OPINION: When it comes to the Grammys, Black people know the deal

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By Charlie R. Braxton

Jackson Advocate Guest Writer

Since the rise of rap/hip hop as one of America’s most popular musical genres, the Grammy Organization has consistently found ways to downplay its importance to American popular music.

This went on until 1989 when DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince were the first rap act to win a Grammy for Best Rap Performance for their classic single, “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” As delighted as the duo was to make Grammy history by being the first hip-hop group to be awarded a coveted Grammy, the group’s enthusiasm was soon doused like a soaking wet blanket tossed over a single spark when they learned that their portion of the award ceremony would not be televised on television like some of the other popular genres.  This caused the duo, along with a host of other rap acts, to boycott the ceremony altogether. While the boycott made a slight buzz in the mainstream media, it did little to make the Grammy Organization to mend its ways.

Despite the fact rap music was outselling more mainstream popular music like rock and R&B in some cases, in the 80s, the Grammys always seemed to treat it like the bastard stepchild of popular music. This may have been because there was no way to adequately confirm record sales in the 1980s, it was easy for the Grammy Organization and the music business as a whole to dismiss hip hop’s tremendous popularity, despite the fact record labels were making huge profits off of it. It wasn’t until 1991, when Soundscan was invented, that the music industry was forced to acknowledge that rap music was indeed on its way to overtaking pop music. That was the year that N.W.A.’s sophomore effort, 100 Miles and Runnin’, hit number one on the Billboard Pop Charts. While major labels eventually adjusted to the new reality, the Grammy Organization never quite got there, despite their efforts.

 Over the years, the organization continued to find ways to slight hip hop while using its popularity to reel in the youth audience by allowing one or two rappers to either present an award or perform on stage.  But they still kept ignoring important artists in the genre like DMX who released two platinum albums in 1998 but were not nominated for a Grammy in any of their rap categories. This overlooked nomination prompted Jay-Z, who was nominated for Rap Album of the Year, to boycott the Grammys.  And how can we ever forget the Grammys awarding McLemore and Ryan Lewis’s lackluster LP, The Heist over Kendrick Lamar’s classic LP, Good Kid M.A.A.D City in 2014. This was a slight so egregious that McLemore took to Twitter to publicly acknowledge that Kendrick Lamar deserved the award over him.

This year, Atlanta-based rapper Killer Mike’s stellar LP Michael won Grammys in all three categories, Best Rap Performance, Best Rap Song, and Rap Album of the Year. Although this was a great achievement for Killer Mike, for the City of Atlanta, Southern Hip Hop in general, Mike’s moment was sullied by the Grammy not televising Mike’s acceptance speech. To add insult to injury, Killer Mike was arrested for a misdemeanor shortly after appearing on stage to accept his last award and carted off in handcuffs like some common criminal. According to reports, the incident that led to the misdemeanor charge was over a security guard who tried to prevent Mike and members of his entourage from entering through the wrong door of the Grammy venue. Allegedly, Mike and his entourage made their way into the venue anyway. A scuffle ensued and during the alleged altercation, a female security officer was physically assaulted. Afterwards, the security guards decided to place Mike under arrest and call the L.A.P.D. to press formal charges. According to the L.A.P.D., Killer Mike pushed the lady security twice and threw an elbow as she attempted to block him from entering. The Atlanta rapper vehemently denies the charges, stating that,  “We experienced an overzealous security guard but my team and I have the utmost confidence that I will ultimately be cleared of all wrongdoing.”  The strange thing is that the Los Angeles police rarely arrest someone for a misdemeanor incident. So why make a spectacle of arresting Killer Mike? I think that somebody, somewhere, wanted to reinforce the age-old stereotype of Black male rappers as criminals, and they used this incident with Killer Mike to do it. But I digress…..

In an attempt to rectify past faux pas, the Grammy Organization gave N.W.A. a Lifetime Achievement Award for their outstanding contribution to music. In addition, they also gave Jay-Z a special Global Impact Award named in honor of Dr. Dre. At the presentation, Jay-Z chided the Organization by scolding them on their dismal record with hip hop by reminding them of both times he and Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince had to boycott the Grammys for slighting the genre.  Unfortunately, Jay-Z failed to mention that the Grammys not televising Killer Mike’s accepting his awards.  He also took the time to lament the fact that his wife, Beyoncé, who is arguably one of the greatest entertainers in the world, has never won a Grammy for Album of the Year. This is even though Beyoncé has won more Grammy Awards than any other female singer, pop or otherwise; Taylor Swift has won Album of the Year three times. “We love y’all,” said Jay-Z during his acceptance speech, “we want y’all to get it right.” While Jay-Z took the high road by never mentioning the word racism, Black folks already knew the deal. 

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OPINION: When it comes to the Grammys, Black people know the deal

By Jackson Advocate News Service
February 26, 2024