Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The battle between hip hop relevancy and winning "Album of the Year", why Kendrick didn't win (but should have), and who really should have a beef with the awards

Disclaimer: My musical interests are strongly biased in a couple of directions, and this article focuses almost solely on hip-hop. I assume, through the treatment of one of, if not the, most important genre of our generation reflects the approach of the Grammys towards all musical vocations. 

I can't help in assuming that you may not recall the musical significance of October of 2012, a month in which two rappers who didn't realize they were competing for prominence along the West Coast released albums that would unknowingly divide opinions as well as cause slight racial tension and once again streamline media bias into the public mind rather than just the public eye and finally decide a series of Grammy awards. Ultimately, the good battle should have been reality versus reality, where, inevitably, we're all winners and losers. Instead, the popular narrative becomes horns or drums, white or black, Compton or Capital Hill, nothing anyone asked for. The artistic competition itself wasn't even much in question, and neither was the entertainment entanglement. So how do you decide who wins the Grammy for Rap Album of the Year? Well, whoever's more marketable, of course. Macklemore over Kendrick, hoisting a heist of an award over a kid determined to stay good in music's m.a.a.d. city.

There's plenty to dislike about the Grammys. How about Bruno Mars victory in pop album of the year over Lorde, Lana Del Ray, Robin Thicke, and Justin Timberlake? The average listener picks Obnoxious Jukebox...excuse me, Unorthodox Jukebox last amongst that group. Something about no one liking a whiny voice on a man. Or hearing those grating notes over, and over, and over on the radio. Or Macklemore winning New Artist of the Year. Are the Grammys familiar with his first album, The Language of My World? They should be; as I write this, on January 27th, 2014, the album is sitting at #40 on iTunes top rap discs. It came out in 2005. That's nine years ago. Nine years. NINE YEARS! That's over half of Lorde's life ago. She was also nominated for New Artist, and no, she hadn't put out a CD as an eight year old girl in 2005. And then there's the timing itself, which means the Grammys recognize music that's often already irrelevant. No productions post-September 30th, 2013 was eligible for this year's awards. Essentially, the Grammys tells us they need, at minimum, four months to digest a song. And yet, they still manage to make egregious mistakes. But that's not the purpose of this post. Let's return to Rap Album of the Year.

Macklemore won 4 awards last night. And this is going to hurt. As a fellow Washingtonian, as a consumer as frustrated by the lack of national exposure for Northwest rappers as the artists themselves are, and as a Macklemore fan, this is going to hurt...but...

He didn't deserve to win any of them.

Sorry Northwest, but you know I'm right. Best New Artist? Should have been the aforementioned Lorde, who wasn't even nominated. Trust me, living with ten girls, as I do at the moment, not a day goes by without me hearing her. Or how about Lana, who surprised the industry with deep female vocals and gorgeous songwriting? Yeah, she put out Born to Die in January of 2012, which technically wouldn't make that album eligible, but Paradise was nominated for Pop Album of the Year, and besides, 2012 is still seven years more recent than 2005. By Grammy standards, she'll probably be winning Best New Artist next year. Maybe the real winner here should have been 2 Chainz, who just got popular but has been around since 1997. Whatever.

I don't even want to talk about Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song. For the record, because I certainly wasn't aware of the distinction, Performance denotes the award for an entire production crew, whereas Song regards and rewards only the songwriter. So explain this logic to me. Ben Haggardy (Macklemore) is, correctly, nominated for Song of the Year, for Same Love. Not Rap Song, just Song. However, despite being, according to the committee, a top five song across all spectrums of music, it is not, in fact, a top five rap song. Let me try and draw out this absurdity.

So to break down the poorly constructed diagram, we see that Same Love is in the top five of the larger pool, despite coming from the smaller pool. And yet, it isn't top five in the smaller pool it comes from. Huh? Not possible. Like having a fraction over zero, this doesn't exist. Also, we can see that country is not music. Just kidding, I still want to go to Watershed. I think?

