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

Gerrick D. Kennedy, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

From the decision to allow pop star Jennifer Lopez to anchor a medley of hits celebrating the great history of Motown (that one went over terribly online) to the dearth of rap performances on-air, there was lots to pick at.

Heading into this year's ceremony, the producers knew eyes were watching and waiting to criticize the show for its long-perceived exclusion of rap and hip-hop from major categories.

Producers angled to stack the show with performances from hip-hop titans Drake, Kendrick Lamar and Glover.

Glover was offered a spot on the show to perform "This Is America," a record that was a potent meditation on the commodification of black suffering in this country, but he turned producers down.

Lamar, whose multiple snubs in album of the year have sparked fury in the music community, was also a no-show. His work on the "Black Panther" soundtrack landed him his forth nod for album of the year, but he lost to front-runner Kacey Musgraves. And Drake too failed to win in the song, record and album categories.

Drake, who has long been absent from the major awards show circuit, surprised the Grammy audience by showing up to collect his award for rap song.

In his speech he alluded to his beef with the Grammys, mentioning that his win was "the first time in Grammy history where I actually am who I thought I was for a second, so I like that" before telling his peers that they shouldn't look to Grammy statues for validation.

"We play in an opinion-based sport, not a fact-based sport. It's not the NBA where at the end of the year you're holding a trophy because you made the right decisions or won the games. This is a business where sometimes it's up to a bunch of people who might not understand what a mixed-race kid from Canada has to say or a fly Spanish girl from New York or a brother from Houston.

"The point is, you've already won if you have people singing your songs words for words, or you're a hero in your hometown and people coming out in the rain or snow to your shows. You don't need this right here," he said before he appeared to be cut off, which infuriated many in the audience.


Backstage producers said they believed Drake's pause in his speech was an indicator that he was finished so they cut his microphone. They offered to allow him to return to stage, which he declined by saying he was happy with what he said onstage.

"Some of the pushback that I've found in recent years with regard to the show not only has to do with the nominations, but in some cases the results of those nominations. Whether they won or lost," the show's longtime producer Ken Ehrlich said in the days leading up to Sunday's show. "Am I sorry that Drake is not on this year? Yeah, I am. I wish he was. Am I sorry that I don't have Gambino? I am. They've both made incredibly relevant music this year and they should be on this stage."

At last year's Grammys, the narrative was tightly focused on rap's prominence among nominees in the major categories after historically being overlooked. However, Lamar was eclipsed by the retro R&B of Bruno Mars.

There were some significant hip-hop wins this year -- but it might have been too late for the community to care.

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