If you haven’t heard yet, everyone from hip-hop fans to Macklemore himself believes that Kendrick Lamar got snubbed at the 2014 Grammy’s. That might be true—however, rap has a long, unfortunate history of getting shafted by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (the voting committee for the Grammy’s). There have definitely been some close, perhaps even questionable, calls over the years: Kanye’s College Dropout over Jay Z’s Black Album; Evanescence over 50 Cent for Best New Artist (though neither one is relevant now, so I think it evens out); Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below over 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’; Drake’s Take Care over Nas’ Life is Good. Personally, I think arguments could be made for any one of these cases. However, there are a number of situations that, in hindsight, completely baffle me. So without further ado, here are the eleven (since I had a hard time keeping it at ten) biggest snubs in rap-Grammy history:
11. Puff Daddy’s No Way Out Beats Biggie’s Life After Death
Back when Sean Combs was Puff Daddy (such a better moniker than P. Diddy), he won Best Rap Album for No Way Out. It’s a solid piece of work, but it’s no Life After Death. The Notorious B.I.G. is one of hip-hop’s greatest MCs, always falling into one of the first two slots. And yet, the man claimed ZERO Grammy’s during his short life. Ready to Die was most definitely his masterpiece, but Life After Death was still an incredible, and also massive, body of work. It should’ve won that year, though I’m sure that the victory was bittersweet for Diddy. Not only did he produce Biggie and turn him into a household name, but he was also one of the late rapper’s closest friends.
10. Eminem’s Relapse Winning Best Rap Album
2009 was Eminem’s comeback year—sort of. After releasing that garbage in 2004, which he inappropriately titled Encore, Slim Shady disappeared from the spotlight completely. He returned five years later in 2009, sober and ready to take back his throne. There was so much buzz around his new album, so much hype—and what he gave us was Relapse, an hour and fifteen minute’s worth of bizarre, Indian accents and sociopathic anecdotes. Hip-hop fans were disappointed. Things became even worse after his mediocre attempt at a comeback won the Grammy for Best Rap Album, beating out Mos Def’s The Ecstatic and Q-Tip’s The Renaissance, both of which were highly acclaimed and better than Recovery. Sure, it was great to see Eminem on the mic again, and eventually, he really did solidify that comeback. But let’s be honest: Relapse never should have won a thing. It was Eminem’s name that got him that award; not the music itself.
9. Mobb Deep’s The Infamous Wasn’t Nominated for Best Rap Album
What a snub. Mobb Deep’s The Infamous was a highlight of 90s rap and one of the greatest albums of the genre. The duo encapsulated the traits that were paramount to east coast hip-hop at the time. They were gritty, hardcore, and had exceptional skills on the mic. And Survival of the Fittest? Shook Ones Pt. II? These are classic ghetto anthems; tracks that you can throw on today and still marvel at and bob your head to. And yet, Mobb Deep received no awards for this landmark album—not even a nomination.
8. Anytime that Will Smith Has Ever Won
Oh, Will Smith. What a joke. This cushion-soft, squeaky clean MC claimed several Grammy’s for the most corny, lyrically inept songs. Parent’s Just Don’t Understand won the first-ever Best Rap Performance award in 1989. Men in Black beat out Biggie’s Hypnotize and Busta Rhymes’ Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See in 1998. Getting’ Jiggy with It owned the classic Jay Z anthem Hard Knock Life in 1999. Then, adding insult to injury, Will Smith used his 1999 VMA’s acceptance speech to crap on the genre that embraced him: “I didn’t kill nobody in none of my records, I didn’t use no profanity in none of my records. Gangsta rap is wack.” Luckily, we had Eminem to communicate what so many of us felt: “Will Smith don’t gotta cuss in his raps to sell records, Well I do/So f*ck him and f*ck you too.”
7. Jay Z’s Reasonable Doubt Wasn’t Nominated for Best Rap Album
Ah, Reasonable Doubt. Jay Z’s first, and arguably best, album. A landmark in the hip-hop genre. Like Mobb Deep’s The Infamous, it captures that ghetto New York mentality and features timeless hip-hop tracks: D’Evils, Dead Presidents II, and Brooklyn’s Finest, just to name a few. And yet, it wasn’t even nominated for a Grammy. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences did somewhat redeem themselves years later though by awarding Jay the Best Rap Album for Vol. 2…Hard Knock Life. Thank God.
6. Tupac Got Snubbed…Two Years in a Row
Two years in a row, back-to-back snubs. In 1996, Tupac’s Me Against the World lost to Naughty by Nature’s Poverty’s Paradise. This famous trio might be one of the all-time greats, but Poverty’s Paradise is evidence that the group had already passed their prime. The shafting doesn’t end there though. Tupac lost again the following year, when the classic All Eyez on Me fell victim to Fugees’ The Score. Next to Biggie, Tupac is one of the greatest MCs to ever pick up a mic. And like Biggie, the man doesn’t have a single Grammy to show for it.