So...if the Grammys can pick Same Love out of the (possible) billion general songs, how can the same people miss it in the much smaller pool of hip-hop tracks? Unbelievable. So what'd they choose instead? Fucking Thrift Shop!!!!! What the fuck!!!!!!! Are you kidding me?? Yeah, it's a fun song, but holy balls there are SO MANY BETTER CHOICES THAN THAT ONE!!!!! It's one of the worst songs on the album. I can only conclude that the more times a song is forced down our throats on the radio or in a department store, the more the Grammys enjoy it. And it isn't that I'm a pop music hater. I'm just really, REALLY over that! Over and over...and I'm over it. Based solely on the nominees, I'd have picked Swimming Pools by Kendrick for Performance and Fucking Problems by All of Rap's Hit-Makers for Song. But really, Same Love deserves the Song award, and ironically, Fucking Problems should win Performance for being the most entertaining rap hit during that time frame.

But, most importantly, good kid, m.A.A.d. city was better than The Heist, and should have won Album of the Year. Many have made a fuss about this for the wrong reason. Macklemore didn't win because he's white and Kendrick's black. He didn't win because he had access to better production. And he definitely didn't win because the awards committee was rooting against Compton, seeing how overlooked Washington music has been, year after year. He won because he's simply more entertaining than Kendrick. I don't know whether that means he's more mainstream, because as unconventional as Kendrick's diction and flow are, Macklemore's equally unusual, coming from a weird area and being about as countercultural as possible in his songs. A pro-gay marriage single? Another one about NOT spending money? It's possible he stood out simply for his awkward topic selection. That's not because he's white - you're much more likely to hear Eminem call another rapper a faggot than to hear him defend the rights of gays. It's just who Macklemore is, and the country noticed. But it remains a gimmicky tactic, one that he'll have to back up with better rapping ability than he showed on The Heist. If you've heard his CDs of past (The Unplanned Mixtape, The Versus EP come to mind), you know he's got the skill, charisma and, above all, the flow, to do so, but he didn't display these as prominently on The Heist, sacrificing lyrical dominance for appeal. I mean, it won him 4 Grammys, but he's not as good as Kendrick, and what do those Grammys really mean (if you aren't much of a rap fan, skip this part and trust my analysis)?

Check out this list and try to identify the winners. This is the history of Grammy Rap Album of the Year award nominees since the commencement of the honor in 1996.

Write down your predictions, or just keep track in your head. See if you do as badly as me.

Now, I've not been listening to hip hop since 1995, the first group of albums that could have been considered. But I damn sure know which rap collections have made a real impact on the history of the genre dating back to the Sugar Hill Gang. So let's look at the probable winners from each year.

2Pac – Me Against the World
Bone Thugs-n-Harmony – E 1999 Eternal
Naughty by Nature - Poverty's Paradise
Ol' Dirty Bastard – Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version
Skee-Lo – I Wish

A relatively down year for rap, but the list definitely misses out on having GZA's Liquid Swords. As it is, 2pac's Me Against the World or ODB's Return to 36 Chambers are the obvious winners of this list.
Real Winner: Poverty's Paradise, Naughty by Nature. Connor's score: 0/1. Presumably off of the power of Hip Hop Hooray, once a big hit but lacking in the staying power of Skee-lo's I Wish or ODB's Brooklyn Zoo.

2Pac – All Eyez On Me
A Tribe Called Quest – Beats, Rhymes & Life
Coolio – Gangsta's Paradise
Fugees - The Score
LL Cool J – Mr. Smith

The two huge tracks from this period are obviously Gangster's Paradise (Coolio) and California Love (2pac). That would seem to put Coolio and Pac in the lead...but the Grammys completely ignored the crucial Reasonable Doubt by Jay-Z! What the fuck! Unreal! Ridin' Dirty by UGK lacked the fame, but influenced an entire generation of Southern rappers. But, based on the Grammy list, I've got to go with All Eyez on Me by Pac, a great CD in its own right.
Real Winner: The Score, The Fugees. Connor's score: 0/2. Fuck. Not a good start. Underestimated Lauryn Hill.

