Kendrick Lamar’s sprawling, incisive, virtuosic To Pimp a Butterfly is the best album of 2015. Rolling Stone said it. Entertainment Weekly agrees. So did the Guardian, so does Pitchfork and so did a whole bunch of other places too. But will the Grammy voters agree?
Hip-hop’s relationship with the Grammys has been rocky at best. When Run-D.M.C. was first nominated in 1987, the awards didn’t even have a rap category. Nominated in Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, the group lost to Prince.
“The beautiful thing about it, all the other musicians loved us,” DMC tells Rolling Stone of the experience. “Bon Jovi, shit, everybody showed us love, so even though we didn’t win. That was enough right there just to be accepted by these legendary, iconic musicians and artists. Everybody who was somebody that year, they loved us, and even back then, ‘Our kids love you too,’ which was crazy.”
When the Grammys did finally introduce a rap category in 1989, they refused to broadcast it on TV, resulting in a boycott party aired on Yo MTV! Raps. And while much progress has been made in the years since, it’s not exactly like NARAS has fully embraced hip-hop. In the last 26 ceremonies, rap albums have been up for Album of the Year only 14 times — and only winning three times. Rap has only been up for Song of the Year five times, and hasn’t won ever. Not even Kendrick Lamar is nominated for the most prestigious award of the evening, Record of the Year — an award that literally no rapper has won in the in the 37 years that hip-hop has been on record.
In 1997, the Fugees were the second rap artists to get nominated for Album of the Year (third if you count Quincy Jones’ rap-centric Back on the Block). Their iconic album The Score lost to Celine Dion’s Falling Into You. “All I can think about is me and Erykah Badu on stage presenting, and I saw Ol’ Dirty Bastard headed to us from the corner of my eye. He took the mic and announced that Wu-Tang is the best,” Wyclef Jean tells Rolling Stone. “Looking back, what he did was seize a moment for those that would not win a Grammy but their voices needed to be heard. I really felt like when Fugees did The Score, the institution did not fully respect nor understand rap as an art form. Kendrick reminds is that what we did in the 1990s was not in vain because a new generation carries that torch.”
“I think his chances of winning are very good, but Taylor is a monster,” says DMC. “Her songs were everywhere. Kendrick did open up new ears to hip-hop, though, and that helps him.”