Outkast would not have won Album of the Year had it not been for their more pop friendly hits, ‘Hey Ya’ and ‘The Way You Move’. Let’s start with that nugget of truth. Don’t get me wrong, ‘Speakerboxxx/The Love Below’ was a brilliant album. So was ‘Stankonia’, their other Album of the Year nominee. But to white ears, ‘Speakerboxx…’ is received differently, social messages and truths aside. They appreciate being able to sing and dance to ‘Hey Ya’, even if it means they didn’t listen to 93% of the rest of the album.
Kendrick Lamar has four Album of the Year nominations and zero wins. If you count his contributions to the Black Panther soundtrack, itself an Album of the Year nominee, he has five. For goodness sake, the guy won a Pulitzer Prize for the album ‘damn.’, only to lose to Bruno Mars ‘24K Magic’. That same year, JAY-Z’s lone Album of the Year nod for ‘4:44’ lost out to Bruno. Guess who else has four Album of the Year nominations and no wins? Ye (formerly Kanye West).
And yes, as has been headlined in the news for the past several weeks, Beyonce is breaking Grammy records but has yet to win Album of the Year, this after her fourth try.
Now, let’s contrast these acts with the fact that in the past twenty years, Herbie Hancock, Ray Charles, and Jon Batiste have all won Album of the Year. In the years prior, Lauryn Hill, Whitney Houston, Natalie Cole, Quincy Jones, Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson, and Stevie Wonder all won it. In fact, Stevie won three Album of the Year awards in four years.
Now — about that contrast.
The Grammy’s like to play it safe, especially when it comes to their Big 3 awards. And to the voters, rap is not safe. Neither is music that has a social justice tint. There are racist messages and images that rattle the minds of Grammy voters when a Black artist sings lyrics that portray the realities of poverty, crime, sex, and discrimination. They are not comfortable with it. And, the Big 3 awards results are proof in the pudding; with three rare exceptions.
The first was Lauryn Hill winning Album of the Year in 1999. The second was when Childish Gambino won Song of the Year and Record of the Year for ‘This Is America’ in 2019. The third was H.E.R. winning Song of the Year for ‘I Can’t Breathe’ in…