It’s no secret that the entertainment business has long since been controlled by a very elite group of people. White people. From the Oscars to the Academy Awards, white people have always sat in the highest seats and held the most votes. In fact, the entertainment world is no different from the rest of the world. That’s why it is no surprise that award shows such as the Grammy’s have a history of snubbing black artists and black music alike. In the past five years alone, five incredible albums and artists have successfully changed the game and each time they failed to see adequate celebrations for their work. Some might say that this is how the entertainment industry works, that you put in the work and yet you’re not always shown proper appreciation. However, is this an issue of industry or an issue of race?
Historically, art created by black peoples has been always been branded as the “other”. It’s good but not as good. Movies with completely black casts and themes about love, growing up, etc. are “black movies” instead of just movies and artists who exist solely in RnB, Rap, Hip-Hop, and Soul genres only do well in the urban categories but not in others. And as any politician will gladly tell you, “urban” is code for black. We win in those categories and we don’t question it because at least we’re winning but, if you look at where, how, and what we’re winning then you can see that even the highest awards out there are handed out conditionally to black people—Beyoncé Knowles-Carter is no exception.
Adele’s album, 25, won Album of the Year on Sunday and she won against Lemonade, an album that not only highlighted but also celebrated the experiences and lives of black women. In her speech, she was able to differentiate the effect that the album had on her from the effect that it had on black women everywhere. Even she understood that this album was relevant in both worlds but more so in ours. Perhaps that’s why she chose to break the trophy in half in an attempt to show that she too believes that Beyoncé was more deserving of the award.
In 2013, Mumford and Sons won album of the year for their album Babel which featured songs such as “I Will Wait” and the title song, “Babel”. It was nominated with The Black Keys, fun., and Jack White. Most notably, however, it was nominated with Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange. Channel Orange was Ocean’s debut studio album and received widespread critical acclaim was even named the best album of 2012 by several publications. It included Ocean’s highest charting single, “Thinking About You” which charted number 3 on the Hot 100. The album itself debuted at number 2 on the Billboard 200. All that being said, it was interesting to watch the way the internet took to both Ocean and his album. From memes to covers, Frank Ocean’s work all but shaped 2012 in his own image and yet, many believe that he didn’t receive the recognition he deserved. Meanwhile Rihanna was nominated for 7 Grammys and won none.
However, if you take a closer look at the categories that black artists do excel in, you’ll see that there’s a pattern. In 2013, that same year that Channel Orange was nominated for Album of the Year but did not win, it was also nominated for Best Performing Artist in, you guessed it, the newly awarded Best Urban Contemporary Album. And in 2014, Rihanna won. In 2015, Pharrell (Beyoncé was robbed here too). In 2016, The Weeknd. In 2017, our beloved Bey. And so, for the past five years, some of the best albums created by black artists have been rewarded… conditionally. What the urban category does is say that yes, while black artists deserve the nomination for Album of the Year, their art is just too black for the win. So, instead of letting them win the big awards, they give them awards that are sometimes not even aired on television. Because that’s how much their music means to them.
But wait, like all forms of systematic oppression have a way of outing themselves, so too does the Grammys. In what many remember as, the year that Macklemore came and ruined everything, many black artists voiced their anger at something that has been happening for a very long time.
In 2014, Drake hosted his own “Hood Grammys” on Instagram because Macklemore and Ryan Lewis swept up all of the awards in the urban categories including, Best Rap Album and Best Rap Artist. The award for Best Rap Album has only existed since 1996 which makes sense seeing as this was the era of 2pac, LL Cool J, Biggie, and A Tribe Called Quest. In fact, all of these artists have been nominated for this award. But for a very long time, the presentation of the award wasn’t televised. Jay-Z boycotted the award show for years because he felt that there was an obvious lack of respect for rap as a genre. Even after the award was presented on television, Jay was absent from the show’s prestigious celebrity audience. Sunday night was the first time in over twenty years that the award for Best Rap Album of the Year was not televised.
As of 2015, Eminem holds the record the for the most wins in the Best Rap Album category and Jay-Z holds the most nominations (9) and only has one win. So, why is it that even in categories that were created specifically for genres that black people lead in, we still find our art snubbed. The entertainment industry has always taken the extra mile to pigeonhole black artists and they’ve successfully done so for years, Sunday’s show was proof of that. What continues to amaze both fans and artists is that, no matter how much white people love black culture, they will never love the people who create it. As Solange pointed out on Twitter, 200 black artists have performed at the Grammys. Only two have won Album of the Year in the past twenty years.