Best Rap Album Nominees Bask In Hip-Hop’s Digital Dominance : The Record : NPR


The Recording Academy modified its guidelines this yr to make streaming-only albums eligible for Grammy Awards. Chance the Rapper, who launched his mixtape, Coloring Book, on Apple Music in May, is up for seven awards.

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Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The Recording Academy modified its guidelines this yr to make streaming-only albums eligible for Grammy Awards. Chance the Rapper, who launched his mixtape, Coloring Book, on Apple Music in May, is up for seven awards.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Hip-hop’s relationship with the Grammys started with a mutual dis.

The yr was 1989 and the Recording Academy, in recognizing the style for the primary time, determined rap’s revolution wouldn’t be televised. Will Smith, then recognized by his stage moniker the Fresh Prince, took it as a “slap in the face,” the rapper stated on the time. He and DJ Jazzy Jeff’s cuddly hit “Parents Just Don’t Understand” went on to win the inaugural rap efficiency class, beating out business friends J.J. Fad (“Supersonic”), LL Cool J (“Going Back to Cali”), Kool Moe Dee (“Wild Wild West”), and Salt-N-Pepa (“Push It”). But they weren’t current to gather their award. Along with LL and Salt-N-Pepa, Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince boycotted the large present.

Nearly 30 years later, the Grammy Awards have but to get hip (alternative surgical procedure). The dangerous rap is warranted in relation to the Academy’s near-perennial failure to acknowledge the style’s most deserving acts. The solely factor worse than the blatant omissions through the years has been the clueless inclusions — notably within the 21-year historical past of the perfect rap album class. Exhibit A: It took OutKast three basic LPs to earn a nomination (not together with the group’s debut, launched earlier than the class was launched in 1996), but in 2015 the universally-panned Iggy Azalea acquired a nod recent out the field. And poor Macklemore. The dude continues to be dwelling down his 2014 win over Kendrick Lamar’s basic major-label debut, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. He apologized to Lamar for that win; this yr, he declined to even enter the race for his follow-up album, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, for consideration.

Swayed by business juggernauts and nice white hype extra typically than important acclaim or road fame, the celebs not often align to supply such undisputed winners as Eminem (The Marshall Mathers LP), Kanye West (College Dropout, Late Registration, Graduation, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy), or Lamar (To Pimp a Butterfly).

But this yr could also be totally different. Despite a wack report of consistency, the rap albums class casts a wider internet than years previous. Plus, it summarizes one of many largest developments within the business. In wildly divergent methods, 5 of the six nominees — Drake, Chance the Rapper, West, DJ Khaled and De La Soul — collectively inform the story of hip-hop’s digital dominance and disruption in 2016.


One factor’s for sure: They don’t need DJ Khaled to win. When the radio personality-turned-superproducer made the duvet of Bloomberg Businessweek final March, the web headline learn, “How Snapchat Built A Business By Confusing Olds.” Khaled, then 40, appeared within the accompanying photograph wanting barely perplexed himself. Becoming the King of Snapchat is a #majorkey to Khaled’s nomination. With a character as seismic as his anthems, the radio personality-turned-superproducer gained round six million followers in six months. He posted every part on the social media community from “major key” affirmations to his misadventures whereas briefly misplaced at sea one night time on a jet ski. By fashioning himself right into a ubiquitous digital presence, he expanded his fanbase and attracted a youthful demographic. It’s translated to actual foreign money in as we speak’s consideration financial system. Already greater than life in hip-hop, he all of a sudden turned recognizable by soccer mothers — and certainly a few of the Recording Academy’s voting bloc. It displays a brand new business actuality during which music is seen much less as viable product than promotional. In such an surroundings, the king of self-promotion is already the winner. Bless up.


If historical past is any indicator, Drake’s a no brainer. The Grammys love a crossover star. And no one crossed over in 2016 just like the Golden Child. The numbers do not lie and he racked them up throughout a number of platforms. In addition to being named the most-streamed artist in Spotify historical past final yr — with greater than four.7 billion streams in complete — Views and “One Dance (feat. Wizkid & Kyla)” reached No. 1, respectively, on Apple Music’s prime albums and songs lists for 2016. Those rankings additional enlarge hip-hop’s distinction as the preferred style on the planet, in line with analytics launched by Spotify in 2015. The album cowl of Views, that includes Drake sitting atop Toronto’s Canadian National Tower might have turned out to be a photoshop pretend job, however the 6 God’s digital reign is actual.


