The Recording Academy week of Grammy festivities kicked off with the Grammy Museum’s first exhibit on the history of hip-hop, exploring rap’s triumphs over three decades while also presenting the academy’s own history with the genre.
This year’s awards, however, were the lowlights in the Grammys’ complicated relationship with hip- hop. Eminem again found himself on the losing end in the album of the year category, trumped by rockers Arcade Fire for “The Suburbs” in an evening that saw him lose eight of his leading 10 possible Grammy bids.
It marked Eminem’s third loss in the category over his 12-year career and underscored the Recording Academy’s inability to fully embrace a type of music it only started to recognize in 1989, a decade after its birth.
Despite groundbreaking hiphop albums that have changed music’s landscape — from Dr. Dre’s“Nothin’ButaGThang”to Jay-Z’s “The Blueprint” to Eminem’s “The Marshall Mathers LP” to Kanye West’s masterpieces — a rap act has only won the coveted album of the year trophy twice.
The first award went to Lauryn Hill in 1999 for “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” which featured the fierce Fugees rapper mostly singing. The second was in 2003 for OutKast’s double album “Spearkerboxxx/ The Love Below,” which also featured singing, including the rock-tinged retro hit “Hey Ya.”
While rap has enjoyed a major role in the Grammys broadcast over the last decade, it wasn’t always so: It took a few years after the Grammys established a category for rap artists to be included in the television ceremony, leading some prominent rappers to boycott the show. And the Grammys were initially derided for their early honorees, including Vanilla Ice.
Now, though, rappers are taken more seriously by the Grammys and even best new artist nominee Drake raps about hopefully one day holding a trophy.
Eminem has 13 Grammys, but all have been in the rap categories. Jay-Z has 10; except for one award, all his wins were in the rap field (he won best rhythm and blues song with wife Beyonce for “Crazy in Love”). Kanye West has 14 trophies — four less than Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honoree Aretha Franklin — yet, he has never won outside of rap.
A rap song has never won for record or song of the year. This year, it seemed like that might change: Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie,” featuring Rihanna, was up in both categories, while Jay-Z’s anthem with Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind,” and B.o.B’s “Nothin’ on You” featuring Bruno Mars, were both up for record of the year.
Instead of picking one of those hits, the Grammys — voted on by artists, executives, technical professionals and other industry insiders — instead went with “Need You Now,” the mellow ballad from country’s crossover trio, Lady Antebellum. The Academy also shunned “(Expletive) You” by Cee Lo Green, a retro groove sung by the former Goodie Mobb member.
A rare triumph for hip-hop outside the rap categories came in 2001, when Dr. Dre walked away with producer of the year. But that was also the year that the album he produced — Eminem’s groundbreaking “The Marshall Mathers LP” — lost to Steely Dan in an upset that may only rival Jethro Tull’s much-derided win in the hard rock/heavy metal category.
Earlier this month, in an interview with The Associated Press, Grammy CEO and President Neil Portnow said the Grammy Museum’s “ Hip- Hop: A Cultural Odyssey” exhibit, titled after the new book by the same name, was an opportunity to see how much the genre has grown since it’s inception.
“Hip-hop really has a milestone this year, in the sense that it’s 30 years now that hip-hop has emerged and ultimately become a fully integrated and integral part of not only American culture but culture worldwide,” he noted.
Grammy integration is still a work in progress.