Way back in 2002, the centripetal rap star of the moment, Jay-Z, told someone at MTV why he'd been skipping the Grammys since 1999: "I didn't think they gave the rightful respect to hip-hop."
His point was completely valid back then — and it remained so up until Tuesday morning when the Recording Academy announced that the 47-year-old rap superstar had been nominated for eight Grammys, including the show's three sparkliest prizes: album, record and song of the year.
Even better, it didn't appear to be a fluke. Rap (and rap-adjacent) artists feel as dominant on this year's Grammy ballot as rap (and rap-adjacent) music has felt in popular culture for, oh, the past quarter-century.
Does progress this slow still count as progress? Before you answer, remember that those coveted golden gramophones are industry-voted awards — which means that the industry is ultimately voting for its own relevance.
And this year, the Recording Academy appears to be doing some course-correction after its past two gatherings overlooked black artists making politically charged art in favor of white artists making sales-floor scorchers. In 2016, it was Taylor Swift's "1989" that bested Kendrick Lamar's "To Pimp A Butterfly" for album of the year. In 2017, we witnessed an instant replay when Adele's "25" topped Beyoncé's career-defining "Lemonade." Even Adele was baffled by last year's Grammy voting bloc: "What the f--- does [Beyoncé] have to do to win album of the year?"
Neither Adele nor Swift is eligible for the top hardware at the Jan. 28 ceremony, and their male subordinates — Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran, respectively — were snubbed from the top categories altogether. In fact, this is the first time in Grammy history that the album of the year pool is absent of white men. So this year should be different. (Unless Lorde's somewhat-Swiftian "Melodrama" snatches album of the year away from Jay-Z's introspective "4:44," Lamar's incendiary "DAMN.," Bruno Mars's high-gloss "24K Magic" and Childish Gambino's neo-funky "Awaken My Love!" — which could very well happen.)
One guy who isn't sweating any of this: Drake. According to reports from Billboard, the most influential rapper of his generation did not submit his chart-topping 2017 album "More Life," or any of the songs from it, for Grammy consideration. He seems to be taking a move from Frank Ocean, a two-time Grammy winner who refused to submit his work for recognition last year, explaining that the Recording Academy, "just doesn't seem to be representing very well for the people who come from where I come from." He sure sounded a lot like Jay-Z circa 2002.
Does that mean we've come full circle? Sure, the two top contenders for album of the year are rap albums — but we aren't out of the woods just yet. If Jay-Z's contemplative "4:44" ends up getting more votes than Lamar's more intense, more deserving "DAMN.," the Recording Academy will be resorting to another one of its default moves: handing out the night's biggest trophy to an artist many years past their creative peak. It's hard to forget Steely Dan's big victory in 2001, or Robert Plant's in 2008, or Herbie Hancock's in 2009.
What if Jay-Z is just the new Steely Dan? That's the funny thing about going full-circle. We end up where we started.