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Grammys (Kinda, Finally) Got Rap Right in 2024

Photo Credits: Dan Medhurst

A few days ago, the Atlanta-based rapper-activist Killer Mike, founder of the renowned Rap Band Run the Jewels, went home with 3 Grammys, from the categories Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance. It pissed off Travis fans. So now, I'm pissed.

For how long, the Grammy's have been lectured about how mismanaged the Rap/Hiphop categories were, sometimes being even labelled "urban", a supposedly morally and politically correct word used to distinct Black Culture and Black Artists from the more popular and recognized White™ categories. The 2010s were clearly the decade generating the most conflicts, as social media further nourished those debates. Let's not go through all of the Academy's mistakes, there were plenty and we already know them.

Yet, it doesn't mean it can't ever get right. Nearly 20 years after the release of one of the greatest, if not the, hiphop albums of all time, Nas received his well-deserved flowers in 2021 winning his first ever Grammy for the first title of what would become an incredible Rap Trilogy: King's Disease. Against a list of nominees including none of the usual mainstream rappers you see nominated every other year (D Smoke, Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist, Jay Electronica & Royce da 5'9"), Nas proved that he was still relevant. And the Grammys showed that they could rise up to the occasion.

And here we are, three years later, with another ceremony, and Killer Mike being the outsider, the challenger for this year's trophies. Against him, some very predictable top-of-the-charts names. I could name for instance the most disappointing joint hiphop album of those 18 past months: Her Loss by 21 Savage and Drake. The latter who's been too busy lately with some online betting on Kick, rather than disproving Yasiin Bey that he's a pop artist more than a rapper. There were also Metro Boomin with his super-features-packed Heroes & Villains, Nas and his third installment of King's Disease and, finally, the actual villain of the day: Travis Scott.

The hype surrounding UTOPIA, as it has been teased for about three years prior its release, led to the album's downfall itself. The endless merch drops, the initial A24 project which ended up becoming the just announced and badly scored on Rotten Tomatoes AGGRO DR1FT, the cancelled Cairo concert in front of the Pyramids, all of this was marketing coup on marketing coup for UTOPIA. And the horrendous events of ASTROFEST 2021 also became one with time. As this story and the order of the events are way too dense for me to state who was the most at fault during these horrors, I will not put the blame on anyone. Although, it is hard to play Devil's Advocate when said artist keeps on inciting his audience to "rage", when said behaviour was one of the causes of the death of 10 people.

But enough about Travis Scott himself, my problem today is his fans. The misogynistic fans who are still complaining about Cardi B winning the Best Rap Album in 2019 with Invasion of Privacy. The cynical fans who are still joking about ASTROFEST 2021. The uncultured fans asking "who even is Killer Mike?" or "has anyone ever heard the words 'play that new Killer Mike' ?". Those fans are the one I have a problem with. Their rotted brains cannot fathom the idea that an award, especially in that category, could be based on lyricism rather than charts. Just as Ye fans, they cannot accept the idea that a woman could win over their idol, and not harass them for years. And once again, my Twitter/Instagram/TikTok comments sections were filled with those usual trolls.

But Mike deserved to win those awards. After a 20 years-long career with mere recognition from the Academy, whether for his albums with El-P as Run The Jewels or his previous solo album R.A.P. Music. On Michael, Killer Mike maintained his usual editorial line, politically-loaded bars. In a genre that pushed way too many artists with very vague political opinions, if not complete apoliticists, it's always refreshing to turn to him for actual punchlines criticizing modern problems. I'll admit that MICHAEL is a flawed project. The most flagrant one is definitely the transphobic stand-up comedian Dave Chappelle being featured at the beginning of RUN, for a speech on Black existence. It could be important and taken in account if you forgot for a second Chappelle's lack of intersectionality in his activism. Enough about him, MICHAEL does blatantly shine by its authenticity and the variety of the tales that its various collaborators chose to tell. Yes, it does talk about growing up in ATL as a Black man, but not only. On MOTHERLESS, one of the album's highlights, Mike honors the women that raised him and tells how much pain he feels by their absence. On SCIENTISTS & ENGINEERS, the Grammy-awarded Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance, probably the hottest rap collaboration of the year, both on the Production and the Interpretation sides, the three MCs Killer Mike, Future and the legendary André 3000 (whom I praised on our Best Albums of 2023 list) boast about their lifestyles as accomplished rappers. Probably not some ground-breaking lyrics, yet still very fun and more original than what we could have found in his category-contenders.

In front of a microwave-reheated UTOPIA that couldn't live up to the expectations it set, a disappointing and not surprising Her Loss and the quickly forgotten HEROES & VILLAINS which didn't feel very cohesive as a whole, MICHAEL was the most logical option. I didn't claim that it necessarily was the most deserving, as other projects could have been mentioned, such as Sundial, Quaranta, And Then You Pray for Me or even Hood Hottest Princess by Sexyy Red. But in the Academy's selection, I stand my ground and proudly say that the Grammy's were, for once, very right.

After all, wasn't it Kendrick Lamar who said on Hood Politics: "Critics want to mention that they miss when hip-hop was rappin' | Motherfucker, if you did, then Killer Mike'd be platinum".


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