Jay-Z strolled into the 60th Grammy Awards in his native New York on Sunday night with the most nominations. When the whole thing was over, he trudged back home to Brooklyn with zip-zero, having been blanked in all eight categories in which he was nominated, including album of the year, a prize that has only ever been gifted to a rap artist once — ever — and it wasn't Jay-Z, not then, and not now.
Truth was, the rap legend's "4:44" wasn't the strongest contender on this year's slate. That would have been "DAMN." by Kendrick Lamar, a vivid, alert, voice-of-his-generation-level rapper who also lost album of the year — on his third consecutive try — to the antiseptic anti-funk of Bruno Mars. Why? And how? And what? I guess Grammy voters remember young Bruno doing a neat job at his Super Bowl halftime gig back in 2014, or maybe they just liked hearing "24K Magic" at all of those wedding receptions last summer.
And so it remains impossible to figure out what exactly motivates the voting members of today's Recording Academy — other than a deep, abiding distaste for rap music, the dominant style of American pop for the past two decades. OutKast won album of the year for "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below" in 2004, and since then, the industry has bestowed its highest honor on artists peddling neo-soul, neo-folk, neo-disco, and now, neo-funk. Perhaps the Grammy electorate is holding out for the emergence of neo-rap? A revival that involves mostly white people?
Regardless, the past 14 years have made it excruciatingly clear that the Grammys want as little to do with rap music as possible. So why do rappers still want anything to do with the Grammys? Jay-Z boycotted the awards for a few years, starting all the way back in 1999, but has since come around, presumably hoping that his peers in the industry might one day be ready to recognize his contribution to the American songbook. Not this year.
As for Lamar, I hope you enjoyed what should be his last Grammy telecast performance on Sunday night. Let's not forget all of the flaming hoops that the Recording Academy has asked this young auteur to jump through over the years. Remember at the 2014 Grammys when Lamar, already a singular voice in pop, was forced into a mashed-up duet with the low-imagination rock band Imagine Dragons? Having paid his dues a few times over, Lamar kick-started Sunday night's ceremony pretty much by himself, his mouth overflowing with pungent, locomotive rhymes.
But by the end of the night, that energy had evaporated. Lamar was good enough to open the show, but not good enough to stand in the winner's circle. It might have given you the funny feeling that the Recording Academy doesn't see its big rap problem as any kind of problem at all.