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Why Lil Wayne’s Grammy ‘Album of the Year’ Near Win Is Still a Good Thing


“Historical Memory” And Music Tradition; Why Hip Hop/Rap Always Necessarily Recycles Back In To Itself

By Amir Said (Sa’id)

Hip Hop/Rap Music in 2008. A year of great debate? Well, that depends on your working definition of “debate.” If you define debate as a meaningful discourse in which two or more sides use logic and sensible evidence to attempt to determine and/or prove the higher merit (and value) of one stance, position, and/or ideology over another, then music in 2008 was not a year of great debate. But if you define debate as the running discussion about whether Lil Wayne was a musical genius or a media hyped-up caricature of rap superficialism, well, then yeah, 2008 was indeed a year of great debate.

Before the infamous Tha Carter III had even dropped, Lil Wayne had assembled a very impressive list of high-profile features. So many features, we now know, that a group of MTV “tastemakers,” who were commissioned to come up with “MTVs Hottest MCs in the Game of 2008,” easily came to the conclusion that Lil Wayne was indeed the hottest MC “in the game” (I really dislike the description of the hip hop/rap industry as the game). Therefore, they effectively set the standard by which an MC should be deemed the hottest: punchlines, features, and quantity of output; not, I should add, quality of output. And well, once the mighty MTV co-signs a position, debate over. Right?

Then the 2009 Grammys came. Let’s remember, the Grammys are popular music’s biggest celebration of itself. And as expected, Lil Wayne lead all nominees with 8 (that’s right) nominations, including the oh so coveted Album of the Year Nomination. If Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III had actually won Album of the Year, Lil Wayne would have become only the third hip hop/rap artist to take that prize in the 35 plus years of hip hop/rap music’s existence. To some, this would have been astonishing, especially considering the wake of incredible hip hop/rap albums made throughout the last 20 years; but the Grammys are not a celebration of hip hop/rap’s most critical albums. In fact, the Grammys have been incredibly slow, when it comes to hip hop/rap music. Perhaps this issue is the result of a flawed voting system; most Grammy voters are older, non-hip hop/rap aficionados who are not very familiar with hip hop/rap. Thus, the Grammys recent recognition of the genius of hip hop/rap music, most notably Outkast’s Album of the Year win in 2004, must be looked at from the proper context: That only those hip hop/rap albums that reach a massive commercial (and media) benchmark are those albums that are likely to gain serious notice by the Grammy nominators and voters.

Here, I think it’s important to point out that Outkast’s Grammy for Album of the Year for Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was not merely a commercial hit and media darling, it was a very good, well thought-out, well-planned, and very balanced album. Speakerboxx/The Love Below was revolutionary in the fact that it was actually two distinct solo albums from each member of the duo. In short, it was certainly worthy of the honor bestowed upon it. However, Tha Carter III, which at best seemed to attempt to polish and perhaps update the club-thug-I’ve just discovered rock contraption, and at worst seemed to only “revolutionize” (read: duplicate) T-Pain’s extraordinary use of autotune. Clever punchlines and decent features aside, was not on the level of Outkast’s Grammy champion. But then again, were there any hip hop/rap albums in 2008 that were half as thoughtful as Speakerboxxx/The Love Below? Exactly. Oh, and perhaps we shouldn’t forget that Ne-Yo’s Year of the Gentleman was also nominated for Grammys top prize, along with Tha Carter III. Get the feeling that 2008’s nominated choices were lean on creativity, and heavy on status-quo media push? Perhaps.

But issues of creativity aside, I’m not going to do a review of the songs and themes that I liked or disliked from The Carter III, because my concern is not necessarily with how “good” Tha Carter III is/was, or whether Lil’ Wayne is or isn’t one of the “hottest MCs in the Game.” (Side note: that’s a corny, ultra-commercial moniker meant for and designed to be used by a wider audience outside of the hip hop/rap base; moreover, I don’t describe male MCs as “hot”.) Tha Carter III’s Album of the Year Nom, and the Grammys clear fondness for the Lil Wayne and his album, interests me because of the historical composite that it yields.

In the last two decades, the Grammys have served to help push the success for those hip hop/rap artists who have received wins and nominations. Perhaps even more revealing than that, however, is the fact that these Grammy wins and nominations have, in effect, commercialized what it means to be successful in hip hop/rap music. In turn, this “Grammy commercialization” has also helped to establish artificial and/or diluted quality benchmarks for other hip hop/rap artists to follow. And this is pulling the popular face of hip hop/rap deeper and deeper into the abyss of dominant culture. Which is actually what you want…if you indeed cherish hip hop/rap music.

All great popular music forms have or will face the threat of rampant commercialism at one time or another. When that moment occurs, the only weapon that a musical form has to save itself is it’s ability to cycle back through its history to a point and specific place: its “historical memory”. However, the thing is, the historical memory of a particular musical tradition can only be appropriately summoned once the level of its tradition has reached such a point of rampant commercialism and superficial or indifferent creativity that there is no where for the tradition to go except further into conformity, or back to its most secure essence. Thus, if you, like me, have found yourself increasingly disenchanted with much of the hip hop/rap music in recent years, then the further dilution that Grammy commercialization offers is actually a very good thing. Why? Because it helps brings about the process of hip hop/rap cycling back into itself.

Hip hop/rap music began as, and in its heart will always be, a rebel music. It is an organic, raw music form that doubles as a cultural resistance. A resistance, I must add, that bypasses the conformity scopes of other music forms, and thrives on “upsetting” the status quo as much as it does on covertly creating the next newest thing—the style that can’t nobody touch. So while there was much attention on Lil Wayne the night of the 51st Grammys, I took solace in a Nipsey Hussle music video that I saw earlier that morning.

Watching the Nipsey’s video, for his song, “Hussle in The House,” I was encouraged to see Nipsey and the ubiquitous “crew” in matching sweat shirts, with their name on the back. And as I listened closer and closer to the song (that by the way, wasn’t overpowered by the video), I couldn’t help but be impressed by Nipsey’s flow over a decidedly sampled-based beat. Near the end of the video, I asked my then 13 year old son, “Who does Nipsey remind you of?” He answered, “Snoop!” To which I replied, “Yes…but more exactly, he reminds us of the essence of Snoop in his prime. Only, Nipsey is showing you his current reality of California, with a little New York sensibility.”

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About Author

Amir Said (aka Sa’id) is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of BeatTips. A writer, publisher, and beatmaker/rapper from New York, Said is the author of a number of books, including ‘The BeatTips Manual,’ ‘The Art of Sampling,’ ‘Ghetto Brother,’ and ‘The Truth About New York.’ He is also a recording artist with a number of music projects, including his latest album 'The Best of Times.' Follow him on Twitter at: @amirsaid and @BeatTipsManual