In yesterday’s 62nd Grammy Awards, Tyler, The Creator finally won his first Grammy for Best Rap Album. The catch is that the winning album is, peculiarly, the least rap genre project (if it is that at all) that Tyler has produced—the visceral, genre-bending, mostly sung record “IGOR”.
Now, I know genre labeling is a slippery slope, but personally, the album traverses territory closer to soul, funk, or alternative, even. So why is it that “IGOR” is in the category of rap?
“It sucks that whenever we—and I mean guys that look like me—do anything that’s genre-bending or that’s anything, they always put it in a rap or ‘urban’ category,” Tyler says in the post-Grammys press conference when asked about his thoughts on the win. He then goes on to add, “I don’t like that ‘urban’ word, it’s just a politically correct way to say the ‘N-word’ to me.”
— ??? ?????? (@itsOddFuture) January 27, 2020
Although Tyler voiced out his criticism, he’s also appreciative of the award. “I’m very grateful that what I made could be acknowledged in a world like this,” he said, as someone who doesn’t get as much radio play as other nominees. As any Tyler fan knows, he’s wanted the award for the longest time. Case in point: This petty tweet to a hater in 2011 that said he’d never win.
I FAVORITED THIS 9 YEARS AGO JUST FOR THE MOMENT TO TELL YOU I GOT ONE. YES IM PETTY AS FUCK, GOOD DAY MARK. https://t.co/WfU85JeHEj
— Tyler, The Creator (@tylerthecreator) January 27, 2020
FYI: Humans are complex, and probably artists more so. Which is why it’s totally understandable that Tyler can both want the award but also have reservations about it, especially on matters concerning the bigger picture, like race.
The Grammys is rife with racial bias, which includes undervaluing black music. Anyone recall Bruno Mars’ 2018 Album of the Year win for the radio-friendly “24K Magic” against Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “DAMN.”, Jay-Z’s devastatingly transparent “4:44”, and Childish Gambino’s transcendental “Awaken, My Love!”? Or 2019’s AOTY going to Kacey Musgraves over five other albums by black musicians in the category?
There was also Adele’s AOTY win over Beyonce’s “Lemonade” in 2017, where Adele herself thought Beyonce should have won. And as salt to the wound, “Lemonade” was nominated in all major categories, but only won in—you guessed it—the Urban Contemporary category. Choices, Grammys. Choices.
Looking back at history, Tyler’s analogy as an innovative black musician in an old-fashioned awards show drives the point home even further. “Half of me feels like the rap nomination was a backhanded compliment, like ‘oh my little cousin wants to play the game, let’s give him the unplugged controller so he could shut up and feel good about it.’”
The Grammys needs to stop blue balling musicians of color if they want to maintain relevance—which they’ve kind of already all but lost. Why else would industry giants like Rihanna, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Jennifer Lopez, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift choose not to attend? Their reasons might not all be blatantly political, but each one means that they all thought there was something better to do.
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But it’s also a comforting thought that there are artists like Tyler who aren’t afraid to point these discrepancies aside and stick it to the (white) man. We’re finally entering an era where speaking up about injustice gives you more influence as an artist than an award decided for you by a room of biased executives.
Still from “EARFQUAKE” MV by Tyler, The Creator