Missy Elliott – Supa Dupa Fly
Wyclef Jean – Wyclef Jean Presents The Carnival
The Notorious B.I.G. – Life After Death
Puff Daddy and the Family - No Way Out
Wu-Tang Clan – Wu-Tang Forever

I've definitely got a 50% chance on this one. It's either Life After Death, featuring Hypnotize AND Mo' Money, Mo' Problems, two of the biggest rap songs EVER, or Wu-Tang Forever, the huge double disker led by Triumph, still one of hip-hop lyrical monuments. I'm going with B.I.G. on his aptly titled release.
Real Winner: No Way Out, Puff Daddy and the Fam. Connor's score: 0/3. I have literally never heard of this CD. How the fuck does Puffy have a Grammy for rapping? And who on Earth could possibly comprise "The Fam"? Black Rob? Ma$e? I feel like I could have been in The Fam. I guess if Puffy has one, I have hope someday. Anyway.

A Tribe Called Quest – The Love Movement
Big Punisher – Capital Punishment
Jay-Z - Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life
Jermaine Dupri – Life in 1472
Mase – Harlem World

I'm a little less cocky after the last one. This wasn't a great year for rap anyway. I see that both It's Dark and Hell is Hot and Flesh of my Flesh, Blood of My Blood, each a DMX classic, got left off this list (they were powered by Ruff Ridah's Anthem and various barking noises), as well as Outkast's Aquamemi. Out of this group...I'll go with Jay. 
Real Winner: Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life. Connor's Score: 1/4. Hell yeah! First win! This one has a bit of staying power. At least the single does.

Busta Rhymes – E.L.E. (Extinction Level Event): The Final World Front
Eminem - The Slim Shady LP
Missy Elliott – Da Real World
Nas – I Am…
The Roots – Things Fall Apart

Not surprisingly, we're missing Blackstar and Mos Def's albums for this year. Shockingly, Blackout! by Redman and Method Man didn't make the cut, which was so popular they made a second ten years later. Ugh. This one has to be Slim Shady, Eminem's outrageous debut, because honestly, these other albums aren't all that, and you'll recognize My Name Is over any of them, any day.
Real Winner:  The Slim Shady LP, Eminem. Connor's picks: 2/5. Hell yeah! Coming back! Headed for .500 like the Wizards!

DMX – ...And Then There Was X
Dr. Dre – 2001
Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP
Jay-Z – Vol. 3... Life and Times of S. Carter
Nelly – Country Grammar

Holy balls, there are some great albums on this list. Like, all of them except for Vol. 3. Jay-Z has probably had the most overrated career of any rapper ever. No one has as much material to just throw out as him. Anyway, I'm going to count out Nelly and DMX, even though Country Grammar and Party Up (Up in Here) especially remain huge tracks today that anyone, anywhere can sing along to. Marshall Mathers was enormous, and The Real Slim Shady and Stan are mainstays. Plus, Eminem even made a second version of the CD! But Dre hasn't released anything since 2001. It's still the go to for his fans, his most recent work. Gotta be 2001 with Forgot About Dre, Still D.R.E. and, most of all, The Next Episode.
Real Winner: The Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem. Connor's picks: 2/6. Lost again. Here's where racial allegations start coming in, but MMLP was amazing. Just not 2001. Whatever, not terrible by the Grammys.

Eve – Scorpion
Ja Rule – Pain Is Love
Jay-Z – The Blueprint
Ludacris – Back for the First Time
Outkast - Stankonia

To completely contradict myself, there's no winner here besides The Blueprint. Jay-Z comes out with his best ever album, and this is the one that really made him a legend. And since Stillmatic for some reason doesn't earn a spot here, we go with the extremely obvious answer.
Real Winner: Stankonia, Outkast. Connor's picks: 2/7. Ugh. A lifetime achievement award, I guess. Fuck me.

Eminem - The Eminem Show
Ludacris – Word of Mouf
Mystikal – Tarantula
Nelly – Nellyville
Petey Pablo – Diary of a Sinner: 1st Entry

Well, based on the results of Eminem's past two nominations, I feel it's safe to say he won this one, too. Word of Mouf was dope, Nellyville had Hot in Herre, but it's mystifying how Mystikal and Petey Pablo made this list, especially over Nas' God's Son. I'll roll with the infinitely replayable Eminem Show. 
Real Winner: The Eminem Show, Eminem. Connor's picks: 3/8. Bang bang! Don't hate on Without Me, Cleanin' Out my Closet, White America, and the most intact song of all from this year, 'Till I Collapse.

