The show makes strides with hip-hop — but for some it may be too late

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Ger­rick D. Kennedy

At Sun­day’s Gram­mys cer­e­mony, Cardi B and Don­ald Glover both made rap his­tory with ma­jor wins that up­ended decades of tra­di­tion.

How­ever, only one of them was on hand to ac­tu­ally cel­e­brate.

“I can’t breathe,” an emo­tional Cardi said af­ter col­lect­ing the tro­phy for rap al­bum, the first time the award went to a fe­male solo artist. (Lau­ryn Hill took the honor with her group the Fugees in 1997.)

It was a break­through mo­ment for the self-de­scribed “reg­u­lar, deg­u­lar, shmeg­u­lar girl from the Bronx” born Bel­calis Al­man­zar who went from re­al­ity

tele­vi­sion scene-stealer on VH1’s soap “Love & Hip Hop: New York” to rap su­per­star in a year’s time and a ma­jor wa­ter­shed mo­ment for hiphop — a genre long dom­i­nated by men that has sadly ig­nored the game-chang­ing women that help de­fine its sound when it has come to re­ward­ing its tal­ents on the Grammy stage.

Cardi’s win — and a siz­zling, tri­umphant per­for­mance of her smash “Money” — was a high­light, but it was the ab­sence of Glover, who per­forms as Child­ish Gam­bino, that was the talk of the night.

Glover be­came the first mu­si­cian to win song and record of the year for a rap track with his poignant “This Is Amer­ica,” but he chose to sit out mu­sic’s big­gest night, along with Ken­drick La­mar, Taylor Swift and, to much con­tro­versy, Ari­ana Grande.

“It’s a pretty significant mo­ment,” Glover’s col­lab­o­ra­tor Lud­wig Görans­son said back­stage on Sun­day. “[‘This Is Amer­ica’] speaks to so many peo­ple. It talks about in­jus­tice and cel­e­brates life and unites peo­ple at the same time. There aren’t a lot of songs that do that.”

“I was sur­prised [a rap song] hadn’t won” record and song of the year, Görans­son added. “I as­sumed rap songs have won these awards be­cause ev­ery time I see this show there’s rap on this stage with big per­for­mances. So it is a sur­prise. If you lis­ten to the ra­dio or watch our cul­ture, you see that rap is at the top. But it’s about time that the Gram­mys has caught up.”

The no-shows pointed to the chal­lenges that face the Record­ing Academy ev­ery year, but it was Gam­bino, La­mar and Drake’s de­ci­sion to turn down per­for­mance of­fers from Grammy pro­duc­ers that reignited the decades-old de­bate about how the Record­ing Academy re­wards hip-hop across ma­jor cat­e­gories.

De­spite its con­tin­ued promi­nence and grow­ing in­flu­ence, hiphop and R&B con­tin­ues to be a sore spot for fans of those gen­res when it comes to the Gram­mys — and Sun­day was no dif­fer­ent, al­beit for far dif­fer­ent rea­sons.

From the de­ci­sion to al­low pop star Jen­nifer Lopez to anchor a med­ley of hits cel­e­brat­ing the great his­tory of Mo­town (that one went over ter­ri­bly on­line) to the dearth of rap per­for­mances on-air, there was lots to pick at.

Heading into this year’s cer­e­mony, the pro­duc­ers knew eyes were watch­ing and wait­ing to crit­i­cize the show for its long-per­ceived ex­clu­sion of rap and hip-hop from ma­jor cat­e­gories.

Pro­duc­ers an­gled to stack the show with per­for­mances from hiphop ti­tans Drake, La­mar and Glover.

Glover was of­fered a spot on the show to per­form “This Is Amer­ica,” a record that was a po­tent med­i­ta­tion on the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of black suf­fer­ing in this coun­try, but he turned pro­duc­ers down.

La­mar, whose mul­ti­ple snubs in al­bum of the year have sparked fury in mu­sic com­mu­nity, was also a noshow. His work on the “Black Pan­ther” sound­track landed him his fourth nod for al­bum of the year, but he lost to front-run­ner Kacey Mus­graves. And Drake too failed to win in the song, record and al­bum cat­e­gories.

Drake, who has long been ab­sent from the ma­jor awards show cir­cuit, sur­prised the Grammy au­di­ence by show­ing up to col­lect his award for rap song.

In his speech he al­luded to his beef with the Gram­mys, men­tion­ing that his win was “the first time in Grammy his­tory where I ac­tu­ally am who I thought I was for a sec­ond, so I like that” be­fore telling his peers that they shouldn’t look to Grammy stat­ues for val­i­da­tion.

“We play in an opin­ion-based sport, not a fact-based sport. It’s not the NBA where at the end of the year you’re hold­ing a tro­phy be­cause you made the right de­ci­sions or won the games. This is a business where some­times it’s up to a bunch of peo­ple who might not un­der­stand what a mixed-race kid from Canada has to say or a fly Span­ish girl from New York or a brother from Hous­ton.

“The point is, you’ve al­ready won if you have peo­ple singing your songs words for words, or you’re a hero in your home­town and peo­ple com­ing out in the rain or snow to your shows. You don’t need this right here,” he said be­fore he ap­peared to be cut off, which in­fu­ri­ated many in the au­di­ence.

Back­stage pro­duc­ers said they be­lieved Drake’s pause in his speech was an in­di­ca­tor that he was fin­ished so they cut his mi­cro­phone. They of­fered to al­low him to return to stage, which he de­clined by say­ing he was happy with what he said on­stage.

“Some of the push­back that I’ve found in re­cent years with re­gard to the show not only has to do with the nom­i­na­tions, but in some cases the re­sults of those nom­i­na­tions. Whether they won or lost,” the show’s long­time pro­ducer Ken Ehrlich said in the days lead­ing to Sun­day’s show. “Am I sorry that Drake is not on this year? Yeah, I am. I wish he was. Am I sorry that I don’t have Gam­bino? I am. They’ve both made in­cred­i­bly rel­e­vant mu­sic this year, and they should be on this stage.”

At last year’s Gram­mys, the nar­ra­tive was tightly fo­cused on rap’s promi­nence among nom­i­nees in the ma­jor cat­e­gories af­ter his­tor­i­cally be­ing over­looked. How­ever, La­mar was eclipsed by the retro R&B of Bruno Mars.

There were some significant hiphop wins this year — but it might have been too late for the com­mu­nity to care.

Robert Gauthier Los An­ge­les Times

JEN­NIFER LOPEZ’S Mo­town med­ley didn’t do the Gram­mys any fa­vors with some view­ers.

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