Recording Academy chairman and president Neil Portnow tells Rolling Stone that the Grammys were still discussing whether to include rapper XXXTentacion, who was killed this June, in the show’s annual In Memoriam tribute.
“It’s always a daunting task to consider the talented young artists who died this year,” Portnow says. “We design the show after knowing the nominations, and that was today, so we will be deciding on the programming of that now. We don’t have pre-obits prepared like in journalism but we do leave time every year for an in memoriam and we will be planning that now. I don’t have an answer for you on XXX.”
Portnow noted that each year, the Recording Academy tracks those that die in the music industry, but when it comes time to put together the in memoriam segment, they’re only able to choose about “10 to 15 percent” of the hundreds of people who have died. Along with the in memoriam segment, the Grammys also periodically feature tribute performances to particularly notable artists who have died.
“It’s always hard choices,” Portnow said. “I don’t have any answers for you now, but obviously artists who were prominent and well-known by the public are people who are recognized and we’ll just wind up having to see how it plays out.”
XXXTentacion was shot and killed during an attempted robbery in Florida this June at age 20. The rapper’s abrasive, aggressive style took him from SoundCloud cult hero to Billboard chart-topper, but his rise was tied to a lengthy rap sheet. The charges against him ranged from armed robbery to resisting arrest, with the rapper most infamously accused of beating his ex-girlfriend to the point where “the victim could not see.”
XXXTentacion was facing several charges related to that incident at the time of his death, though he had pleaded not guilty and maintained his innocence. In October, however, a secret recording was released in which he admitted to domestic abuse and other violent acts. The Miami-Dade County attorney’s office said both the prosecution and defense considered the audio recording a confession.
Additional reporting by Amy Wang