50 Cent – Get Rich or Die Tryin'
Missy Elliott – Under Construction
Jay-Z – The Blueprint 2: The Gift & the Curse
Outkast - Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
The Roots – Phrenology

This one seems as obvious as any. Outkast might have dropped Hey Ya!, but any hip-hop fan will remember how HUGE Get Rich or Die Tryin' was. In Da Club still gets some play. The rest of these aren't even worth addressing. 50 fucking owned this year in rap. We're missing Technique's immortal Revolutionary Vol. 2, but 50 waited patiently, and I'm guessing many men voted for this heat to win.
Real Winner: Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, Outkast. Connor's picks: 3/9. Unbelievable. Have you ever actually listened to the album? Hey Ya! is the only worthwhile thing there. Fifty deserves this one, and I've got a lower percentage than JR Smith on any given night.

Beastie Boys – To the 5 Boroughs
Jay-Z – The Black Album
Kanye West - The College Dropout
LL Cool J – The DEFinition
Nelly – Suit

Hmmmm...No love for The Red Light District? There's been a clear lack of Luda love over the past couple of years, and no nominations for District or Chicken-N-Beer, his two top offerings, is sad. So this one has to come down to Jay or Ye. I liked The Black Album, but anyone who doesn't remember the importance of The College Dropout started listening in 2006.
Real Winner: The College Dropout, Kanye West. Connor's picks: 4/10. Obvious pick here. Jesus Walks dominated this time period, All Falls Down and The Workout Plan also banged. These were the good old days when Yeezy wasn't too arrogant. He was a golden boy, the nice guy who dropped lines like "here go my single dog, radio needs this/they say I can rap about anything except for Jesus!/That means guns, sex, lies, videotape/but if I talk about God my record won't get played? huh?" We didn't realize that "radio needs this" didn't mean "radio needs this message". It means "radio needs Kanye West". Sigh. I miss these days.

50 Cent – The Massacre
Common – Be
Eminem - Encore
Kanye West - Late Registration
Missy Elliott – The Cookbook

What a great year for rap!!!! Fuck the list - Game dropped The Documentary, Jeezy put out Thug Motivation 101, and most importantly, for the best album of the year, Lil' Wayne released Tha Carter II!!!!! Shit! So dope! Also, don't sleep on the Northwest. Macklemore's The Language of My World came out this year, meaning he could still be a new artist in 2014, and Blue Scholars self-titled album rocked Seattle to the core. But sadly, this list instead includes The Massacre, Encore, and The Cookbook. Really, it's down to Be and Late Registration. Common was dope, he had The Corner and Go! here, but I'm going with Diamonds, Heard 'Em Say and Gold Digger. 
Real Winner: Late Registration, Kanye West. Connor's picks: 5/11. Hell yeah. I'm on the comeback. Kanye's almost as safe a bet as Eminem. But Tha Carter II was the best thing this year. 

Lupe Fiasco – Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor
Ludacris - Release Therapy
Pharrell – In My Mind
The Roots – Game Theory
T.I. – King

Ahh. Really a weak line up of albums. Fuck this. They even skipped Doctor's Advocate. Whatever. Lupe was best this year.
Real Winner: Release Therapy, Ludacris. Connor's picks: 5/12. They've ignored him the past few years, and decide to reward his shittiest album in years.

Common – Finding Forever
Jay-Z – Kingdom Come
Kanye West - Graduation
Nas – Hip-Hop Is Dead
T.I. – T.I. vs. T.I.P.

I'm trying not to get lazy here, but Graduation is soooooo much better than the rest of this field. Give Kanye his third in four years.
Real Winner: Graduation, Kanye West. Connor's picks: 6/13. Correction: Kanye is an even safer pick than Eminem. And they say the Grammys are racist.

Jay-Z – American Gangster
Lil' Wayne - Tha Carter III
Lupe Fiasco – Lupe Fiasco's The Cool
Nas – Untitled
T.I. – Paper Trail

This couldn't possibly have been the state of hip hop at the time. Untitled was dope, The Cool was awesome, but the rest of this list is full of sell-out tunes. In the ignored category, The Cool Kids caused quite a stir this year, but didn't last. I've got to go with The Cool, although I know Weezy was the man of the year. If he wins, it's because he dominated the scene in 2008. 
Real Winner: Tha Carter III, Lil' Wayne. Connor's picks: 6/14. Yeah, well, this wasn't as good as Lupe's concept album, but it was the most popular thing and cemented Lil' Wayne as a true rap legend.

