Donna & Yoh in Conversation: How Can Rap Trust the GRAMMYs?

Donna and Yoh discuss the 2019 GRAMMYs and hip-hop's relationship to award shows.
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Cardi B might win Album of the Year at the 2019 GRAMMYs. Mac Miller might win Best Rap Album. Hip-hop might trust the GRAMMYs, probably for the first time. Or not. While we wait to see just how disappointed we will be this coming February, we asked DJBooth senior writers Donna-Claire Chesman and Yoh to discuss the GRAMMY nominations, and hip-hop's relationship to the show.

Their conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.

donnacwrites [10:14 AM]

Good morning!

yoh [10:15 AM]

Good morning. Did you happen to see the GRAMMY noms?

donnacwrites [10:15 AM]

Did I happen to see that Malcolm was nominated for Best Rap Album, you mean?

yoh [10:20 AM]

Yes, that's exactly what I meant. I don't know where my head it is. Malcolm deserves a mountain of GRAMMYs for Swimming. I'm happy to see Bardi and Travis included as well. The entire category, really. Both Pusha-T and Nipsey Hussle are now GRAMMY-nominated artists. The GRAMMYs didn't do so bad with the rap albums this year, huh? I'm only surprised that Drake's Scorpion and J. Cole's KOD weren't included, but I have a suspicion that J. Cole didn't submit his album.

donnacwrites [10:23 AM]

Drizzy splitting his album into half rap and half R&B may have disqualified him. I'm also jazzed to see Cardi B and Janelle, and H.E.R. (!) in the Album of the Year category. So many women are taking home nominations and making history that should have been made eons ago. Though, I am glad that we get to live through the times where Cardi B makes history year over year, be it with her charting or with her being the first woman rapping nominated for Album of the Year this decade. I find it really easy to be disillusioned since the Academy is a vehicle of whiteness, but moments like this and Chance's GRAMMY a few years back give me hope. It makes me eager if only because I think the GRAMMYs are realizing they need hip-hop's trust. Now the question is: How to get it?

yoh [10:33 AM]

Extremely happy for all the women nominated. Kudos to the GRAMMYs for a broader representation with the albums and artists nominated. Gaining hip-hop's trust is tricky. I know with any award show structure everyone won't be happy. It's impossible to be on the right side of everyone's personal history. What's important to remember about the GRAMMYs is that it's a peer-decided ceremony. Hip-hop needs to have more voters inside the GRAMMYs to guarantee we are picking the peers we want to win. I can't expect the Academy to make the people happy when in reality the people within our industry can be doing their part to guarantee who they want to see win has the best chance.

donnacwrites [10:37 AM]

From a front-facing perspective, I think these little steps will really help. Cardi making history is one way to gain our trust. Putting Best Rap Album on during the main show would be a big help and a true nod that the GRAMMYs understand hip-hop is the culture. Optics matter here. You cannot simply nominate albums and call it a day with rap, you have to put your prime-time screening where your mouth is: more on-screen hip-hop awards, more hip-hop performances. And not just when it's convenient. For as much as Cardi B earned these past two years, the GRAMMYs picking her is far safer than their H.E.R. and Janelle nominations, which is a difficult thing to wrestle with.

yoh [10:49 AM]

Something I learned recently is the Recording Academy has no power over the televised GRAMMY awards, there's a production company that decides all the performances. That's interesting, isn't it? Two sides to the ceremony: the voting and the award show. They aren't singular, but everything is placed underneath the GRAMMYs umbrella. Even though I agree with you, what the Academy will receive flack for could very well be the decisions of the company who produces the show. How the voting and awards show are structured really matter in the conversation. The GRAMMYs tend to be seen as this giant entity, but really it's an industry of voters and a company who puts on a show. Even if we change the GRAMMYs from within with more hip-hop voters, who's to say the company contracted to produce the show is aware of hip-hop's relationship with the GRAMMYs? It's a lot of pieces moving that determine what happens on music's biggest night.

donnacwrites [10:52 AM]

So it sounds more like a Too-Big-Will-Fail scenario. We need more hip-hop voters, and we need a culturally aware production company, and at present, we have neither. I think it's really easy to be put off by the award shows because they do so much wrong, but the way I see it: there is so much room to grow and I advocate growth in all ways. Divesting from the GRAMMYs won't be as impactful as taking them to task as much as we can, and pushing them to make more culturally responsible choices. I don't think we're ever going to see a year where the commercially successful white album (see: Posty's AOTY nomination) doesn't get a nod, but I do think we are on the dawn of real talent mattering. Now, do the GRAMMYs have any influence on career trajectory anymore? I don't believe so, but you tell me.

yoh [11:04 AM]

As long as we know where to direct the conversation and who we are taking to task then there's room for growth. Pinpointing what pipe needs to be fixed is just as important as realizing there's a leak. I don't have enough faith in man to ever believe we will reach a point where talent matters overall, but we are making progress. The GRAMMYs' influence is interesting. I believe they have power to increase visibility, increase streams, and attach prestige to all winners and nominees, that's without question. Most artists who are making music have a dream or two of winning a GRAMMY Award. Yet, I don't know if anyone has benefited solely because of the GRAMMYs. If the GRAMMYs acknowledge you, you have correctly placed yourself in a space to be recognized. You're doing something right to be seen and heard. If you continue on this path, your career is on the rise. The GRAMMYs is more of a stamp that says, "We see you," rather than, "This is who you should be looking at."

donnacwrites [11:07 AM]

I agree entirely. You are wise as ever, my friend. I think what we want, as rap fans, is to be seen in a more meaningful way. That includes the "We see you" and the "This is who should be seen" stamps in one go. A lot of work, but I'm down for the culture and down for the ride, as SZA would say. When you open the CD booklet for Mac Miller's Swimming, there is a lone salmon sushi on a keyboard as the interior art. I like to think of Malcolm in that way; a lone salmon swimming upstream, and hopefully, he gets his GRAMMY. If not, I bestow one upon him anyway.

yoh [11:10 AM]

Amen. The true GRAMMY isn't the award you win at the show, but the friends you make along the way.

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