When it comes to hip-hop, the Recording Academy misses the mark so frequently that it’s become something of an annual tradition to be baffled by its choices. While there are perennial complaints about the Grammy nomination process, it’s in the rap categories that the Grammys truly shine. At this point, expecting anything less seems foolhardy. This year’s nominations continue the trend.
For decades, thanks (in part) to constrictive public narratives and major label shenanigans, hip-hop typically only allows for one or two women to succeed in rap at a time. 2019, though, has flipped that status quo on its head. Megan Thee Stallion, Lizzo, Rico Nasty, Rapsody, Doja Cat, and City Girls all joined Nicki Minaj and Cardi B as genuine sensations in pop — but were also shut out from any Grammy nominations.
There are no women as lead artists in the rap nominations, for albums or songs, in a year where there was plenty to choose from, and several inessential choices made the final list. The closest women in rap come to getting their due is Cardi B, who is competing in “Best Rap Performance” for a feature on Offset’s “Clout.” Projects from new and emerging artists, like YBN Cordae’s The Lost Boys and J. Cole’s Dreamville label compilation Revenge of the Dreamers III, are competing for Best Rap Album, but albums like Megan Thee Stallion’s Fever (and her Nicki Minaj collaboration “Hot Girl Summer”) or Rico Nasty and Kenny Beats’ Anger Management are conspicuously absent.
It’s not as if the Grammys completely ignored a new class of rappers, but the two breakout stars who play on hip-hop’s margins were the real winners. Lizzo (8) and Lil Nas X (6) — two artists that for all intents and purposes are rappers, but tend to shed that distinction when it suits their needs — lead the nominations this year, but both placed their bets in other genres.
“Panini” is Lil Nas X’s sole rap nomination, while “Old Town Road” is competing in Best Pop Duo/Group Performance (if anything, “Panini” has less rapping than “Old Town Road”). Similarly, Lizzo has nominations spread out in Best Traditional R&B Performance, Best R&B Performance, Best Urban Contemporary Album, and Best Pop Solo Performance, even though she demanded to be part of the hip-hop conversation in August. “Sometimes I get pissed that there are people who call Future & Swae Lee rappers and still question whether or not I belong in the rap conversation,” she said in a since-deleted tweet. “But then I remember I have the #4 song in the country, laugh, go back to my dream job and log off.”
While this year’s nominations seem cognizant of a need for the Grammys to diversify its awards slate, nominating the rappers listed above wouldn’t have been an empty nod to inclusion, but a reflection of what’s going on in rap today. 2019 was a breakthrough year for a number of new and talented stars, but expecting the Grammys to ever hit the mark is an eternal lesson in disappointment.