Common – Universal Mind Control
Eminem - Relapse
Flo Rida – R.O.O.T.S.
Mos Def – The Ecstatic
Q-Tip – The Renaissance

Nothing here really blows me away. This exercise is futile, anyway. I'm sure Eminem won this, but UMC was better than Relapse. Let's go with common.
Real Winner: Relapse, Eminem. Connor's picks: 6/15. A few people loved this, most thought it was mediocre, and a loud minority hated Relapse. Not the way to remember 2010 in rap.

B.o.B – B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray
Drake – Thank Me Later
Eminem - Recovery
Jay-Z – The Blueprint 3
The Roots – How I Got Over

This provides a good reminder of just how popular B.O.B. was in 2011. He had two number ones during this period, Airplanes and Nothin' on You (the unfortunate coming out of Bruno Mars...:(((). The Blueprint 3 sees Jay way past his prime. Same with The Roots. So that leaves Recovery, a great album that many disliked anyway, and Thank me Later, which dominated this time period. This was Drake's peak, regardless of the cult following he's currently developed. I'll remember my senior year of high school for Best I've Ever Had and Over, Bedrock and Every Girl. Now, obviously, not all of those were on Thank me Later, but this was Drake's year. Let's give him the award.
Real Winner: Recovery, Eminem. Connor's picks: 6/16. Really should have made a "can't pick against Kanye or Eminem" rule.

Lupe Fiasco – Lasers
Jay-Z and Kanye West – Watch the Throne
Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Nicki Minaj – Pink Friday
Lil Wayne – Tha Carter IV

This is one of the easiest picks of all. Kanye released his best ever album this year, absolutely killing it with MBDTF. So many hits, so deep, no weak points, plus the timeless Blame Game. Going with Kanye.
Real Winner: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye West. Connor's picks: 7/17. Followed my rule, and won. This was an obvious one.

2 Chainz – Based on a T.R.U. Story
Drake - Take Care
Lupe Fiasco – Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1
Nas – Life Is Good
Rick Ross – God Forgives, I Don't
The Roots – Undun

Hmm. God Forgives, I Don't was incredibly entertaining, but not mainstream enough. Lupe was terrible, 2 Chainz is ridiculous, The Roots are still over the hill. That leaves Drake, offering a solid CD, and Nas, who put out a banger as well. I'll go with Life is Good. Drake was too inconsistent.
Real Winner: Take Care, Drake. Connor's picks: 7/18. I suck at this. I bet you aren't doing any better.

Drake – Nothing Was the Same
Jay-Z – Magna Carta Holy Grail
Kanye West - Yeezus
Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid, M.A.A.D City
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – The Heist

Well, I think we know who I'd go with here, leaving me at 7/19, or a paltry 37% (I think; just off the top of my head). I'd be embarrassed if I weren't convinced I was right. But somehow, even this year, the Grammys missed one of the best albums - where the fuck is Long.Live.A$AP?!?!?! A$AP got dicked in this contest. Look back at that tracklist. Which party did you go to in either 2012 or 2013 that didn't play at least one of Goldie, Fuckin' Problems, or Wild for the Night? Which hip hop blog were you looking at that didn't blow up 1Train as the dopest song of the year, pre-Control? What car did you smoke in where the title track, PMW, or Angels wasn't playing? I guess the Grammy voters don't go to ragers, scan Internet blogs, hotbox cars, or generally live in a world that encounters hip hop in any fashion. How did Jay-Z get in here? Honestly? Magna Carta, Holy Grail was SO BAD. I can't even explain how bad Jay-Z was on this CD. Some of the worst rhymes I've ever heard. A$AP deserved a spot here. 

