So Cardi B won a Grammy…I’m not surprised
By: Bryon D. Turman
Leave Cardi B alone! It’s not her fault! This year’s 61st Annual Grammy Awards marked the 40th anniversary of the first-ever Grammy for Rap Music. Cardi B took home the Rap Album of the Year award for Invasion of Privacy (2018) and was nominated for Best Rap Performance, Record of the Year and Album of the Year. Many hardcore rap fans cried foul. Many fans, including me, believe that Nipsy Hussle’s Victory Lap (2018) should have won Rap Album of the Year. However, a brief look at the history of Rap Grammy winners might bring clarity.
In 1989, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince took home the inaugural award for The Best Rap Performance for “Parents Just Don’t Understand” from the album, He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper (‘88). Even then, many hip-hop aficionados were perplexed. The following were also nominated for that award: J. J. Fad for “Supersonic” (from the album of the same name), Kool Moe Dee for “Wild Wild West” from How Ya Like Me Now? (‘87), LL Cool J for “Going Back to Cali” from the Less than Zero soundtrack and LL’s Walk Like a Panther (‘89), and Salt-n-Pepa “Push It” from Hot, Cool and Vicious (‘86). Although each was very popular at the time, rap purists were dismayed at the Academy’s choices and noticed a few glaring omissions. This year’s nominees perhaps better-reflected rap purists’ tastes but the winners, as usual, left many of those same folk repeating the familiar phrase, “WTF” just as they did in ’89.
The 1989 Grammys failed to even nominate several works from artists who produced classic rap records and/or albums. De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising (‘89) produced tracks that are ingrained in hip-hop lore. “Me, Myself & I”, “Buddy” and “Say No Go” from De La are etched into the memories of most true rap fans perhaps more so than “Parents Just Don’t Understand”. EPMD’s second studio album, Unfinished Business (‘89), contained the smash,” So What Cha Sayin’”, which reached No. 5 on Billboard’s Rap Song list while the album went to No. 1 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and was also snubbed by the Grammys. Even “I Got It Made” from Special Ed’s debut album, The Youngest in Charge (‘89), considered a Top 100 Rap Album by The Source magazine received no love from the Grammy’s nominating committee.
The aforementioned songs and albums on which they were contained excited hip-hop heads more than anything from DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. These glaring omissions demonstrated that from its inception the Rap Grammy Awards were more of a “who crossed over the best” contest than an example of the best of what hip-hop had to offer in any given year. This is demonstrated by the list of artists who either never won any Grammy or those who weren’t even nominated. That list includes many of hip-hop’s most significant artists never tasted Grammy glory. Run-DMC, Tupac, Biggie, Nas, A Tribe Called Quest, MC Lyte, Snoop, T.I., NWA, Ice Cube and even Public Enemy have never clutched a Grammy of any kind.
The obvious problem here is that Public Enemy, NWA, Run-DMC, and Tupac were all inducted into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame. Rolling Stone also recognized Run-DMC, NWA, and Public Enemy as producing three of the Top Ten Rap Songs of ALL times. How can it be that songs and artists represent the greatest of rap music in its 40 years of recorded music but those same artists can’t claim a Grammy win of any kind? The answer as always is in the details. The Grammys have a convoluted selection process which rewards record sells above all else. Major labels have a stranglehold on who wins and oftentimes, especially as it pertains to early rap songs and artists, the companies that produce rap didn’t support records from artists considered “too” whatever for Grammy taste. Instead, they pushed those with so-called crossover appeal. In short, records that the majority culture rocked with.
So, this year’s Rap Grammys were no different than the previous 40 especially as it pertains to hip-hop. Childish Gambino won Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Music Video and Best Rap/Sung Performance for “This Is America” from his upcoming album. He’s the first rapper to win both Record of the Year and Song of the Year. However, I’ve rarely heard it blaring from the speakers anywhere that I’ve been. What gives? Welp, the Grammy has rarely been awarded to artists and records that the “streets” love. In short, Cardi B’s win is what it is. It’s another glaring example of what hip-hop heads have known since the first Rap Grammy was awarded. The Grammys have rarely been and probably never will be an accurate portrayal of how the people who look like the artists feel about who’s the best in any given year. It’s that simple, so don’t be mad at Cardi B. She’s experienced a very successful year and should enjoy her Grammy nod even if rap purists don’t.
Bryon D. Turman designed and currently teaches two different hip-hop-related courses in the Department of English at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.