Editor's note: the views in this article are only representative of the writers, not ORANGE Magazine as a whole.
Although Chance the Rapper made history last night by being the first independent artist to win a Grammy (he won three, to be exact), and Solange won her first Grammy for her single “Cranes in the Sky,” the Grammys continues to fail at recognizing black talent and artistry, and the excuses are getting old.
Story by Mia Uhunmwuangho and Onaje McDowelle
When Beck won Album of the Year over Beyonce’s self titled album, it was because the Grammys were awarding Beck’s artistry over Beyonce’s record-breaking sales and mainstream success (Beck’s “Morning Phase” was the lowest-selling Album of the Year nominee since 2008). Now, two years later, Adele’s “25” album won Album of the Year over Beyonce’s “Lemonade,” and critics are saying Adele was rewarded for her album's sales and radio chart toppers. Adele, baffled by her win last night, asked the question that was on everybody’s mind: “wtf does Beyonce have to do to win Album of the Year?” Well, the short answer is that she would probably have to be white.
The Grammys has a long history of snubbing black artists in favor of white ones. Overall, only 10 black artists have won album of the year—three of those 10 awards belong to Stevie Wonder. The last black person to win an award in this category was Herbie Hancock in 2008. Furthermore, hip-hop is particularly undervalued at the Grammys.
Since hip hop’s entrance into the Grammys in 1989, only two hip-hop albums have ever won album of the year—Lauryn Hill’s “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” and Outkast’s “Speakerboxx/The Love Below.” Only three hip-hop artists have ever won best new artist: Lauryn Hill, Arrested Development and Macklemore (yes, technically Macklemore is a hip-hop artist). Many of rap/hip-hop’s heavy hitters like Snoop Dog (11 nominations), A Tribe Called Quest (three nominations) and Tupac (six nominations) have never won a single Grammy. This list of black artists in similar situations goes on and on.
Again, this year was no different. Rihanna’s single with Drake, “Work,” lost to pop artist Lukas Graham, even though Rihanna’s song made history as one of the most played songs of the year. Rihanna went on to win zero awards last night. Similarly, Kendrick Lamar’s critically acclaimed “To Pimp A Butterfly” lost to Taylor Swift’s pop album, “1989.” Kanye West’s iconic “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” did not even receive a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year at the 2012 award show. Instead, the award went to Adele for her album, “21.”
Many black artists have taken to social media to express frustrations about the disregard of black artistry. Singer Frank Ocean, commonly praised for his artistic visions since his release of his “Channel Orange” album, debuted his highly anticipated sophomore album, BLONDE in late 2016, which fans and industry personalities alike acclaimed as a sure shot for Grammy nominations or even a win or two. However, Ocean opted out of the Grammy process this year, explaining via Tumblr that he cannot stand for the “cultural bias” and “general nerve damage” that takes place annually at the show.
Black artists are continually denied the recognition they deserve, while white artists receive acclaim for less culturally significant work. Beyonce’s “Lemonade” celebrated blackness, particularly black women, Rihanna’s “Anti” was a fierce ode to female empowerment and sexaulity and Solange’s “A Seat at the Table” was bold in presentation of blackness, yet black artists continue to be restricted to the black category—oh, we mean “Best Urban Contemporary Album.”
Black art has an undeniable impact on pop culture, and it is important that black artistry be recognized. Black art not only has something to offer to black audiences, but to everyone, as it assesses society from a perspective that gifts new understanding about the world in a multifaceted way. To deny black art the recognition is deserves is to deny the impact of black culture.