View profile

Puffy is good, but Wu-Tang is the best

Internets, I'm actually kinda glad A Tribe Called Quest wasn't nominated for any Grammys. Hopefully t

Life in a Shanty Town

December 8 · Issue #33 · View online
The hip-hop newsletter that's not afraid to ask the tough questions

I’m actually kinda glad A Tribe Called Quest wasn’t nominated for any Grammys. Hopefully this will teach them an important lesson about seeking validation from people who wouldn’t know from rap music.
In upwards of 30 years of recording, culminating with the release of last year’s We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, Tribe has been nominated for four Grammys, but like Pac, Biggie, Nas, Snoop Dogg and most other good rappers, they’ve never won one. (Kanye West has 21 Grammys.)
Q-Tip must have figured he was a shoo-in for at least a nomination, if not an award, after Tribe performed during last year’s telecast, one of the few memorable recent Grammys moments, along with that time it was revealed that Frank Ocean can’t sing any better than I can.
Tribe didn’t end up being nominated for a damn thing. I took a look at the rap categories in the wiki, just now. There’s more of them than you’d think, but apparently Tribe wasn’t appropriate for any of them. Tha fuck?
In a series of Instagram videos reminiscent of that time Ghostface threatened to set Action Bronson’s beard on fire, with some weird jazz Muzak playing in the background, Q-Tip went off on the Recording Academy. His argument was hardly any more coherent than that time he tried to explain the history of hip-hop to Iggy Azalea, but you got the sense that he’d been promised that Tribe would be nominated for an award this year. At one point he yelled, “Get off my lawn!”
Most likely, this rant didn’t result in anything other than his name—and maybe a picture of his face—being posted in the box office of the theater where the Grammys are held, as if he’d written a bad check to a Chinese restaurant. He’s not nominated for any awards, so he probably wasn’t invited anyway. And since this was the last Tribe album, he probably won’t have any business being there ever again, unless Dilla left another “Vivrant Thing” laying around somewhere.
It’s a sad way for Tribe to go out, but hardly unexpected.
The Grammys have always been on some ol’ bullshit. They didn’t even give a rap music award until 1989, even though “Rappers Delight,” 10 years before, sold more copies than Elvis and the Beatles combined. That year, most of the rap nominees, including DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (who won the first rap Grammy), boycotted the ceremony, because the rap award wasn’t being televised. As I recall, there was a special episode of Yo! MTV Raps.
However, it’s not true that rappers would have been required to enter the theater through a back door. That’s merely a vicious rumor. Kool Moe Dee attended that first rap Grammys, despite the boycott, and was allowed to present an award. They didn’t give him an award, which, in retrospect, was the first sign that the Grammys are run by ungrateful bastards (arguably worse than black professional athletes).
In the late ‘90s, Ol’ Dirty Bastard spent a lot of money on arguably the best suit ever worn (surpassing Barack Obama’s controversial tan suit), only to watch the Wu-Tang Clan lose an award to Puff Daddy, who can’t even rap. Ol’ Dirty was left with no choice but to interrupt Shawn Colvin, accepting an award for the eternal “Sunny Came Home,” to announce that Wu-Tang is for the children.
Indeed it was time for a few small repairs.
Tribe almost certainly could have been nominated for an award, if the Grammys actually gave a shit about doing right by the black community. The process by which artists are nominated has always been kinda opaque, but we know for a fact that the nominees aren’t selected by the same elderly white people who vote for the eventual winners.
Nominees have been selected by committee since at some point after the debacle in the mid '90s when Tony Bennett’s MTV Unplugged managed to win Album of the Year. It’s hard to say exactly when, because their selections have never ceased to be embarrassing. A famous case in point would be the time a late-period Steely Dan album beat out Kid A—and the Marshall Mathers LP—for Album of the Year.
A few years ago, a white guy from Complex broke down how it works, in an article I probably only ever skimmed at the time. To determine which artists should be nominated in certain categories (you can probably guess which ones), the Grammys consult with people with an expertise in those genres, if not a level of expertise that would preclude the involvement of white guys from Complex. Ha ha, I kid.
We know at least one black guy is involved, though it isn’t clear, from this latest controversy, what purpose he serves.
I guess my question is, if 9th Wonder is there to help pick the rap categories (his artist Rapsody is nominated for Best Rap Album), and he told Tribe he could get them a nomination, but he didn’t, then why is he really there? Is it to dupe credible artists into performing? You’ll recall that Kanye, Drake and Frank Ocean all announced that they would be attending last year’s ceremony, to protest a lack of effeminate black male nominees (I’m assuming), which is probably how Tribe got the nod in the first place.
Now that the nominees are historically diverse, they don’t need Tribe anymore. As many a sadly misled neoliberal pointed out on Twitter the other day, this was the first year that not a single white guy was nominated for Album of the Year. That is, if you don’t count the people who actually profit from those albums. And the people who write Lorde’s music, for that matter.
Jay-Z, I guess, would have to be considered the front-runner, with eight nominations total. 13 albums into his career, this is his first time being nominated for Album of the Year. He’s officially reached the point where, of the nominees, he’s the closest in age to most Grammy voters. The aforementioned Lorde, for example, wasn’t even born when Reasonable Doubt came out.
She’s the only white person nominated for Album of the Year, and also the only woman (maybe the black guys will split the vote), all of which would seem to be to her advantage, but I’m not sure how many people really fuxwit her music. Her album Melodrama more or less disappeared from the Billboard 200 not long after it was released, at a time when all kinds of random bullshit turns up in the upper reaches of that chart.
Arguably, Bruno Mars and Childish Gambino should be disqualified for being overly derivative of older black performers. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be allowed to sing karaoke versions of classic R&B songs, but should they receive awards for it? Mars, for “Uptown Funk,” was sued by the Gap Band, who almost certainly spent the proceeds on cocaine. So this is not just a matter of cultural appropriation, which I’m sure the Grammys could care less about. It’s a genuine existential concern.
And that leaves us with Kendrick Lamar (quite literally the runt of the litter). His album DAMN. was at least as critically acclaimed as 4:44, if not more so, and it also sold as if it were cocaine in the Gap Band’s native Tulsa, OK. And we know that the Recording Academy fuxwit Kendrick Lamar. To Pimp a Butterfly, as I recall, was nominated for more Grammys than any album since Thriller—which doesn’t even seem like it should be possible for a rap album.
They may have nominated him in a few categories he wasn’t even eligible for, to make up for him being “robbed” by Macklemore in 2013. If only this wasn’t the last Tribe album, maybe something similar could be arranged next year. At the very least, maybe Rapsody could be offered as a sort of consolation prize—but only if she’s interested (this is 2017).
Take it easy on yourself,

Did you enjoy this issue?
Become a member for $5 per month
Don’t miss out on the other issues by Byron Crawford
You can manage your subscription here
If you were forwarded this newsletter and you like it, you can subscribe here.
Powered by Revue