Rap State Of Mind

Tracing the legacy of rap music at the GRAMMYs
  • Photo: Jason Squires/WireImage.com
    D.J. Jazzy Jeff and Will Smith
  • Photo: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images
    Lauryn Hill
  • Photo: John Shearer/WireImage.com
    Jay-Z
  • Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images
    Eminem
  • Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com
    Kanye West
February 08, 2011 -- 9:36 am PST
By Matt Sycamore / GRAMMY.com

(For a complete list of 53rd GRAMMY Awards nominees, click here.)

From old school to new school and beyond, there is power in numbers when it comes to rap artists and the GRAMMYs, in particular, the multitude of rap artists who have performed and won GRAMMYs.

The history of rap music and The Recording Academy dates back to 1988, when the genre was officially recognized with the addition of its first category: Best Rap Performance. In more than two decades since, this union has evolved to reflect the explosion of rap in not only the music industry, but our culture worldwide.

If you aren't convinced, take a good look at this year's nominees for Record Of The Year, arguably one of the highest-profile GRAMMYs. Three of the five nominated songs are rooted in rap/hip-hop: "Empire State Of Mind" by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, "Love The Way You Lie" by Eminem featuring Rihanna, and "Nothin' On You" by B.o.B featuring Bruno Mars. And one of the other two nominees, "F*** You," is by part-time rapper and full-time singer Cee Lo Green.

It's an impressive feather in the cap of a genre that continues to gain momentum as we head in to the second decade of the new millennium.

The genre's modest entrance at the GRAMMYs came when D.J. Jazzy Jeff And The Fresh Prince's "Parents Just Don't Understand" took home the first Best Rap Performance award in 1988, winning against the likes of J.J. Fad, Kool Moe Dee, LL Cool J, and Salt-N-Pepa. The category has since evolved into the makeup of the current Rap Field, which contains five categories: Best Rap Solo Performance, Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group, Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, Best Rap Song, and Best Rap Album.

Of course, this evolution wouldn't have been possible without the groundbreaking work of now-classic rap artists such as the Sugarhill Gang, DJ Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, Run-D.M.C., and Kurtis Blow, among others. A hall of fame-bound list of artists has since followed these trailblazers to find a pot full of GRAMMY gold.

In 1998 Lauryn Hill helped take rap to the next level at the GRAMMYs, cleaning up with five awards for her album The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. Hill not only became the first rap/hip-hop artist to win Album Of The Year, she became the first female solo artist to win five awards in one night. Rap hadn't just arrived at the GRAMMYs. It was also taking care of business.

The GRAMMY Awards that have taken place since have only provided an exclamation point for this bold statement.

Highlights include Eminem's Album Of The Year nomination in 2000 for The Marshall Mathers LP and his live telecast performance of "Stan" alongside the legendary Elton John; OutKast's big night in 2004, when the Atlanta duo won Album Of The Year and Best Rap Album for their double-disc masterwork Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, and Best Urban/Alternative Performance for "Hey Ya!"; Kanye West's eye-popping 10 nominations in 2005, which were spawned from his 2004 album, The College Dropout, and eight and six nominations in 2007 and 2008, respectively; and Jay-Z's GRAMMY trifecta in 2009, winning awards for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, Best Rap Solo Performance and Best Rap Song.

West stands as the top GRAMMY-winning rap artist in history with 14 statues, followed by Eminem (11) and Jay-Z (10), though Eminem's 10 nominations this year could tip the scales in his favor after Sunday.

Culturally, the rise of these multitalented artists continues to prove how meaningful and authentic the messages behind the music can be. For example, Eminem chronicles life changes for the better on his 2010 album Recovery.

And not to be forgotten is the remarkable story of Jay-Z, who has risen from the crime-riddled streets of New York to his well-earned perch in the rap penthouse, along the way earning critical acclaim and album sales in the millions. His 2009 album, The Blueprint 3, and the ubiquitous radio smash, "Empire State Of Mind," are further evidence that rap is only getting bigger and more important at the GRAMMYs.

As the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards approach on Sunday, Feb. 13, the artists in the mix for rap honors run the gamut of every subgenre within rap's ever-widening scope, from veterans such as Eminem, Jay-Z and Ludacris to newer players on the scene such as T.I., Drake, Big Boi, Bosko Cutty, and Mouche, plus acts that sit on the cutting edge, such as B.o.B, Common, the Roots, and West.

No matter who emerges on top, rap has impressively grown from its organic origins of emcees kicking it with beat boxes in Queens, N.Y., in the late '70s to an enormously popular, globally important art form and cultural touchstone. And driving home the point that there is power in numbers, The Recording Academy's voting members have stood up, listened, and acted to give the genre just representation within the GRAMMY Awards process.

(On Feb. 8 the GRAMMY Museum will host an exclusive premiere for Hip-Hop: A Cultural Odyssey, its latest exhibit showcasing the history of the genre through listening stations, video footage, rare photographs, and original artifacts. Attendees will include industry entrepreneur Russell Simmons and artists Afrika Bambaataa, Kurtis Blow and Everlast, among others. For more information on the exhibit, visit www.grammymuseum.org.)

(Matt Sycamore is a Pacific Northwest-based freelance music writer.)

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