The reason why I didn’t write a review of the Grammys last Sunday is because I was mad. I know that doesn’t sound like a good enough reason not to voice my opinion about the star studded event, but at the time, my thoughts were completely centered on race and I felt like it was the 1960s all over again. Like it was a time when African Americans were not properly recognized for their achievements because of their ethnicity.
Now that includes all kinds of recognition, but I’m specifically referring to their lack of acknowledgement in music. Like in the 1920s when jazz bandleader Benny Goodman was named the King of Swing instead of Duke Ellington, who is, as everyone knows, the true arbiter of big band jazz. Or in the 1950s when Elvis Presley was crowned the King of Rock n Roll instead of Little Richard or Chuck Berry. And then I realized that while there have been some changes in terms of racial division in this country, there are still some major concerns when it comes to African American achievement on a national scale.
Here we are in 2014 and white artists are still capitalizing on music that they played no role in creating.
By now, you already know where I’m going with this racial blast, especially since it has been the topic of discussion ever since the 56th annual Grammys aired last Sunday and caused yet another controversial hoopla.
White hip hop artists Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, who took the music world by storm with their hit singles “Thrift Shop” and their gay rights anthem “Same Love” snagged four awards during the music ceremony and caused quite a stir both musically and racially when they beat out rapper Kendrick Lamar for Best Rap Album.
To be clear, I have nothing against Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Thanks to white artists like Eminem and the Beastie Boys, who have somewhat bridged the gap between the black-white dichotomy in hip hop, their success was not seen as unusual in the music industry.
But, after their rap shattering four Grammy wins, we were taken right back to the pre-Eminem era and back to the Vanilla Ice era when white rap artists further showcased their alienation within the hip hop genre and showed how “mimicking African American urban dialect and culture” was just another way of getting ahead in a career that was pioneered by minorities.
I believe there would not have been as much concern if Macklemore truly had a better album than Kendrick, who many have claimed to be the best rapper since Tupac. Kendrick more than proved his rap superiority with Good Kid Maad City, as well as with the numerous mixtapes he has released throughout the last few years. Even if Jay-Z, Kanye West, or Drake would have snagged the Grammy for Best Rap Album, there would have still been some controversy surrounding the issue because when it came down to lyrics, beats and overall production, Kendrick’s album was better. There just would not have been a racial undertone.
Even if Kendrick has snagged at least one out of the seven Grammys he was nominated for, then I would have felt a little better about the “they robbed us” moment when he got snubbed for Best Rap Album. But, to not even be awarded one, that’s where my anger set in.
What makes it so bad is that many people predicted Kendrick’s downfall at the Grammys and knew deep down that something like this would happen. I tried my best to stay hopeful and believe that true rap would reign this time, but this was not the case.
Yes, Macklemore poured his heart out and profusely apologized to Kendrick about winning the award when he knew that Kendrick really deserved the honor. Everyone saw the tweet he sent to Kendrick after the awards. Mack even went on the record and said that he knows he has a racial advantage in hip hop because he is white.
But the true blame for this stolen moment should not be put on Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. The real guilt is on the Grammy Recording academy who selected the winners. According to the Grammy process, “the winners are chosen based off of artistic or technical achievement, not sales or chart positions.” But, in this case, I believe chart position, popularity and race was more of a determining factor than the above mentioned criteria.
No one will ever be completely satisfied with how the Grammy selection committee chooses the winners; that is just not something we can change. But, when artists who are unfairly awarded due to race continues to prevail, then a serious look needs to be taken at this process as well as at the diversity of the committee. Only time will tell. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another 20 years before this racial Grammy issue is only a thing of the past.
“I definitely feel like they should always have more of the culture up in there, for sure, because we definitely stand out just like any other genre.. We part of the world. We part of the movement. So I think any awards, including the Grammys, should always push for more hip-hop because it’s music as a whole, it’s not just splitting different regions. Everything moves as far as sound and vibrations, and that’s how it goes. And we are a part of that. —- Kendrick Lamar talking to XXL about hip hop’s presence at the Grammys
Here are a few articles which discuss the Macklemore/Kendrick Grammy issue.