On February 8th, the 57th Grammy Awards show will commence. Recently, there’s been heavy discussion circulating this glamorous and illustrious event, and in particular, the Rap category nominations. New York’s infamous hip-hop radio station Hot 97 recently conducted an interview with rapper Macklemore to discuss white privilege in hip-hop, citing The Grammys on multiple occasions. Macklemore, whose album, The Heist, won last year’s Best Rap Album category – which caused controversy after he Instagrammed a text he had sent on that night to Kendrick Lamar, saying that he “robbed” Lamar of the award – questioned in the interview: “Why am I safe? Why can I cuss on a record, have a parental advisory sticker on the cover of my album, yet parents are still like, ‘You’re the only rap I let my kids listen to’? Why can I wear a hoodie and not be labelled a thug? Why can I sag my pants and not be a gangbanger? Why am I on Ellen’s couch? Why am I on Good Morning America?”
Macklemore has a point. His music receives extremely regular airtime, and is much more readily accepted by the masses than, say, YG and J Cole. There is a white privilege in hip-hop, and indeed in many aspects of life – “it boils down to privilege”, proclaims the Seattle rapper. This same idea of privilege, as Macklemore and Ebro, the DJ from Hot 97, discuss, has been further highlighted recently after Iggy Azalea’s ongoing spat with Azealia Banks. The two rappers have had beef for years, however it newly sparked again, and was made heavily public, when Banks appeared on the same radio station, Hot 97, and partook in an emotionally driven interview. She used the term “cultural smudging” to describe the form of cultural appropriation that she feels white people in hip-hop, and in particular Iggy Azalea, have been pursuing in their music, and what has happened as a result of their success. Banks later moved on to discussing The Grammys, and described how they “are supposed to be awards for artistic excellence… Iggy Azalea is not excellent”, and that it sends a message to white children, that “You’re great. You’re amazing. You can do whatever you put your mind to”, but for black children: “You don’t have shit. You don’t own shit, not even the shit you created yourself.” I agree with Banks here on two points. Firstly, Iggy is not excellent. I wholeheartedly agree. Her music just is not very good. Secondly, I agree that, as a result of the lack of some good hip-hop nominations, it sends a message out to both white and black children, the former can achieve great heights (such as Grammy nominations and wins, even if your music is terrible), and the latter can achieve none of this, and will be snubbed from these kinds of events. It seems that both of these points intertwine with one another. Iggy, a white female ‘rapper’, was nominated for a, quite frankly, dull and generic album, whereas artists such as YG and Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – both of whom not only had highly acclaimed albums, but were also black – did not receive any such nomination.
However, is white privilege really that big of an issue in The Grammys rap categories? Out of the 21 nominations, only 4 happen to be white rappers. That’s not exactly what I’d call a disproportionate number. But that is not the issue at hand, to be honest. The problem with The Grammys is not the number of white artists nominated, as if that were what was wrong, then that would be offensive and, quite frankly, racist; the problem is the specific artists chosen, and the lack of genuinely good and also successful black artists nominated. Why choose Iggy Azalea, when not only has she not produced any decent music, but also when she has so clearly offended the culture she claims to be a part of? I’d argue, as would many others, because of white privilege.
Now, Iggy is not good, and I don’t believe her album should have been nominated for a Grammy. But, I don’t just want to pinpoint Iggy here as having the only album arguably undeserving of a nomination; Eminem’s pitiful The Marshall Mathers LP2 is also nominated, as is Wiz Khalifa’s boring Blacc Hollywood. The fact that these albums are nominated for awards, and other much, much better albums are not, effectively discredits The Grammys as having any understanding and credit when it comes to hip-hop (not that it really ever did).
Now, what the issue of white privilege within hip-hop boils down to is this: if you are a white hip-hop artist, you have to respect the culture and the history of which you are a part. You should not promote yourself as a “runaway slave master”, as Iggy ever so stupidly did. But also, white artists should not be seen as simply “white artists”, and as outsiders to the culture. If they embrace and understand the history of hip-hop, and are genuinely good, then they should, of course, be accepted as just another hip-hop artist, regardless of their skin colour.
Finally, in regards to The Grammys, Iggy simply should not have been nominated for Best Rap Album. Her record was not good (yes, I have unfortunately listened to it), and she is not who should be placed on a pedestal and seen as representing hip-hop. She is a pop-rap artist at best, and a bad one at that. But also, in addition to her music not being good, because she was nominated, that alone promotes this cultural appropriation I mentioned earlier further, and makes it acceptable for white rappers to come along, disrespect the culture of hip-hop, and boast about it with Grammy nominations.