5. Eminem’s MMLP Loses to Steely Dan
If you grew up in the 90’s and early 2000’s, then you were there to witness the Eminem mania. From ’99 to ’02, Eminem dominated the world. Civil rights organizations protested his lyrics, parents hated his profanity, girls cried at the sight of him, white suburbia worshipped and somehow identified with his music, and hardcore rap fans marveled at his clever wordplay and visual storytelling. As the story goes, Busta Rhymes was so taken by Em’s verses in Guilty Conscience that he literally smashed his head against a window. But that was The Slim Shady LP, Eminem’s first album. In the following year, Em gave us The Marshall Mathers LP, one of the greatest rap albums ever recorded. Original as it was refreshing, MMLP displayed the entrapments of fame and success, while also bringing the listener into Eminem’s dark, twisted world. And yet, at the 2001 Grammy’s, it lost Album of the Year to Steely Dan. STEELY DAN!! A group that hadn’t made an impact on music since the 1970s, three decades earlier. At the 2001 BRIT Awards, when Eminem won Best International Male and accepted the award from his future drug sponsor Elton John, he raised the trophy over his head and exclaimed jokingly, “And the winner is…STEELY DAN!! Wait. Who the f*ck is Steely Dan?”
4. Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy Wasn’t Nominated for Album of the Year
Most people consider Graduation to be Kanye’s best album. Personally though, I would choose My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. That body of work is nothing short of a masterpiece, a true work of art. It transcended the genre of rap altogether and went on to become something else entirely. There was Elton John playing piano, guest vocals that seemed short and pointless, and a minute-long track of nothing but instrumentals—and yet it all worked. Each song came beautifully together to create one of the finest compositions in contemporary music. It was so brilliant, in fact, that critics thought it’d be a lock for Album of the Year—except that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy never even got a nomination. It did earn a Grammy for Best Rap Album, but frankly that wasn’t enough. Critics lampooned the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences for neglecting this album, and Kanye has since blamed Watch the Throne, his Jay Z collaboration which was released only several months later, for robbing him of the nomination. Of course, leave it to Kanye to say that he robbed himself of his own victory. Still, the fact remains: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy should’ve, at the very least, received a nomination.
3. Outkast’s Stankonia Loses to O Brother Where Art Thou? Soundtrack
Stankonia is arguably one of Outkast’s best albums. Unlike Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, it actually did receive a nomination for Album of the Year. And it lost tragically to one of the biggest jokes of all time: a soundtrack. Do you understand what a soundtrack is?! It’s a collection of songs from other albums that rarely features any new or original tracks. And it was this album—no, this soundtrack that won the coveted Album of the Year. This wasn’t just a snub for rap. This was a snub for ALL music in general. Like seriously? Was music really THAT bad in 2001 that the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences chose a SOUNDTRACK as the victor?! Oh wait, no, music wasn’t that bad because Stankonia was one of the nominees! Fortunately, Outkast did eventually win Album of the Year with their critically acclaimed Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, becoming only the second hip-hop act to ever do so.
2. Nas Has Never Won a Grammy
And Jay Z complains about being overlooked?! I agree that he should’ve won more than he has, but the man still has 19 Grammy’s to stock his shelves. But Nas? Nas–who’s often heralded as a top 5 MC, who I consider to be THE greatest rapper of all time, who possesses a discography that consists of nearly all hip-hop classics, whose poetic lyrics and vivid storytelling have influenced the genre ten-times over, who has earned a whopping 18 Grammy nominations during his career—this man has 0 Grammy’s. It’s a travesty that I can barely fathom. Sure, Biggie and Tupac never received any Grammy’s either. But their lives were also cut short in the late 90s. Nas has been active since 1994 and is still pumping out awesome records. He might have hit a few bumps in the road, but overall, his flow and lyrical technique are as masterful and hungry as ever. This unfortunate occurrence would’ve been the biggest snub on my list, if not for this….
1. There Was No Best Rap Album Category until 1996
This is it. The big “F You” to hip-hop. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences were so late to the party, so slow to embrace the genre that rap didn’t receive a Best Album category until 1996. 18 years ago—that’s all it is. By being so lame and ignorant, the most epic and influential albums of the genre were unjustly snubbed: Ready to Die, The Chronic, Doggystle, Illmatic, Enter the 36 Chambers, Straight Outta Comption, nearly every Run DMC album, and countless others.
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