When it comes to hip-hop, the Grammys don’t really seem to get it.
For almost four decades, hip-hip and rap have been an indelible part of American music, giving us the Biggies, the Kanyes and the Nickis that have helped shape how music feels and sounds today. Washington Post music critic Chris Richards calls it “America’s dominant pop idiom.”
But of all the winners of the record, song and album of the year awards, exactly one has been hip-hop: OutKast’s “Speakerboxxx/Love Below,” which won for album of the year in 2004. That’s just 1.2 percent of the 81 winners since 1989, the year that rap first received its own genre category. (While hip-hop is sometimes considered a slightly broader category than rap, for the purposes of this article, we’ve smushed them together; the Grammys only have a rap category, not hip-hop one.)
Out of the 421 nominations in those categories during that period, just 34, or 8.1 percent, have gone to hip-hop artists.
This year, however, Kendrick Lamar stands to buck that trend. He’s the most nominated artist of the year with 11 nominations, including album of the year for “To Pimp A Butterfly” and song of the year for “Alright.” A win for the latter would be a first for hip-hop.
In the 27 Grammy ceremonies from 1989 to 2015, pop, unsurprisingly, has had the most nominations at 132 (31.4 percent of all nominees) and most wins at 24 (29.6 percent). Rock comes in second in both with 88 (20.9 percent) and 20 wins (24.7 percent). R&B, at 65 noms (15.4 percent) and 14 wins (17.5 percent), and alternative, at 44 noms (10.5 percent) and 7 wins (8.6 percent), round out the top.
Artists and songs tend to bleed into different genres, of course. For the genre categories, like best rap album or best R&B song, Grammys will look at which category the artist and label request but reserve the right to switch it. For our analysis, we focused on where the Grammys placed the songs and albums when nominating them in the genre-specific categories. If a song or album was nominated in the pop category, like rapper Wiz Khalifa and pop singer Charlie Puth’s “See You Again,” for example, we left that as pop.
Hip-hop and R&B are especially hard to differentiate. For instance, Lauryn Hill, an artist known to float between the two, won album of the year in 1999 for “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” She is a rapper but her work that year was nominated mostly in the R&B categories, so we counted “Miseducation” as R&B.
How popular would we expect hip-hop to be? In 2015, hip-hop accounted for 9.2 percent of the total album sales, according to Nielsen Music — fourth overall, trailing rock, pop and country. (Obviously, this data doesn’t fit perfectly with our research, since it’s only for one year, but it helps give a sense of the distribution.) But compare it to pop, a genre that has wildly lapped hip-hop at the Grammys, but only outsells hip-hop albums by just under 5 percentage points. Not even combining both hip-hop and R&B’s Grammy totals — 23.5 percent of noms and 18.5 percent wins — helps get to pop’s 29.7 percent and 27.2 percent, respectively.
Sometimes, in a year when it felt like the most talked-about songs were hip-hop, another song would win the big awards. For instance, three of the biggest singles of 2010 were rap: Eminem and Rihanna’s “Love The Way You Lie,” Jay Z and Alicia Keys’s “Empire State Of Mind” and B.o.B. and Bruno Mars’s “Nothin’ On You” were all up for record of the year the following year. They lost to country trio Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now.”
Hip-hop is especially neglected in the song of the year award, which goes the songwriter, a job that in hip-hop is clearly not taken as seriously by Grammy voters as it is in pop or rock.
Is age is a factor, considering hip-hop is a much younger genre than pop and rock? Maybe, but best dance recording has only been a category since 1998, and Daft Punk still managed to take home two big wins, album and record of the year, in 2014.
Even the Oscars — oft-criticized for its lack of diversity — have awarded three songs by hip-hop artists in the last 15 years. Compare that with one award in the last 27 and it becomes clear: The Grammys have never found a rightful place for rap and hip-hop.
This post has been updated.