2016 Grammy nominations: Are the Grammys ready to get behind hip-hop?

This year’s Grammy nominations are here – and once again there is speculation about whether the music industry’s highest honor could go to a hip-hop artist.

Rapper Kendrick Lamar led all artists with 11 nominations, including the coveted Album of the Year and Song of the Year categories. Since the Grammys began awarding the Album of the Year prize in 1959, only two hip-hop artists – Lauryn Hill and Outkast – have won it. And both of their LPs were not considered traditional rap albums.

In 2014, Kendrick Lamar’s acclaimed, autobiographical “good kid, m.A.A.d city” not only fell short of winning that award, it was also snubbed in the Best Rap Album category, which was widely perceived as an oversight, even by the victor, Macklemore. Lamar’s brand of socially relevant, experimental rap has made him a critical darling (his “To Pimp a Butterfly” is one of the most well-reviewed albums of the year) but he may face an uphill battle against what many believe is an anti-hip-hop bias within the Grammy voting bloc. 

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“The academy seems to have gotten a lot of these nominations in the hip-hop realm right this year, but that doesn’t change the history of the awards and the hip-hop community. Most of the hip hop and urban categories aren’t televised, but we know that we can always expect to see nominated artists on stage,” BET Associate Editor Taj Rani told MSNBC on Monday. “Kendrick has 11 nods, but it doesn’t negate the constant snubs and lack of understanding for hip hop/rap categories – for that, we have a long way to go. This is just one step in the right direction.”

“To me, music has little to do with race,” Neil Portnow, president of the Recording Academy, told the Los Angeles Times earlier this year. “It has more to do with soul and heart and passion and talent. We don’t look at [the nominees] in terms of their ethnic background but in terms of how amazing they are.”

And while the academy will not release the demographics of their membership, their past decisions to award the likes of Steely Dan, Herbie Hancock and Robert Plant over the likes of Lil Wayne and Eminem, suggest a cultural and generation disconnect.

“Somebody who knows all there is to know about Crosby, Stills & Nash isn’t going to know about rap,” Public Enemy frontman and hip-hop icon Chuck D told the L.A. Times in February.

Frustration with the Grammys has become such a fixture in hip-hop, that rappers have taken to chastising the awards in their songs.

No other artist has gone to war with the Grammys more than Kanye West. The “New Slaves,” rapper has not only came up short three times in the Album of the Year category in the last 10 years, he’s seen some of his most critically and commercially beloved albums – “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” “Watch the Throne,” and “Yeezus,” left out of the Album of the Year competition entirely.

This year, when veteran alternative artist Beck pulled off an unexpected upset over West’s friend, the hip-hop influenced songstress Beyoncé , West said he’d had enough. 

“All I know is if the Grammys want real artists to keep coming back, they need to stop playing with us. We ain’t gonna play with them no more,” he said following the awards show.

“Because what happens is, when you keep on diminishing art and not respecting the craft and smacking people in the face after they deliver monumental feats of music, you’re disrespectful to inspiration and we as musicians have to inspire people who go to work every day and they listen to that Beyoncé album and they feel like it takes them to another place,” he continued. Although West later apologized to Beck for diminishing his work, the message that the Grammys were out of step has managed to linger.

Ironically, Lamar will face an old West nemesis, Taylor Swift, in the Album of the Year race. West infamously interrupted a Swift acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, an act which even drew condemnation from President Barack Obama. Since then, Swift has become a pop music juggernaut, albeit a divisive one, and her “1989” album is one of the best selling albums of the year. 

I do see this as an official showdown between [Swift and Lamar], but who knows how the voters feel,” Slant Deputy Editor Kyle Harvey told MSNBC on Monday. “It’s hard to judge what the Grammy voters consider to be relevant considering the times that we live in, but a hip hop album winning this year would show that the Grammys are aware of what’s happening in the country politically.” 

The full list of Grammy nominees can be viewed here. The awards will air February 15 next year on CBS.

Hip-Hop, Kanye West, Music and Pop Culture

2016 Grammy nominations: Are the Grammys ready to get behind hip-hop?