When the GRAMMYs revealed their list of nominations for the 2023 awards, I immediately scrolled to the category “Best Rap Album of the Year.” Not because I hold the award in great regard but quite the opposite — the GRAMMYs have a vile history of botching the awards for rap/hip-hop artists, showing a partial disregard and ignorance for their culture.
Many within the rap community still angrily recount how Macklemore and Ryan Lewis beat out Kendrick Lamar’s modern classic good kid, m.A.A.d city with their extremely forgettable album The Heist in 2014. While it is true both albums were successful commercially, Lamar’s album was the favorite within the rap community, as it more accurately reflected the ideals and aesthetic qualities of the genre.
This year’s list was unfortunately a continuation of this embarrassing trend. While Lamar’s most recent album Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers and Pusha T’s It’s Almost Dry certainly deserve a chance at the award, DJ Khaled’s GOD DID and Jack Harlow’s Come Home the Kids Miss You were embarrassments in the eyes of many critics. Generally, the GRAMMYs posture themselves as critically inclined, only minimally considering commercial success. The organization had the perfect opportunity to bring attention to critically acclaimed albums that did not crack the top of the charts but instead gave further attention to albums that were already in the spotlight and, frankly, didn’t deserve it. That being said, here are three groundbreaking rap albums that I believe should have been nominated.
The Forever Story by JID
The Forever Story is Atlanta rapper JID’s third studio album and the long-awaited sequel to his debut album The Never Story. JID is one the most exciting new voices in the rap scene, often compared to Kendrick Lamar for his distinct voice and lyrical capability. In The Forever Story, JID recounts the path of his career, specifically detailing his experiences as a football defensive back in college and the controversies that inevitably brought him back home. In the final track, “2007,” JID goes through the entire history with a heartwarming feature from his father and J. Cole, who signed JID to his label Dreamville. Tracks like “Dance Now (feat. Kenny Mason)” and “Lauder Too (feat. Ravyn Lenae & Eryn Allen Kane)” showcase JID’s unmatched technical ability, weaving in harsh, rapid consonants and clever lyrics with an ever-changing, irresistible flow. The production of the tracklist is incredibly varied, with slow R&B cuts like “Kody Blu 13” (a touching tribute to JID’s friend who passed away) and “Sistanem” (a tribute to all the women in JID’s life), paired with more fast-paced bangers such as “Can’t Punk Me (feat. EARTHGANG).” JID continues to improve, even when it already seems he has reached the pinnacle of technical ability and artistry.
Melt My Eyez See Your Future by Denzel Curry
Denzel Curry’s fifth studio album delves into an intense introspection that few albums are brave enough to acknowledge. Through his music, he brings light to the cyclical nature of trauma in Black communities, where child molestation, systemic racism and general violence cause life-long trauma that naturally manifests itself in victims who do exactly what was done to them. This perpetuation was also touched on by Kendrick Lamar in his most recent album, but what makes Curry’s approach so unique is his portrayal of the numbing and indifference that he feels. The cycle is unjust, but Curry is tired of fighting it. Instead, he just keeps “Walkin,” doing his best and working on himself in an attempt to achieve inner peace. The production of this album reflects Curry’s contemplative mood with many slow and subdued beats full of funk and jazz, while still retaining the characteristic dark edge of much of Curry’s previous work, which culminates in a great listen with an important and ever-prevalent message
Cheat Codes by Danger Mouse and Black Thought
Legendary producer Danger Mouse and rapper Black Thought worked together to create Cheat Codes, an album that was originally announced back in 2020 under the working title Dangerous Thoughts. With features from the likes of A$AP Rocky, Joey Bada$$ and a post-mortem verse from MF DOOM, this sometimes dark, sinister, bombastic, grand tracklist has plenty of lyrical prowess to go along with its cohesive theme of the surreal and chaotic nature of intrusive thoughts. The beats are like nothing you’ve ever heard before, though they have all the laid-back energy of underground hip-hop. The use of live instruments and obscure, distorted samples makes each song feel like chaos in a bottle in the best way possible. All in all, this project deserves much more attention than it has gotten and is no doubt a GRAMMY-caliber work.
To close out, I will say that the GRAMMYs as an organization should hold themselves to a higher standard when it comes to rap and hip-hop. I’m in no position to speculate whether those in charge are uninformed or not diverse enough in their understanding of different genres, but whatever the reason is, I would love to see it change. The whole ceremony is supposed to be a celebration of music in its many forms. As rap becomes more and more mainstream, the nominations will inevitably become more recognizable to the wider audience, but this trend also runs the risk of albums like Come Home the Kids Miss You and GOD DID being nominated off of name recognition alone. For the sake of musical innovation and artistry, the best artists should be given their flowers and awards, not the ones who made the most dough.