Drake Was Right. Maybe All Black Artists Should Boycott The Grammys

Beyoncé made history at the 65th Grammy Awards by simultaneously becoming the first Black woman to win for Best Dance/Electronic Album and becoming the artist with the most Grammy Award wins ever.
Beyoncé made history at the 65th Grammy Awards by simultaneously becoming the first Black woman to win for Best Dance/Electronic Album and becoming the artist with the most Grammy Award wins ever.

Beyoncé made history at the 65th Grammy Awards by simultaneously becoming the first Black woman to win for Best Dance/Electronic Album and becoming the artist with the most Grammy Award wins ever.

Beyoncé made history Sunday night in a manner only Beyoncé can pull off.

After showing up fashionably late for the 65th Grammy Awards because she had other stuff to do, she won four Grammys for her seventh album ”Renaissance,” bringing her lifetime Grammy wins to 32. That breaks the previous record of 31, set by British conductor Georg Solti 26 years ago. (My guess is you could fit the number of people reading this who knew who he was before Sunday in a middle school gym and have enough space left over to play dodgeball.) 

Every major news outlet sent a notification of the broken Grammy record and Bey’s emotional speech to my phone. But what she didn’t win arguably made more noise: the Album of the Year award. The snub is jarring for a lot of folks in my world, where ”Renaissance” was handily the biggest and most celebrated album release of 2022. Months after it dropped, I still saw posts and memes on my news feed about how Bey’s “dance album” was like crack infused into digital files.

Though I’m personally not a huge fan of Beyoncé’s music, my world, my social media, and my family and friends consist of many Black women who deeply adore her and everything she touches. If “Lemonade”was a movement, “Renaissance”isn’t far behind. 

In contrast, I could poll my nearly 2,000 Facebook friends asking who listened in entirety to “Harry’s World,” the Harry Styles album that beat “Renaissance”for Album of the Year and maybe get three or four hands up. (That I’m in my 40s and Styles has mid-2010s boy band origins likely factors into that.) 

It’s the fourth time Beyoncé has been snubbed for the big award ― she was also nominated for “I Am…Sasha Fierce,” “Beyoncé” and “Lemonade.” For many, it makes her broken Grammy record feel like eating a plate of tofu at Mastro’s Steakhouse. It also interestingly sheds new light on Kanye West’s infamous 2009 outburst at the MTV Video Music Awards defending Beyoncé against Taylor Swift at a time when everyone still liked Swift.

While Bey has rocked with her Grammy snubs, Drake and The Weeknd offer no quarter to the ceremony, having once again boycotted: Neither artist submitted any of their solo work for consideration, despite Drake dropping his seventh album “Honestly, Nevermind”(otherwise known as Great Value Renaissance) and The Weeknd dropping his fifth studio album, “Dawn FM,” in 2022. 

Drake has had public gripes with the Recording Academy, the collective that puts on the Grammy Awards and decides the winners, since 2017, when he skipped the ceremony because it nominated his monster single “Hotline Bling” as a rap track despite being as poppy as pop songs get. The Weeknd stopped rocking with the Grammys in 2021 when he received zero noms for his album “After Hours,” which made loads of best-of-2020 album lists.  

Motivation behind the snubs seems unclear considering Black artists win Grammys in some category every year, and deservedly so: This year, Robert Glasper won Best R&B Album for “Black Radio III,” and J. Ivy finally won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Poetry Album for “The Poet Who Sat By the Door.”

But there seems to be something about the top award that evades Black artists, and especially Black rappers. There have been only three Black women to win Album of the Year in the 65-year history of the ceremony; Lauryn Hill nabbed it last 24 years ago for “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” OutKast’s “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below”isthe only hip-hop album to ever win Album of the Year. And let’s be honest: That’s only because of Andre 3000’s decidedly non-hip-hop half of the double album. (Some consider “Miseducation”a hip-hop album. I do not.) 

