While last night’s 61st Annual Grammy Awards seemed to make an effort to deservedly highlight the many wonderful female artists and artists of color in today’s music world, perhaps the most pervading storyline to emerge from the ceremony seemed to highlight the ceremony’s continued representational shortcomings.
In the leadup to the event, one of the dominating narratives had been the many high-profile artists who declined to participate. As widely reported, several of hip-hop’s biggest names—including Drake, Childish Gambino, and Kendrick Lamar—turned down invitations to perform at “music’s biggest night.” Each of those three artists was nominated for multiple awards. Kendrick wound up taking home a statue for “Best Rap Performance” for “King’s Dead”. Gambino would end up winning for “Best Rap/Sung Performance”, “Best Music Video”, “Song of the Year”, and “Record of the Year” for his Internet-breaking track, “This Is America“, though neither artist was in the building to accept the awards themselves.
It was widely reported that Drake would also not be in attendance, but when his name was called as the winner of the “Best Rap Song” category for “God’s Plan”, the Toronto native surprised those watching by emerging from backstage—rather than from musicians’ customary place in the audience—to accept the award. Though noticeably a little surprised to hear his name called, Drake quickly used his acceptance speech platform to reinforce many artists’ views of the Grammys.
“I definitely did not think I was winning anything… I want to take this opportunity while I’m up here to just talk to the kids that are watching this that are aspiring to do music, all my peers that make music from their heart, that do things pure and tell the truth: I wanna let you know we play an opinion-based sport, not a factual-based sport. So it’s not the NBA where at the end of the year you’re holding a trophy because you made the right decisions and won the games. This is a business where, sometimes, it’s up to a bunch of people who may not understand, you know, what a mixed-race kid from Canada has to say, or a fly Spanish girl from New York (Cardi B), or a brother from Houston (Travis Scott). … You’ve already won if you have people who are singing your songs word for word, if you are a hero in your hometown. If there is people who have regular jobs who are coming out in the rain, in the snow, spending their hard-earned money to buy tickets to come to your shows, you don’t need this right here, I promise you. You already won.”
The show went to commercial quickly from there, seemingly cutting Drake off from the rest of his speech after downplaying the significance of the award. While the Recording Academy has since clarified that cutting off the end of the speech was a mistake—they say it seemed he had reached a “natural pause”—it seemed to drive home Drake’s sentiments even harder.
Drake – 2019 “Best Rap Song” Grammy Acceptance Speech
As the show’s longtime producer, Ken Ehrlich, told The New York Times in an interview last week, “The fact of the matter is, we continue to have a problem in the hip-hop world. When they don’t take home the big prize, the regard of the academy, and what the Grammys represent, continues to be less meaningful to the hip-hop community, which is sad.”
This issue has become more polarizing as hip-hop continues to take over as one of popular music’s most successful genres. As The Guardian notes, “The last 12 months have seen hip-hop continue a commercial domination of music that began in 2017 when Nielsen Soundscan figures from the US suggested eight of the 10 most listened to artists in the world were rappers.”
The Grammy Awards have long had issues with the hip-hop world. The tensions date back all the way to 1989, when several high-profile hip-hop acts boycotted the ceremony after learning that the newly added “Best Rap Performance” category would be among those not televised during the broadcast. The Academy has continually come under fire for perceived mishandlings of the hip-hop world’s recognition in the years since. In 2016, commercial darling Macklemore took home the award for “Best Rap Album”, but quickly publicized his views that Kendrick Lamar was more deserving of the award for his critically-acclaimed album, good kid, M.A.A.D. city. Just last year, Jay-Z, one of the biggest names in the hip-hop world, was nominated for 8 awards for 4:44, but wound up going home winless. He also elected not to attend in 2019.
While the continued disparity between the Grammys’ award choices and the opinions of listeners was once again highlighted this year, the hip-hop community did score some notable cross-genre wins. Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” became the first rap track to ever take home “Song of the Year” honors—despite somewhat inexplicably not being nominated for “Best Rap Song”.