Tyler, The Creator hit a monumental moment in his career this past weekend by winning his first ever Grammy award. However, in an age where award shows aren’t taken as seriously as they once were due to a slew of controversy, racial bias, and political unrest, it’s difficult to know how to react when one of your favorite artists wins. In terms of Tyler’s victory, the rapper himself wasn’t even sure how to react after his name was announced.
Tyler won the award for Best Rap Album for his 2019 record “IGOR,” which was widely well received by fans and critics alike when he first dropped it in May. When Tyler made his acceptance speech he was very appreciative and thankful to all those who helped him on his journey as an artist; his mom even joined him on stage and was clearly over-the-moon for her son. It wasn’t until the post-win press conference backstage where Tyler more openly expressed his thoughts on winning in the Rap category.
“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. I don’t like that ‘urban’ word — it’s just a politically correct way to say the n-word to me,” he said.
He went on to say that he was still extremely grateful for the win, however, he felt like it was more of a “backhanded compliment” due to the fact that black artists in general are only ever awarded a Grammy when they’re in the categories designated for rap or “urban” music. He went on to say that it would mean more to artists of color to be recognized on a more mainstream level instead of just being “pigeonholed in urban categories.”
Especially because, more often than not, when white artists make albums that are outside the mainstream, such as Lana Del Rey or Billie Eilish who were both nominated for Album Of The Year, they’re awarded on that mainstream level that Tyler was referring to.
It’s a fair point, and the results of this year’s Grammys in general only further prove it. Let’s look at Billie Eilish, who after this weekend became the first artist to take home all of the big four categories (Best New Artist, Song Of The Year, Record Of The Year, Album Of The Year) since 1981. Billie’s album has an extremely alternative sound outside the realm of mainstream radio pop music. Ethereal vocals, digitized instrumentals, and dialogue samples from television made “When We All Fall To Sleep, Where Do We Go?” one of the most distinct album nominations of the night.
An album like Billie’s was obviously able to gain massive traction and success in what’s considered the “standard” of music even though it had such a different sound than what’s typically popular. So why shouldn’t a rap album be held to the same caliber when it also is so distinct in sound? Tyler and artists alike are wondering the same thing.
Sean “Diddy” Combs also discussed his concerns with the Academy at the annual pre-Grammy gala where he was honored with the “Salute to Industry Icons Award.”
“Black music has never been respected by the Grammys to the point that it should be. So, right now, in this current situation, it’s not a revelation. This thing been going on and it’s not just going on in music. It’s going on in film. It’s going on in sports, It’s going on around the world. We need transparency. We need diversity, ” he said.
The Recording Academy has recently announced new diversity initiatives to make their award shows truly inclusive and representative of all types of music and artists, however, many believe that’s just a band-aid the Academy has claimed in light of the recent controversy surrounding former CEO Deborah Dugan.
It’s up to the audience and artists to understand that a gold trophy decided upon by a group of individuals in a conference room doesn’t determine the success of a particular body of work. Music is subjective and should be treated as such. If we want any chance at taking award shows, like the Grammys, seriously in the future, a major systematic change needs to occur from within that proves to individuals inside and outside the industry that all types of sounds and artists have a fair shot at winning.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.