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Grammys make strides with hip-hop representation — but is it too late?

Gerrick D. Kennedy, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

LOS ANGELES -- At Sunday's Grammys ceremony, Cardi B and Donald Glover both made rap history with major wins that upended decades of tradition.

However, only one of them was on hand to actually celebrate.

"I can't breathe," an emotional Cardi said after collecting the trophy for rap album, the first time the award went to a female solo artist. (Lauryn Hill took the honor with her group the Fugees in 1997.)

It was a breakthrough moment for the self-described "regular, degular, shmegular girl from the Bronx" born Belcalis Almanzar who went from reality television scene-stealer on VH1's soap "Love & Hip Hop: New York" to rap superstar in a year's time, and a major watershed moment for hip-hop -- a genre long dominated by men that has sadly ignored the game-changing women that help define its sound when it has come to rewarding its talents on the Grammy stage.

Cardi's win -- and a sizzling, triumphant performance of her smash "Money" -- was a highlight of the show, but it was the complete absence of Glover, who performs as Childish Gambino, that was the talk of the night.

Glover became the first musician to win song and record of the year for a rap track with his poignant "This Is America," but he chose to sit out music's biggest night, along with Kendrick Lamar, Taylor Swift and, to much controversy, Ariana Grande.

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"It's a pretty significant moment," Glover's collaborator Ludwig Goransson said backstage on Sunday. "('This Is America') speaks to so many people. It talks about injustice and celebrates life and unites people at the same time. There aren't a lot of songs that do that."

"I was surprised (a rap song) hadn't won" record and song of the year, Goransson added. "I assumed rap songs have won these awards because every time I see this show there's rap on this stage with big performances. So it is a surprise. If you listen to the radio or watch our culture, you see that rap is at the top. But it's about time that the Grammys has caught up."

The no-shows pointed to the challenges that face the Recording Academy every year, but it was Gambino, Lamar and Drake's decision to turn down performance offers from Grammy producers that reignited the decades-old debate about how the Recording Academy rewards hip-hop across major categories.

Despite its continued prominence and growing influence, hip-hop and R&B continues to be a sore spot for fans of those genres when it comes to the Grammys -- and Sunday was no different, albeit for far different reasons.

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