Beyond Macklemore and Kendrick: Mainstream media, misunderstanding, and the real state of hip-hop (not “rap”)

January 31, 2014     / / / / / /

Danny Brown

By David Bradford

So sometime between Macklemore’s “I robbed you” win for “Best Rap Album” this past Sunday at the Grammys and now, there was a lot of time for everyone who cares about hip-hop to collectively lose their marbles a bit over all of our feeds.

That the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences decided to pass over Kanye and Jay-Z (the big-label guys), Drake (the thug-label guy) and Kendrick Lamar (the best damn choice) to settle on the indie, basically self-released Macklemore and Ryan Lewis says encouraging things about the industry’s acceptance of independence and hustle, or at least of big-ass trending. It also says a lot about how little they care about the real state of hip-hop today, and raises some difficult questions about race, yet again.

But most importantly, taking a look at that list of names and the final result communicates a few important subtexts no one has yet to really point out.

For one, it’s my impression that most Academy members have never ever heard of Danny Brown’s Old, and most probably plenty of them may never have heard of Danny Brown himself. Also, I figure A$AP Rocky and A$AP Ferg are nowhere on their radar.

It may equally be the case, in fact, that they decided to just skip Earl Sweatshirt’s Doris, pretend it doesn’t exist, or that it’s not quite hip-hop or radio-played enough to make the list. This line of thought likely led to the same kind of conclusions about Tyler, the Creator’s Wolf, which I gather just wasn’t worth the kind of listen Macklemore was to them.

And if such is the case, then we can safely assume they’ve never heard of Ka, Joey Bada$$ or Run the Jewels, all of whom’s excellent 2013 offerings might as well have existed in a vacuum this past year, as far as the Academy is concerned. Which likely means they haven’t picked up on Chance the Rapper just yet—probably won’t until he gets his marketing figured out, anyhow.

Here, in 2014, the category is still called “Best Rap Album,” and no one who listens to the stuff really calls it rap that often anymore. So it’s no big surprise it was never about The Best with these guys. The Academy fits the boring, reasonable cliché: an old institution of established industry professionals trying to send out the message that is most marketable and least repugnant to them. And this year “Same Love”’s Macklemore won.

The lovely thing is, though, as Macklemore was making a transparent, tricky and increasingly annoying bid to apologize for any shoulder-stepping he may be guilty of, Danny Brown just kept being filthy over the stereo, A$AP Rocky kept smiling about having his hands and mouth all over Rihanna, A$AP Ferg kept feeling like Shabba Ranks, El-P and Killer Mike kept being the shit, Chance the Rapper kept converting everyone that heard him to fans, and all of the rest of the above artists career’s kept looking straight up.

Robbery or no robbery, no one cares. All of these guys are making dents; they’ve got their peeps to say the least, and by Monday morning they all kept selling records, tracks, getting views, getting shares and being played over and over. And as it all unfolded routinely, air-time and MTV and Gramophones kept looking more and more unrequired for success.

And that’s awesome news. Macklemore got a Monday boost, as did the other nominees, and that’s great for them. But Academy-appropriate censorship and tailoring is already out the door for a lot of hip-hop. Even the nominees are aware the game is somewhere else, aren’t whitewashing for the vote anymore. Consider, for instance, that Drake and Kanye just skipped the ceremony altogether; they had more important things to do.

All of the rest of these hip-hop guys know their community is online—even when we’re losing our marbles—just as Kanye, Drake and Kendrick do, too. All the validation and support they currently require is primarily there—not over the tube on Sunday, letting Time Warner subscribers know who the “Rap” boss was in 2013.

Basically and boringly, the Grammys don’t mean shit, even if Kendrick and all the rest got robbed. So I feel like we can probably ignore the whole thing and just get back to the beats. I know the artists are; I think I’m already there.

For any further thoughts on this industry matter, please refer to the lyrics of “Radio Song.”

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