Photo of Kendrick performing at Bonnaroo 2015, by Josh Brasted
/// The following is an opinion editorial piece reflecting the views of the author.
When the 58th Grammy nominations were revealed early Monday morning, shortly after putting on pants, I thought about how big of a deal it is that Kendrick Lamar is leading the pack with 11 nods (the second-highest of all time behind only Michael Jackson's 12 in 1984).
Sure, Taylor Swift is listed in most of the expected categories, but Lamar is clearly ahead thanks to a hybrid of factors, from his critically acclaimed To Pimp a Butterfly to a well-documented victory by Macklemore in 2014. The Recording Academy has a chance to redeem itself and members obviously went out of their way to make that possible in 2016.
Once again, rap and hip-hop are at the center of the Grammy conversation, as it's increasingly been for the past few years. And once again, these categories will probably be relegated to the pre-telecast ceremony, which would be extremely disappointing should that be the case.
While the Academy places emphasis on the golden four categories of Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist, the latter categories aren't necessarily driving the buzz.
Yes, there's excitement for D'Angelo's inclusion in Record of the Year or perhaps Courtney Barnett making the cut for Best New Artist. But Best New Artist wasn't trending on Facebook for much of the day on Monday—Best Rap Album was.
Of course, Lamar's entry is undoubtedly the frontrunner. But he's also up against Drake's top-selling "mixtape" If You're Reading This It's Too Late. And voters clearly have love for J. Cole, whose nomination for 2014 Forest Hills Drive was hardly a surprise and is definitely well-deserved. Then again, Nicki Minaj has a chance to become the first female solo artist to win the award for The Pinkprint. And you can't forget about Dre, who's up for the first time in 15 years with his final album Compton.
The fact is, rap voters and the Academy at large know these categories are huge drivers. That's why Lamar is ahead of Swift. That's why this past year's mere possibility of Iggy Azalea taking home the gold prompted online protests and numerous think pieces. That's why the Grammys likely bent over backwards to get Kanye West to perform last February—knowing all too well what he might do—despite his multiple public rants against the awards.
Even though West nearly pulled a Kanye and interrupted Beck's acceptance speech, they got Kanye to come. And he became the biggest headline of the night, without winning a single trophy. Even if Azalea never had a chance at winning, her nomination caused an uproar. And Macklemore's "I robbed you" text to Lamar was comedy and meme material for months. Because viewers care about these categories.
Best Rock Album, on the other hand, which regularly appears on the televised schedule (as it did last year) is not the cultural centerpiece it was in past years, as rock's role in music is definitely not what it was 20 or even 10 years ago.
While I am a big fan of Beck and rock, it's unlikely the majority of 16-year-olds and 20-somethings went back to school or work the next day talking about Beck winning Best Rock Album. What's more likely, they were talking about West's near-interruption of his Album of the Year acceptance speech.
And it's not a dig against rock as a whole. It's just that hip-hop is our rock now. And that's great for music, because it means the lines between genres matter less and less.
The Academy is surely aware of that, considering next year's strange Best Rock Album competition, which pits the somber works of James Bay and Death Cab for Cutie against the likes of Muse and Slipknot. And chances are, few will be deeply invested in this battle. At least not enough to tune in for the three-hour ceremony if given other options.
And ultimately, that's what matters. The Recording Academy and CBS are deliberately moving the Grammys from its usual Sunday perch to Monday, Feb. 15, for the sake of ratings. It's all to avoid a slump during the three-day Presidents' Day weekend, which would have also seen the telecast going head-to-head against The Walking Dead's mid-season premiere on Valentine's Day (Feb. 14).
So if ratings are important enough that Music's Biggest Night will bring all the stars out on a Monday in hopes of attracting more eyeballs, if Lamar's 11 nods are a sign the Academy is serious about including rap fans (who are actually a big portion of music fans and not just a minority "demographic"), the Best Rap Album award should indeed be televised.
Over the course of the next two months, numerous predictions will be made. Many articles will be published about who should win and who will win. Fans on Twitter will speculate and start bitter online feuds with friends and total strangers, arguing about their favorites. And at the center of many of these debates will no doubt be rap and hip-hop, stirring incredible hype and anticipation for the Grammys.
If To Pimp a Butterfly were to win Album of the Year in 2016, Kendrick Lamar would be the first male solo rapper to nab that trophy. When a surprised Lauryn Hill became the first rapper to win the award in 1999, she said during her acceptance speech that it was "crazy because this is hip-hop music."
Seventeen years later, it shouldn't be "crazy" to see hip-hop front and center. And as producers and executives are already planning next year's big event, making room for a rap award during the live telecast wouldn't only be great for fans of hip-hop, it would be great for fans of music.