Hip-Hop and The Grammys: Always a Rocky Relationship

Hip-Hop and The Grammys: Always a Rocky Relationship

Published Mon, April 4, 2022 at 5:00 AM EDT

Rap has been anti-establishment and against the status quo since its inception in the early 1970s, and it has been nearly impossible to define since its debut as a recorded medium and genre of music in 1979.

It took the Grammys, which are presented by the Recording Academy a full decade to recognize Rap, and when they did, it was met by a boycott by some of the genre’s greatest. Prior to Rap music gaining wide and mainstream acceptance in the 1990s, Grammy Awards (or any accolades presented by the mainstream) weren't high priorities to be sought after by many rap artists. Public Enemy’s Chuck D famously framed the sentiment of a great majority of Hip Hoppers perfectly when he yelled his grievances on Public Enemy's “Terminator X To The Edge of Panic":

Trick a chick in Miami, Terminator X packs the jams/who gives a fuck about a goddamn Grammy/any way when I say it the D’s defendin’ the mic/who gives a fuck about what they like, right?”

Hip Hop, (more specifically Rap music), was seen as the bastard child of Black music, and music in general. By 1989, the genre's momentum was unstoppable and it was clear that Hip-Hop was a cultural movement that certainly didn’t require the approval of the same entities that questioned its validity a decade prior.

The first Grammy ever awarded for Rap was in 1989 for Best Rap Performance, and it was awarded to D.J. Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince. Genres like Classical , Spoken Word and Jazz had historically been awarded off camera, because they were considered less popular than Rock, R&B, Pop and Country. The first Rap Grammy was not televised and because of this Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, Salt n Pepa and L.L. Cool J (all of which were nominated in the category) chose not to attend, instead boycotting at the advice of Def jam Records co-founder Russell Simmons, according to the New York Post.

D.J. Jazzy Jeff said at the time: “They televised 16 categories, and from record sales, from the Billboard charts, from the overall public’s view, there’s no way that out of 16 categories, that Rap isn’t in the top 16.” The Fresh Prince aka Will Smith said: “It was a slap in the face, so we chose to boycott. You go to school for 12 years and they give you your diploma, then they deny you that walk down the aisle.” The Grammys responded: "When you have 76 Grammy categories and you only have time to put 12 on the air, you've got 64 unhappy groups of people."

Trick a chick in Miami, Terminator X packs the jam, who gives a fuck about a goddamn Grammy, any way when I say it the D’s defendin’ the mic, yeah who gives a fuck about what they like, right?

- Chuck D of Public Enemy

Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s Jive Records labelmate Kool Moe Dee and West Coast girl group J.J. Fad were nominated in that same Best Rap Performance category in 1989. They chose not to attend, and instead showed up at the awards, with Kool Moe Dee, who actually presented the award for Best Male R&B Vocal – an offer originally made to Will Smith.

“The irony was that we were boycotting at a time when they were finally acknowledging us," Kool Moe Dee said after the awards. “A much better strategy, and a much bigger Hip-Hop move, would have been for everybody to go to the Grammys and make our case in that space where the world was watching.”

Juana Sperling, (aka MC J.B. of JJ Fad), who were nominated for their smash “Supersonic” recalled the incident. “We were teenagers. This was super exciting and who knew if we would get that shot again, and thank God because we never did," she reflected. “Still, if I knew what I know now I definitely would have agreed to the boycott. We were young and didn’t know about politics or making a statement.”

The Rap Grammy was televised the next year in 1990, and since then much has transpired. Not only have several Hip-Hop artists won Grammys some have hosted the Grammy’s, been inducted into the Grammy Hall of fame and even received Grammy Lifetime Achievement Awards. In 1990 Young M.C. became the first solo Rap artist to win a Grammy for his hit single “Bust A Move”. In 1995 both Queen Latifah and Salt N Pepa won Grammys for “U.N.I.T.Y.” (Best  Rap Solo Performance) and “None of Your Business” (Best Rap Performance By a Duo or Group), respectively. In 1996 Naughty By Natures Poverty’s Paradise became the first ever Best Rap Album award winner beating out Tupac’s Me Against The World and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s E. 1999 Eternal. Jay-Z and Kanye West are tied with the most Grammy Awards for any Rap artist with 22 wins each.

Our records coulda sold 50 million if they had to, but they won't give us no statue

- Chubb Rock

In 2014 Macklemore won the Best New Artist in the Rap category at the Grammys, beating out the expected winner Kendrick Lamar. The win was a surprise to fans and commentators, and even Macklemore himself, who famously texted Kendrick after the ceremony. “You got robbed. I wanted you to win. You should have. It’s weird and it sucks that I robbed you.”

His text continued: “I was gonna say that during the speech, then the music started playing during my speech and I froze. Anyway, you know what it is. Congrats on this year and your music.” Macklemore’s win further convinced many including Macklemore himself that the awards exhibit race-based bias. Macklemore said on a recent episode of Peoples Party With Talib Kweli: “I’m struggling with like, damn I’m benefiting from the system I’ve been calling out since I was fucking 20 years old.”

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Because of Kanye West’s recent online harassment of his ex-wife Kim Kardashian and her new love interest Pete Davidson, as well as a racial epithet that he used against comedian Trevor Noah, Ye was barred from performing at this year’s ceremony. Kanye picked up five nominations this year, including Album Of The Year. But as a result of Kanye’s ban, entertainment mogul J. Prince called for a Grammy boycott and a concert given on the same night and time as the Grammy awards titled “Hip Hop vs The Grammys."

Roc-A-Fella co-founder (and onetime Kanye mentor) Dame Dash and other have called on members of the Hip Hop culture to start their own awards and Halls of Fame. “We make our Grammys," Dame told TMZ. "I don’t get into politics. I’m not trying to fit into somebody else’s system. We create our own and we don’t have to worry about someone else’s rules.”

Although the relationship between Hip-Hop and the Grammys had been a rocky one; Grammy Lifetime Achievement Awards have been received by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5, Salt-N-Pepa, Public Enemy and Run -D.M.C. Those are a step in the right direction.

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