Sorry Kendrick, But Story-Telling Doesn’t Cut It. From, Grammy.

Jack Blog

February 3rd, 2014 By Jack Morton

What do you get when the Grammy Committee snubs you multiple gold trophies?

A full-blown Kendrick Lamar performance.

By now the dust has settled, and the hip-hop industry has come to terms with the biggest modern era ‘heist’ in rap music. Not to discredit Macklemore, but why did “The Heist” trump the likes of Kendrick’s “Good Kid M.A.A.D City,” and heavy weights Jay-Z, Kanye West and Drake?

Answer: The out-of-touch Grammy Committee wanted a new Hip-Hop poster boy -who wasn’t black.

In an article written by Rob Kenner, a voting member of the Recording Academy, Rob shares insight into why the Grammy system is flawed,

“Famous people tend to get more votes from clueless Academy members, regardless of the quality of their work. This is especially true in specialized categories like …hip-hop, where many voting members of the Recording Academy (who tend to skew older than the demographic for rap music) may not be well acquainted with the best releases in any given year.”

So in an era where marriage equality is finally gaining progressive momentum, why wouldn’t the out-of-touch committee choose ‘Same Love’ over tracks like ‘Bitch Don’t Kill my Vibe,’ ‘F%&K With Me You Know I Got It,’ ‘Started From the Bottom Now We’re Here’ and ‘Black Skinhead?’ It seemed to be the most politically correct choice.

But let’s forget about what’s politically correct or not for a moment, Hip-Hop is about the story these chapter headings/ song titles narrate to us. And in a field where a large portion of rap is dedicated to a boisterous lifestyle with ‘big-booty-hoes,’ Kendrick is quite the opposite. He paints a vivid story of a good kid in a dangerous city, breathing life into the Hip-Hop game with the art of storytelling. (See here for a track by track review).

So the question stands, did Macklemore trump Kendrick 4- 0 in Grammys because he is white? Or is Macklemore simply a better storyteller? An interesting article in The New York Times suggests that his win is both about controversy and skin colour. John Caramanica states,

 “Part of accepting hip-hop’s growth into a pop music juggernaut is accepting that its edges are fuzzier than they once were. “The Heist” is undeniably a hip-hop album, though Macklemore’s songs have more in common with those by rappers like Flo Rida or Pitbull, dance-music-friendly artists rarely heard on traditional hip-hop radio. But Flo Rida and Pitbull are not white.

And part of consuming the Grammys is accepting that, when it comes to niche categories, chaos will reign.”

Furthermore, society has come to witness that;

 “The people casting the Grammy votes are often as estranged from the content and reality of most hip-hop records as can be, and so they default to the safe choice: the white guy.” 

But what about Macklemore in the middle of this? The winner of 4 Grammys –a product of undeniable hard work. He shows the world he understands his place in the Hip-Hop ecosystem and ‘makes sure that he kisses the ring.’ See here for his public apology to Kendrick via text and Instagram.

What is interesting is Macklemore’s own acknowledgement of ‘white privilege.’ It’s interesting because in the context of Hip-Hop, a historically black genre, Macklemore’s text “I robbed you” is a bold move.

“’I robbed you’ is a strikingly powerful phrase in this context: a white artist’s muscling into a historically black genre, essentially uninvited, and taking its laurel. In a nutshell, this is the entire cycle of racial borrowing in an environment of white privilege: black art, white appropriation, white guilt, repeat until there’s nothing left to appropriate.”

In closing, all credit goes to Macklemore for his 4 Grammy’s and best efforts to calm critics of the Hip-Hop raging sea. But unfortunately, it has opened up another can of worms on ‘white privilege.’ And while Kendrick received a 99% increase in Spotify traffic after his no-apology Grammy Awards performance, compared to Macklemore receiving a 65% increase, Kendrick still walked away with no Grammys after seven nominations. Comedian Chris Rock once joked, “When you’re white, the sky’s the limit. When you’re black the limit is the sky.  Let’s hope this defeat is the last of ‘chaos’ over raw hip-hop storytelling.