Awards matter. We can pretend that those little golden record players don’t really hold any tangible value, but doing so would be doing a disservice to all those individuals worthy of its glory. Beyond the mere award itself, what matters more is the achievement which it represents.
The idea that an individual can be nominated for having the best album of the year gives hope to all those young artists who aspire to greatness. Among the legends who have attained such glory range from The Beatles to Stevie Wonder, from Lionel Richie to Daft Punk, from Bob Dylan to Outkast.
After last night’s Grammy Award Ceremony, Kendrick Lamar deserved to have his name fall upon that list. It would appear that the universe has a growing tendency to cheat those most deserving of acclaim from receiving the true recognition they deserve.
Instead, Lamar received the award for best rap album of the year.
It feels like an insult. It’s as if they wanted to twist the knife already plunged into the hearts of hip-hop fans across the country.
The message from The Recording Academy is clear: rap music like such published on To Pimp A Butterfly can be awarded within its own subset, but, compared to real music, falls short of deserving merit from the artistic community.
From the moment I first heard of Kendrick Lamar’s nominations in 2015, I braced myself for disappointment. It had already been more than a decade since a hip-hop album had been awarded Best Album of the Year (Speakerboxxx/The Love Below by Outkast), and even then, the success of the album was largely due to commercial successes of songs like “Hey Ya” and “The Way You Move”.
I know who decides the winners of these awards. I know that even with more recent reforms in the voting process, the electorate presented by The Academy is still, unfortunately, shrouded by the silhouettes of one type of individual: old, white, men.
Despite being stacked up against the worst of odds, a glimmer of hope still existed within me. The pieces espoused by Kendrick Lamar on To Pimp A Butterfly transcend the 21st century idea of music. This is more than an album. This is a disquisition weighing the most pressing moral dilemmas of our generation. The thought that this album could lose is beyond preposterous, it borders on blasphemous.
Perhaps my teenage naivete got the best of me, believing that an album so controversial, so angry, so sensual, so complex could ever possibly win an award for Best Album of the Year.
Perhaps, but perhaps not.
It was not wrong of me to believe that Kendrick Lamar rightfully deserved that award. But Lamar, like so many innovators in their craft before him, is ahead of his time.
Ask anyone on the street, today, and they will almost certainly have heard of Leonardo Da Vinci, but such wasn’t necessarily the case 500 years ago.
It is a tragic curse that those beyond their time will not be fully appreciated by society until humanity has finally caught up with them. So is the case with Kendrick Lamar.
And, boy, do we have a lot of catching up to do.