Genre-bending artists fall at the mercy of Grammy voters

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Award show overload seems to always miss the Grammys. From the American Music Awards to BET, MTV, Soul Train and others, it’s easy to be fatigued by the volume of awards being handed out to the same handful of artists.

Last night’s Grammy nominations saw Eminem lead all artists with 10 nominations. Beating out rising star, Bruno Mars, who had seven, and established entity, Jay-Z, who had six, respectively. But interesting to note was The Recording Academy taking another step away from its, sometimes awkward, history with black music.

The Grammy’s relationship to black music hasn’t been outright biased or racially divisive in recent history, but the Academy has been slow to respect Black music’s credibility, most specifically hip-hop, without overwhelming popularity behind it since it’s introduction to mainstream music.

Amongst the interesting races to come out of last night’s show, black artists got nods in heavyweight categories like Record of Year, where B.o.B, Cee-Lo Green, Jay-Z & Alicia Keys, were all nominated. Song of the Year, where Cee-Lo Green, again, got a nod, and Best New Artist where Drake and Esperanza Spaulding got nominations next to Justin Bieber and others.

Album of the Year jumped out as one of the most monochromatic and overall, bland, categories of the evening with Arcade Fire, Eminem, Lady Antebellum, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry all getting nominations.

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The nominees, in over 100 categories, featured very little surprises, a little confusion and the greater realization that instead of just creating more and more awards for sub-genres, all of the categories, and their definitions, need to be re-defined or overhauled.

Snubs were light. Some would argue for Big Boi’s Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty should have been in the Best Rap Album category and that Eminem shouldn’t have gotten two nods in the same Best Rap Song category.

Looking at categories like Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group and scanning the nominees, it became glaring that something was off.

Not that the five songs selected weren’t in constant radio rotation or that they didn’t deserve merit but “Lose My Mind” from Young Jeezy & Plies was a perfect example of a single, that wasn’t on any album released this year, making a big splash and getting consideration.

Then it dawned on me. As against adding more categories to over 100 that already exist, as I am, the Grammy’s blind spot this year was free music.

In what may be a down year for popular music, it has been a great year for music and if anything has been the theme of this year in music it’s the affect of free music on the game.

If forced to list the best content I’ve heard this year, most of it didn’t cost a cent. From artists like Big K.R.I.T., J. Cole, Wiz Khalifa and other newcomers who’ve made their mark on this year without releasing official albums, it’s becoming harder and harder to say, we’ll wait and see what their debut albums sound like when they’re debut mixtapes or EP’s are better than the actual albums on shelves and charts.

In that same vein, just like there’s categories for Best regional versions of music, whether that be Southern, Hawaiian, Cajun or otherwise. Why not breakdown a category like rap the same way since the music, in and of itself, is inherently different in sound and nature depending on it’s geography.

Also lost in the Grammy formula is music that bends genres.

Janelle Monáe had one of the most solid, and considerably pop, albums of the year but where do you place her album, The ArchAndroid? Putting it in the Best Contemporary R&B album category seemed forced, even with it’s soul. Same goes for B.o.B’s multiple times nominated smash, “Nothin’ On You.” It had rap in it. A rapper performed it but does it necessarily make it a rap song?

For some, that’s useless semantics, pandering to contrarian people who feel the need to mix things up. Maybe. But a valid question has to be asked, who’s in charge of labeling this stuff? And if music does cross these imaginary genre lines, do you just place in multiple categories like B.o.B’s “Airplanes, Pt. II,” which was hip hop and Pop, or just ignore its dexterity?

A social media debate sparked just yesterday, most notably by author, journalist and critic, Touré, asked a similar question. Nicki Minaj boastfully announced the highest selling first week ever for a female artist under the genre, “Hip-Hop/Rap” with 375,000 copies of her Pink Friday album going off the shelves, beating out the previous record holder, Missy Elliott, and the 260,000 first week sales of her album, Under Construction. But Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill sold 422,000 in its first week but somehow wasn’t categorized as hip-hop/rap.

The point? In the not so distant future, The Recording Academy will be forced to sit down and re-evaluate where they put certain music. They’ll have to think about combining, adding or eliminating categories and make more astute decisions on where certain music by artists who walk a, not so simple, genre line will be placed in their consideration.

The 53rd Annual Grammy Awards will be held February 13, 2011