Rap Fans Argue Macklemore “Can’t Hold” Grammy Title

Three years ago, I stumbled upon Macklemore’s and Ryan Lewis’ “My Oh My,” a moving tribute to Dave Niehaus, longtime announcer for the Seattle Mariners. I was instantly hooked. Later, I discovered many of his songs featured uplifting messages or tackled controversial social issues, from gay marriage in “Same Love” to the dangers of drug abuse in “Otherside” and consumerism in “Wings.”

“The Heist” is a fantastic album, with many standout tracks featuring Macklemore’s skilled lyricism and Ryan Lewis’ superb production. That being said, it did not deserve to win the Grammy for Rap Album of the Year — not when it was up against Kendrick Lamar’s “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City,”and phenomenal albums released by Jay-Z, Kanye and Drake.

To those who claim Macklemore stole the award: your anger is justified, but misdirected. To blame Macklemore for making music that matters to him is to ignore the reason music exists in the first place. Instead, blame the Grammy voting committee for ignoring the preferences of the genre’s fans.

Macklemore won Best Rap Album of the Year because these voting members are not necessarily rap fans. They are people who have earned a Grammy nomination in the past five years. While there are a few hip-hop artists in the mix, they are vastly outnumbered by middle-aged artists, composers, writers and producers.

When these people, producers in particular, listen to an album, they search for what they know. Rap lyrics can be alienating, but catchy tunes and good production are universal. And between “The Heist” and “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City,” “The Heist” is simply better produced. As a rap album as a whole, however, I’m sure much of the hip-hop community would agree that Kendrick’s album takes the cake. But we weren’t voting.

The Grammys have experienced a wane in public support in the past several years. One source of this decline could be rap and hip-hop fans, who complain that the entire genre is snubbed at the awards. It is treated as more of a niche genre than the major piece of American culture that it is.

The first rap album to receive a nomination for Album Of The Year was MC Hammer’s 1991 “Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em,” containing Hammer’s wildly successful “U Can’t Touch This.” Since then, Grammy nominations have only been given to rap albums with huge commercial appeal. Instead of promoting innovation and awarding Album of the Year to truly excellent, cohesive works, the committee routinely awards albums that the, predominantly white, popular culture will agree with — the same way Frank Sinatra took Album of the Year over the rascally Beatles in 1966.

Tony Bennett’s “MTV Unplugged” won Album of the Year in 1995, a year that saw the release of “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…” by Raekwon, “Me Against The World” by Tupac and “Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version” by Ol’ Dirty Bastard. These three albums had a greater influence on popular culture than Tony Bennett’s album, yet none of them were even nominated. In 2001, Steely Dan edged out Eminem’s ludicrously successful “The Marshall Mathers LP,” in 2005 a compilation of Ray Charles duets bested “The College Dropout” by Kanye West, whose 2006 album “Late Registration” lost to U2’s “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.” As much as I respect the legacy of those winning artists, all three losing rap albums changed the scope of their genre with both larger cultural and musical impact.

“Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” is a concept album about Kendrick Lamar’s experiences in Compton, Cali. growing up around drugs and gang life. Throughout the course of the album, Kendrick develops from an impressionable teenager to a more introspective artist, contemplating the effects of his actions and the problems with the violent Compton lifestyle.

Where Macklemore had “Otherside,” Kendrick had “Swimming Pools (Drank),” a song about alcoholism that reached an ironic fate: it is misinterpreted by the American teen population as a party anthem. Kendrick also raps about downtrodden women in “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” and the dangers of gang violence in “M.A.A.D City.” Kendrick’s personal experience allows him to explore these topics more explicitly, with language and imagery characteristic of the life he is explaining.

The whole Grammys show is a joke, especially the hip-hop awards, so we may as well turn to BET and their awards for a definitive stance on the issue (Kendrick won Album of the Year, folks). In the end, don’t hate the player, hate the game — or at least understand the way it’s played.

Published January 29, 2014 in Arts and Entertainment, tableau

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