The Recording Academy’s questionable treatment of Black music became most acute in the 1980s, when the nascent-yet-increasingly popular hip-hop genre wasn’t even acknowledged by the Recording Academy for about a decade. When they finally added the Best Rap Performance category to the Grammys in 1989, Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff boycotted the ceremony when they learned that it wouldn’t actually televise the category; they ultimately won the inaugural award for “Parents Just Don’t Understand.”

(As an aside, Smith joined his wife Jada Pinkett-Smith in boycotting the Oscars 27 years later because of the lack of diversity in their nominees, which is ironic considering he’s the one the Oscars are boycotting now.)

Best Rap Album didn’t become a thing until the 1996 ceremony, and it would appear intuitive that Black folks dominate a category focused on a genre of music that we created. But who’s the leading winner in that category…? Eminem, who won the award six times. No hip-hop fan I know believes Em has six albums that deserve a front-to-back listen, let alone that accolade. 

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis winning Best Rap Album in 2014 for “The Heist” over Kendrick Lamar’s “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City” ― one of the last decade’s top five hip-hop albums ― was so egregious and enraging that Macklemore himself even admitted that he benefited from “the system I’ve been calling out since I was f**king 20 years old.” 

Adele took a similar approach in 2017 when she admitted that her album ”25″ didn’t deserve to beat “Lemonade”for Album of the Year and spent the latter half of her acceptance speech throwing praises to Bey.

It may never be proven empirically, but it feels as if there’s something about the Recording Academy and their highest award, like it’ll only award it to a Black artist when their album is an undeniable juggernaut with no real competition (see: Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”in 1984, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”in 1999, Stevie Wonder’s “Innervisions”in 1974) but are happy to throw it anyone else’s way if possible. It’s why Styles’ completely obtuse statement during his award acceptance Sunday ― “this doesn’t happen to people like me” ― is like a whale confessing to its therapist that eating fish is “not like me.”  

A year after the Recording Academy’s then-President Neil Portnow told Pitchfork he didn’t think there was a “race problem at all”with the Grammys, the academy put in work to become more inclusive, inviting hundreds of new voting members in 2018 via its then-new Task Force on Diversity & Inclusion. Some would argue that the task force is doing its job, but repeated Album of the Year snubs for Beyoncé’s event albums certainly throw up flags in that regard.

I recently wrote about how Black content is perceived differently by non-Black critics, and how we tend to get shorted by critics and awards ceremonies. It seems that all the boycotts and hashtags don’t get the job done considering how Black Twitter erupts with condemnation every awards season. It’s easy to toss out the “let’s just do our own thing” chestnut when it comes to awards shows, and we basically have that with the BET Awards. But let’s keep it a buck: The mainstream high accolades matter to artists and performers. Grammys and Oscars get you paid in a way an MTV award simply cannot. 

Fatalistic as it reads, I don’t expect the Grammys to ever seriously acknowledge hip-hop, in the same way I don’t expect all the white folks over 40 in the northern suburbs of Chicago to appreciate hearing it blaring from my truck. That The Fugees’ “The Score”was beaten by Celine Dion for Album of the Year in 1997 was all the proof I needed that our music just doesn’t register with the Powers That Be in the Recording Academy.

It’s clear that the Grammys don’t understand nor care to try and understand Black music, which in context is truly American music. We birthed it all. And because of the anti-critical race theory movement, that’s a controversial yet true statement. But what if Black artists stopped looking for white acceptance? What if Black artists just stopped trying to appease the old white gatekeepers? (Hell, the whole award show is named after a group of grandmothers.)

What if more major Black artists joined Drake and The Weeknd in boycotts and public condemnation, perhaps the Recording Academy would feel the impact of what happens when they don’t take seriously some of the highest-selling, most influential music. That would require more Black artists to recognize the problem and stand in solidarity to do something about it, which is no simple proposition. 

Just look at what happens when Beyoncé walks into an auditorium late. What if she didn’t walk in at all…?