#GrammysSoWhite: The Racial Issue with Music’s Biggest Night by Rasheed Wesley

The annual Grammy awards were once a yearly reminder of the greatest works in the musical arts that have occurred in the past year. From Michael Jackson’s 1983 Album of the Year win for his album Thriller, Amy Winehouse winning Song of the Year for “Rehab” in 2008, and the 1965 awarding of The Beatles as Best New Artist, the Grammy were always seen as a contest to see who would be the best of the best. Because greatness is supposed to be objective. It’s supposed to be about who was exemplary among their peers, regardless of how little or well-known they are or what they look like, right?

Well according to many millennials, the Grammys have shown to the be the exact opposite. In particular, the hip hop community has had an issue with the Grammy representation it has seen since the award show started recognizing Rap awards in 1989, and the hip hop categories weren’t even televised. Since that year, only 1 Album of the Year has been awarded to a hip hop album, Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, in 1998 .

                              Lauryn + Grammy's

However, there is a controversy over that award, as the Grammys label  that album in its R&B/Soul category, while hip hop fans, and even Lauryn Hill herself, cite the album as a hip hop album. So in effect, it would seem that the Grammys are willing to give the Album of the Year award to a hip hop album – so long as they do not have to call it hip hop. The category of Record of the Year also brings some contention between the hip hop community and the Grammys. In the past 28 years since hip hop has been officially nominated at the Grammys, a hip hop record has never won the award, but has had 12 nominations. This same goes for Song of the Year, with only 6 nominations.

After speaking to some millennials who place themselves in the hip hop crowd, there is clearly no love lost between them and the Grammy voting committee. “They have never respected us, so now its become a ‘us against them’ type of deal. We really wanted their recognition, but it seems like we’re never going to really get it. Sure, they give us a space for awards. But it’s a backhanded gesture. They didn’t give it to us because they truly respected the genre. They did it because we [the hip hop community] made a big deal about it, and a lot of big names were pulling out of going to the awards as a sign of protest”, cites Jarid Heard, a senior at Millersville University and a hip hop enthusiast. With a heavy sigh, Jarid sums up his feelings about the awards by saying that “the Grammys just can’t get it right.”

Jarid doesn’t seem to be the only one who thinks so. In recent years, even the winners of the prestigious awards have spoken out about how they feel they are not the rightful recipients of the golden hardware. In 2014, hip hop fans sat and watched in utter shock as Macklemore and Ryan Lewis won Rap Album of the Year for the album The Heist over critical and fan favorite Kendrick Lamar and his debut good kid, m.A.A.d city. There were mixed reactions the later that night, when Macklemore posted a screenshot of a text he sent to Kencrick Lamar on Instagram after his surprising win.


“You got robbed. I wanted you to win. You should have,” Macklemore states in his text. “Its weird and sucks to have robbed you.” Even out outside of the hip hop realm, artists are speaking out against what they view as a mistake in the committees voting practices. At this years Grammys, artist Adele proceeded to tell the audience and those at home that she felt Beyoncé should have won Album of the Year for Lemonade, although Adele had just won it for her album 25. During her speech, Adele said “I can’t possibly accept this award…the Lemonade album was just so monumental, Beyoncé. It was so monumental and well thought-out and beautiful and soul-baring… we appreciate that. All of us artists here adore you. You are our light.” Upon saying this, she seemingly broke her award in half to symbolically share the award with whom she deemed to be its rightful owner.

The 59th GRAMMY Awards - Show

“You know it’s bad when not just the fans, but the artists themselves are telling you that you messed up,” Lisa Shaffer, a sophomore, says with an expression that is half amusement, half disappointment. “I’m a huge fan of both Adele and Beyoncé. But I’m just a fan, so the Grammys have no reason to listen to me. But maybe they’ll listen to their winners who don’t think they should be winners.” Then she says something that is much bigger than any award. “But let’s face it, the Grammys have never truly recognized or respected black artists in general.” This is a stigma the Grammys have tried to fight for decades now, and it seems like it is losing the battle. Neil Portnow is adamant there color has to bearing on the awards, being quoted as saying “I don’t think there’s a race problem at all,” to Pitchfork after the awards this year. But the numbers don’t lie. In the past 10 years, only 1 black artist has won Album of the Year and only 10 have won the title in the Grammys history entirely.

And millennials are starting to notice. Over the past couple of years, #GrammysSoWhite has been a staple on Twitter. When asked about the importance of the hashtag, Millersville junior Eugene Thomas states “There is no real representation in the Grammys for people of color, and millennials are sick of it. This is our way of telling them that we’re done with them.”

It seems the revolution will not be televised, but it will be tweeted.


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