No one on this class had a crazier yr than ‘Ye. The floating-stage tour rants. The wifey Kim Okay’s diamond heist. The blue contacts and rainbow sherbet hair dye. The hypothesis fueled over his psychological state. The hospitalization attributed to exhaustion. And, lest we overlook, the puzzling Donald Trump photograph op. Dude was far and wide. Maybe we should always’ve seen it coming, contemplating the erratic and unprecedented rollout of The Life of Pablo. By design or catastrophe, Kanye wound up creating a brand new paradigm for digital albums: the neverending work-in-progress, enabled by entry restricted to streaming platforms. Leave it to the producer whose signature sound revolved round manipulated soul samples to stretch the bounds of streaming know-how. “Ima fix wolves,” he tweeted the day the album was launched solely on huge bro Jay Z’s Tidal platform. Little did we all know on the time that his tinkering — whether or not substituting a brand new refrain right here, or including a brand new track there — would quantity to a listening expertise as annoying as it’s groundbreaking. Kanye’s Frankenstein-like strategy to patching collectively an album nicely past its launch date prolonged the lifetime of the challenge. “Life of Pablo is a living breathing changing creative expression. #contemporaryart,” he tweeted a month later. No doubt.


As the primary artist of any style to obtain a Grammy nomination for a streaming-only launch, Chance the Rapper has already made historical past. He’s up for seven awards, together with greatest rap album, although Chance prefers to name Coloring Book a mixtape. It’s greater than semantics. The distinction between the 2 has blurred in recent times as artists similar to Drake and Future have launched mixtapes that contractually rely as studio albums. For too lengthy, the tradition allowed business dictates to differentiate a mixtape of unique materials from an album just because a serious label wasn’t benefiting from the product. But with mixtapes more and more surpassing the standard and recognition of label releases, thanks partially to their availability by way of digital distribution channels, the business is making an attempt to get in the place it matches. The humorous factor is how Chance, who exhibits no indicators of relinquishing his independence, has grow to be a digital darling. His two-week unique stream on Apple Music made Coloring Book the primary streaming-only album to crack the Billboard 200. Instead of earning profits from album downloads, he depends on excursions, merchandising and offers with the likes of Apple to generate income. He’s designed a brand new blueprint for inventive management whereas concurrently being the populist favourite. The Recording Academy actually rewrote its rulebook for him, so his probability of profitable is fairly robust.


De La Soul’s first new album launch in 12 years has the dignity of being the primary digitally crowdfunded hip-hop album to earn a Grammy nod. The group raised $600,000 by way of Kickstarter, six occasions greater than its unique asking worth. The oldest act within the class, De La’s inclusion is ironic for altogether totally different causes. This is identical group whose basic again catalog stays in limbo, unavailable on digital platforms, because of the prohibitive prices related to their basic sample-heavy LPs. De La’s 1989 debut, three Feet High and Rising, accommodates greater than 60 samples, and people who have been cleared have been completed so by way of agreements that predate digital streaming. Making them authorized for in the present day’s market might require pricey renegotiations with copyright holders that Warner Music, present proprietor of De La’s again catalog, has declined to pursue. To add one other wrinkle, the group produced And the Anonymous Nobody by recording 200 hours of fabric from their street band, Rhythm Roots Allstars, then sampling it to assemble backing tracks. You’d virtually need to be a De La fan to understand the unintended wit.


Oddly sufficient, the wild card on this class is not a digital disruptor in any respect, however an artist whose launch just about adopted the normal mannequin. Easily among the many prime rap albums of 2016, Schoolboy Q’s Blank Face LP can also be a breakout launch for Q, an MC whose evolution has been woefully ignored partially as a result of his TDE labelmate, Kendrick Lamar, has emerged as crucial rapper of his era. But being “the yin to Kendrick’s yang,” as Pitchfork referred to as him upon the discharge of his newest LP, comes throughout in excellent style on <i>Blankface<i>. He’s a grown-man gangsta with a humorousness and self-effacing honesty. In a way, a win for Schoolboy might be seen as a win for your complete vanguard of off-brand, underrepresented artists who discovered methods to bypass the mainstream in 2016 — from Detroit’s trippy outlier Danny Brown to Atlanta’s rising anti-hero 21 Savage to Chance the Rapper collaborator and Chicago ingenue Noname.

Then once more, I might be much less stunned if Schoolboy determined to play hooky from the Grammys altogether.

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