So, as we can see, there's very little correlation between these winners and what remains influential years later, or even what was notable at the time. I'm not saying I know everything about the genre, but I've got a great idea of what was popular, what was important, and what lasted. The Grammys, outside of two artists, consistently missed the boat, apparently drowning in Kendrick's pool of liquor instead. Eminem and Kanye win almost every time they're entered, which negates a lot of beautiful albums by talented MCs, and it seems to take a couple of years for artists to get their due anyway. So much so that it might take you nine years to win New Artist! Just kidding. But if you only read the Grammy winners to get your hip hop information, you'd know the following things:
1. Eminem and Kanye West are infinitely better than every other rapper ever.
2. Everyone else, including Jay-Z, is essentially a one hit wonder.
3. Outkast are the greatest group in the history of rap.
4. Ludacris peaked with Release Therapy. 
5. Who are Biggie and 2Pac?
Is this how you remember hip hop happening? Of course not. The Grammys aren't a strong reflection of the way hip hop actually played out in any given time frame. Even the nominations are wrong. For example, Game and Fabolous, two huge artists throughout the 2000s, never got nominated, and probably won't at this point. The Roots continue to "earn" nominations to this day, despite being far past their prime and lacking mainstream or underground influence anymore.

Which brings us back to 2014. Kendrick Lamar put together a masterpiece. GKMC is the lasting memory of my sophomore year of college. Swimming Pools was a better single than Thrift Shop, but Poetic Justice wasn't close to matching the popularity of Can't Hold Us, and there's no Same Love to be found here. But here's the issue - the Best Album should reward the best album, not the best collection of songs. An album comes with a concept, a trend, a theme, a meaning. Look at the release dates on the singles for Macklemore. My Oh My, December 2010. Wings, January 2011. Can't Hold Us, August 2011. Same Love, July 2012. Make the Money, also early. This is not to suggest that Kendrick did all his songs in a weekend, like Jay-Z did with The Blueprint, but they tell a full story. There's skits bookending the songs tying them together, a plot of a 17-year old, hormone induced hook up gone wrong, mixed with a poverty-driven burglary and the death of a cherished friend. Just another day in Kendrick's life. No matter where you come from, you can relate to portions of both artists' albums. But Macklemore wrote songs. Kendrick wrote a fucking movie. From the moment he commences, meeting her at a house party on El Segundo, even though she lives in borderline Compton near Dominguez High, you knew things were going to get turbulent for Kendrick, who, at 17, had nothing but pussy on his mental. All his words. His story. You want Macklemore's story? Check out the VS EP, The Unplanned Mixtape, and Language of My World. Those are the masterpieces he's painted. There are plenty of moments on The Heist, but nothing comparing to GKMC, a world where filler, like "BomBom", simply doesn't exist.

Am I biased because I went to school in LA? No. I'm biased because I saw white girls specifically searching their iPhones, just to play the hardcore rap song m.A.A.d. city at parties, everywhere. I'm biased because Bitch, Don't Kill my Vibe incorporates Lady Gaga and still somehow flows perfectly into the catchiest song of the time frame, Backseat (Freestyle). I'm biased because of the unreal show he put on in downtown right before the album came out, bringing Game, Dr. Dre, and Big Sean onstage with him. I'm biased because his album is better, and there's no defensible way around that. Listen to it straight through, the whole album is on youtube as one file, and try to tell me that's not the best rap you've heard in a long time. You can't. Macklemore, you had the best hits, but not the best album. Just another flabbergasting Grammys.

Luckily, we know they don't reflect the history of rap, in any way.

PS: Just to reiterate. The biggest loser of the Grammys = A$AP ROCKY!!!!!!!! How did Long.Live.A$AP not even catch a nomination? Did you listen to it? It was interesting, entertaining, introspective, the beats matched each other, the production was a breath of fresh air, the deep voice works perfectly, the party tracks were better than Macklemore or Kendrick's, there was street and mainstream appeal...I don't get it. Sorry, A$AP. No one's talking about you right now, but you're the one with the most gripes.

1 comment:

  1. what the actual fuck? if any genre deserves recognition its EDM. let me break it down for you, macklemore = pop not hip hop, jayzs album = pop, kendrick = rap. the part about where u used paint to make a diagram was very embarassing, fuck the grammys i get my music from music festivals first hand anyways not itunes top 40 so bitch try listening to real music not these fucking ad machines by record companies bye