Will the Grammy Awards Ever Care About Hip-Hop?

A brief history of the rift between the Grammy Awards and hip-hop music.

Getty Images / Jonathan Leibson

On June 16th, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences announced there will be changes to the Grammy eligibility requirements. The Grammy Awards will now include music that has only been released on streaming services, such as Spotify and Apple Music. However, the service must be “paid subscription, full catalog, on-demand streaming/limited download platforms.” This seems like a step in the right direction for hip-hop, as many artists now release a lot of their music on streaming services. Most people are focusing on Chance the Rapper’s half hip-hop, half-gospel album, Coloring Book, which is now eligible for a Grammy nod. Debuting at No. 8, it is the first streaming-exclusive album to make it onto the Billboard Top 200 chart.

'Coloring Book' album cover

RedEye Chicago

The Grammy’s history with hip-hop is rocky, at best, though. The Grammy Awards did not make a hip-hop category until 1989, 10 years after The Sugarhill Gang released Rapper’s Delight. By that point, hip-hop was extremely popular, but the mainstream had yet to realize exactly how popular the genre actually was. In fact, the Grammys chose not to broadcast the category on-air and instead, told the winners that they had won beforehand. The hip-hop community did not react well to this decision and chose to boycott the Grammys altogether. Therefore, the winners, DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, were not there to claim their prizes. Most opted to go to the anti-Grammys party, which was hosted by YO! MTV Raps and Fab 5 Freddy.

“But that was 27 years ago. The Grammys must have more respect for rap now, right?”

Rap Genius

Well, we would like to believe so, but the Grammys still have a number of issues when it comes to hip-hop music. Most of the awards in the rap category are not aired during the actual award show. Furthermore, many believe that the awards do not highlight the music that is well-respected in the hip-hop community. The accolades usually go to songs and albums that are radio hits, as evidenced by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis winning four Grammys in 2014 over Kendrick Lamar – even though Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City is considered as a modern classic.

Also, the eligibility changes still do not fully cover the entire hip-hop community. A large amount of music is released for free as downloadable mixtapes or on SoundCloud. These songs and albums are still not eligible for Grammy nods because they are not released on websites that require paid subscriptions. This is problematic, because a bulk of work by many rap artists is released through underground platforms. For example, mixtapes that are highly respected in the hip-hop community like J.Cole’s Friday Night Lights, Joey Bada$$’s 1999, and Gucci Mane’s long discography will never receive Grammy recognition.

Kendrick Lamar


The Grammys is moving in the right direction, however slowly. At the 58th Grammy Awards, the members of Run DMC became the first rappers to win a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. With the new eligibility requirements, this may spell a new day for hip-hop. But, until the Grammys recognize the genre, the hip-hop community will not be satisfied. And, if Iggy Azalea ever gets nominated for a hip-hop award again, I will pull my hair out.