimed, and commercially successful rap albums.
When Adele won album of the year at the 2017 Grammys, beating out Beyoncé’s rap-influenced album “Lemonade,” she used her acceptance speech to recognize the culturally significant work that “Lemonade” was.
“A piece of me died inside,” Adele later told the press of winning over Beyoncé. “I felt like it was her time to win. What the f— does she have to do to win album of the year?”
Now, this year, in a time of political disorder and cultural upheaval, the Recording Academy once again shied away from recognizing a politically charged and relevant album in Lamar’s “DAMN.” – an inventive, important work that also happened to come in at No. 1 on Billboard’s year-end album chart for 2017.
To paraphrase Adele: What else do great hip-hop artists have to do to get their due recognition?