The Grammys exclude hip hop

Sean Love Combs speaking at Clive Davis’ pre-Grammy gala. Photo courtesy

As celebrities donned their luxe couture attire to Clive Davis’ pre-Grammy gala, all eyes were on Sean Love Combs as he took center stage with his acceptance speech.

Affectionately known as “Diddy”, the legendary music mogul was presented the “2020 Industry Icon” award for his longevity in the industry and his propensity to launch the careers of hip-hop artists, most notably through Bad Boy Records.

While sending out love to the Recording Academy during his acceptance speech last Saturday, Combs was the ultimate class act by calling out the Grammys’ long-standing prejudice towards the hip-hop industry.

“I’m being honored by the industry that I love, the family that I love, but there is an elephant in the room,” Combs said. “I’m speaking for all the artists here, the producers, the executives. The amount of time that it takes to make these records, to pour your heart out into it, and you just want an even playing field.”

Hearty claps of agreement sounded from the crowd as it was evident that Combs was touching on a sore subject. Alluding to the injustice that black musicians experience, he quoted the lauded words of Erykah Badu. “We are artists, and we are sensitive about our [expletive].” He went on to say, “We are passionate. For most of us, this is all we got. This is our only hope.”

These remarks echo the recognition that Black musicians have sought for years from the Recording Academy. With their works appreciated from the boomboxes outside the bodega to the glossed vinyl records of every black household, it is disheartening to never see these names make their way to the heralded stage of the Grammys.

“Truth be told, hip hop has never been respected by the Grammys. Black music has never been respected by the Grammys to the point that it should be,” Combs said.

This emotional outcry is, unfortunately, one we can distinctly trace through the Grammys’ history.

As the Best Rap Performance Grammy officially debuted at the 31st Annual Grammy Awards, almost twenty years after hip hop’s inception, controversy quickly ensued.

The West Philly duo, DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, were the first to be awarded in 1989 for their hit single “Parents Just Don’t Understand”, but the award show’s refusal to televise their performance led to a nationwide boycott from the artists’ and their supporters.

In the litany of rap-based achievements, the hit “This Is America” by Childish Gambino is the first to win Record of the Year – most likely because of its mainstream palatability. And, outside of Lauryn Hill’s “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” and Outkast’s “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below”, no other rap-based albums have taken home Album of the Year.

These short-lived moments of recognition are emblematic of the suppression Black music endures at the hands of the Recording Academy.

In 2014, Rob Kenner, a Grammy screener, ousted the voting process as one that includes members that aren’t acquainted with hip hop and mindlessly vote via name recognition.

Kenner’s revelation only validated the theory that the Black community has surmised for years. The exclusion of hip hop from the Grammys is a direct result of the lack of cultural acumen that the voting committees attain.

However, Sean Combs’ ending exclamations remind us, as Black people, of the power yield. “We have the power. We decide what’s hot. If we don’t go, nobody goes. If we don’t support, nobody supports.”

His sentiments are nothing, if not fact. In the history of trends, our vernacular, our style and our swag are commodified to drive the social economy.

The 2020 Industry Icon’s bold move to use his podium as an admirable form of protest is undoubtedly risky, but in an era where Black artists have the power to strip the Grammys of their social capital, the Recording Academy has been no other choice but to listen.