When the 60th Grammy Awards nominees were announced on Tuesday morning, fans were pleased to see the unusual amount of diversity. For the first time in Grammy history, no white male artists are nominated for album of the year. Jay Z takes the lead with eight nominations followed by Kendrick Lamar with seven.
The ongoing issue of race has been a widely discussed topic in recent years as white artists continued to receive high awards over equally, if not more deserving artists of color, including last year when Beyoncé lost to Adele for album of the year. Even Adele herself was dismayed during her big moment, stating that Beyoncé deserved to win.
“I’m very humbled and I’m very grateful and gracious, but my artist of my life is Beyoncé, and this album to me, the ‘Lemonade’ album, is just so monumental,” Adele said during her 2017 Grammy album of the year speech, unaccepting of it.
Although Adele is a highly respected artist and may or may not have deserved that award, it goes deeper than that. Black artists have been continuously kicked to the curb and not recognized for their hard work and great contributions to the music industry.
This year, the Grammys recognized diverse artists across the board, including Childish Gambino, Bruno Mars, Khalid, SZA and Cardi B.
Most of the nominees have released game-changing albums, especially Jay Z’s “4:44” and Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.” Instead of rapping cliché lyrics about girls and money, both albums present an innovative and progressive approach to music and highlight heavy issues of race, relationships and personal obstacles.
Jay Z displayed his vulnerable side by opening up about his rocky relationship with Beyoncé and his regrets of not being an involved father and loyal husband. After being targeted on Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” last year, the rap artist responded and recognized his faults as he reflected on his life and the things he took for granted. On the album’s title track, he expresses that he feels undeserving of all his blessings and fantasizes about the ideal marriage he wishes he had. His guilt is transparent as he raps, “My heart breaks for the day I have to explain my mistakes, and the mask goes away.”
Jay Z strays away from the big-ego rapper stereotype that discusses the same, tiring themes and topics. Instead, he brings forth important issues that are uncommon to see in the rap world, like sexuality. On the track “Smile,” the rapper publicizes his mother’s hidden sexual identity with the lyrics “Mama had four kids, but she’s a lesbian. Had to pretend so long that she’s a thespian,” opening the topic up for discussion. Furthermore, he reinvents himself as a more mature and cultured artist who believes in change and learning from mistakes.
Along with “4:44,” Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.” introduces ongoing yet commonly ignored issues. As a black artist who is no stranger to discrimination, Kendrick Lamar chooses to share his experiences with racism and injustice towards the black community on the track “FEAR.” stating, “I’ll prolly die from witnesses leavin’ me false accused,” referring to unjust police brutality.
At the end of the day though, Kendrick Lamar is proud of who he is, and his pride particularly shines through the track “DNA.,” where he raps with passion and rage and states “I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA.”
Kendrick Lamar recently revealed that his album “DAMN.” is meant to be played in reverse order, conceiving a new take on album making. Lamar says that playing the album from bottom to top, “Plays as a full story and even a better rhythm.” He also explained that it’s not so much the narrative that changes but rather the feeling it gives listeners. Along with his artistic creation and well thought-out structure of the album, the rap artist also uses his platform to discuss prevailing issues of racism and police brutality.
Jay Z and Kendrick Lamar both released groundbreaking albums this year, and due to their ingenious and inventive styles, both are deserving of the album of the year award. The importance of the award show breaking the trend of homogeneity by allowing black artists to receive their much deserved recognition is just what the Grammy Awards needs to remain relevant. Powerful music is all about connecting individuals and moving audiences through thought provoking lyrics and dynamic beats, and that’s exactly what “4:44” and “DAMN.” did this year.