On Friday morning, highly-anticipated nominations for the Grammys’ gleaming golden cups were announced, and hip-hop, surprisingly and yet unsurprisingly, dominated the top categories. Kendrick Lamar, the critically acclaimed Compton rapper, got the most nods despite not releasing his own project. (The successful Black Panther soundtrack, which escorted its record-shattering and history-making cinematic namesake, helped him appear on, and command, the exclusive, gilded list.) Lamar’s hugely popular, chart-topping rival, Drake, whose musical ubiquity was solidified some time ago, follows with seven nominations. (The blame can be placed on his best-of-both-worlds double disk Scorpion, the record that yielded billions of streams and more than a couple Billboard Hot 100 hits.) The lovable loudmouth Cardi B, whimsical creative genius Childish Gambino, and tantalizing mystery woman H.E.R. each scored five prized acknowledgments, making me smile at the rainbow of color and talent dancing across the “Big Four” and other areas.
For Record of the Year, Cardi, Bad Bunny, and J Balvin’s energetic “I Like It,” Gambino’s satirical “This is America,” Drake’s quotable “God’s Plan,” Lamar and SZA’s hopeful “All the Stars,” and Post Malone’s decadent “rockstar” compete. I doubt that Gambino’s social critique will walk away with the gold, and the TDE artists’ collaboration was not a cultural phenomenon (though it did reach number seven on the Hot 100 and received platinum plaques). Since the remaining three songs all reached number one and incessantly played on hundreds of radio stations, it is challenging to determine which one wins the popularity contest. My personal favorite out of the rap and R&B tracks is “All the Stars,” but to the Grammys, the song may not pack enough of a punch. It is an uncertain category, but I am still betting on the three omnipresent singles.
Album of the Year includes Cardi’s Invasion of Privacy, Drake’s Scorpion, H.E.R.’s H.E.R., Malone’s beerbongs & bentleys, Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer, and the Black Panther score. The latter project might have the biggest chance of winning, though it did not achieve the greatest commercial success. Drake’s album seems too congested, Monae’s and H.E.R.’s might be overlooked, and Malone’s does not seem to fit the category. Cardi’s warmly received debut, however, has a chance against my predicted champion.
For Song of the Year, I believe “God’s Plan” has the highest likelihood of prevailing over Lamar and SZA’s superhero salute, Ella Mai’s puppy love anthem, and Gambino’s pointed examination. I am hoping that either H.E.R. or Jorja Smith walk away with Best New Artist because R&B reigns supreme in their contrasting voices. When considering Best R&B Performance, I expect H.E.R.’s “Best Part” to succeed. H.E.R. deserves to win also in the Best R&B Song field because “Boo’d Up” (though I appreciate it) is too bubbly, and the other offerings are not as memorable. H.E.R’s “Focus” is one of my favorites and should win that category. Moving on to Best Rap Performance: “King’s Dead” from the Black Panther soundtrack looks set to triumph. Admittedly, there are some formidable opponents in Drake’s “Nice for What” and Travis Scott’s “SICKO MODE.” 6lack and J. Cole’s “Pretty Little Fears” show up on Best Rap/Sung Performance, and I adamantly advocate their victory. 6lack croons about vulnerabilities while Cole spits precious poetry; their subtlety is beautiful and makes me lose my enthusiasm for “All the Stars.” For Best Rap Song, I am leaning toward “Lucky You,” though Joyner Lucas’ “All my life, I want a Grammy, but I’ll prolly never get it” line might sadly prove to be prescient. And finally, for Best Rap Album, I am tied between Nipsey Hussle’s Victory Lap and Pusha T’s Daytona.
I am eager to see who grabs the gold on the night of February 10, and I hope that the Grammys gift the rappers and R&B vocalists who deserve the coveted prizes. Nominations only go so far. There is a myriad of black and brown brilliants disrupting the traditional institution representing musical excellence, and those luminaries should be embraced, not ignored. Just because their art speaks a different vernacular and produces a different sound does not mean their truth and beauty should be minimized. The culture’s communication is crucial. It is beautiful and brutal, and it rises proudly and magically from the base of that “gilded gramophone,” its melodic shouts sent to enrapture the world.