Welcome to part two of the FearlessRiOT Forecast on the 2017 Grammy Awards, a show so massive, so important, and so culturally relevant that multiple-time nominees Drake and Kanye West refuse to even be there. Come to think about, hasn’t Drake only been to the Grammy’s all of once? Maybe they can send his invitation my way. But anyway, there’s a long-held belief that the Recording Academy might be racist, as some felt they don’t often give black performers their just due. I don’t know if I 100% agree as they’ve seemingly had no problem awarding black R&B musicians over their long history; hell, Stevie Wonder won Album of the Year three times in four years. I think the Grammy’s problem, and the reason why they struggle to gain acceptance with urban audiences, is plain and simple: they don’t get rap music. Like, at all. I’ll let Complex here break it down for you, and yes, there is Macklemore shade in that link. But maybe, just maybe, they’ll land on the genre’s good side this year. We will see about that, but in the meantime, let’s dive right into this year’s rap and R&B contenders and see which choices are most deserving, which ones I personally enjoy the most, and which ones the grandpa’s at the Grammys will probably feel safest awarding.
Best R&B Performance
R&B is pretty similar to it’s brother genre, hip-hop, in that most songs tend to revolve around the same theme of love or seduction, and if delivered well, the song totally works. And boy, was that the route that the three men in this category went for. For an artist with the word “kid” in this name, the Chicagoan named “BJ” is sure out here making grown folks music, delivering a crooning vocals over a setup of instruments you’d usually expect in a lounge performance. Sounds like a love-making track, but nothing compared to the amalgamation of early-2000s R&B and modern soul that Ro James gave us on “Permission”, where his falsetto glides us through a song that leads to what I can only explain as an explosive climax. Musiq’s instrumentals are only an acoustic guitar, fingersnaps, and that voice gave us so many bangers like “Love” and “Halfcrazy”. As for the ladies, we have Rihanna, whose biggest hits usually hail from the pop realm, boosting DJ Mustard’s strange, flatulent production with chill vocals that landed her another Top 10 hit. Meanwhile, Solange’s song is airy and ethereal, and reminded me that just because she’s Beyoncé’s younger sibling doesn’t mean she and her heavenly vocals are to be written off.
Who I Want to Win: Solange. I’ll give it up to her, that alternative sound of hers should be rewarded.
Who Will Win: Solange. Queen Bey won’t be the only Knowles walking home with a gramophone.
Best R&B Song
I kind of have an allergic reaction to the song “Come and See Me”. First of all, the video features the annoyingly overexposed Kylie Jenner since The Kardashians have the rap game by a chokehold. Second, the song itself is kind of boring, with the trap beat sending me faster into Dreamland. The lyrics – about a woman who wants a man’s full attention and a man who doesn’t want to give it all – are OK, but for some reason, “I hear you talkin’ ’bout ‘we’ a lot, oh, you speak French now?” made me laugh out loud. It is competently written, I guess, but compared to the mostly underwritten “Luv” by Tory Lanez, every other nominee does. Maxwell‘s sex is apparently so bomb, or perceives it as such, that it becomes one with nature, while Rihanna’s love is also intimate and Bryson Tiller‘s feels more like a crush, especially when you hear him sing “I was scrollin’ through the ‘gram, girl, I had to follow you” at the end.
Who I Want to Win: Rihanna, which works out even better when you consider’d get a trophy for co-penning the song if it won.
Who Will Win: Rihanna, with her mainstream success working in her favor, or Maxwell, with his years of pedigree in the game helping him out.
Best R&B Album
Best Urban Contemporary Album
This is a two-horse race. It’s totally a two-horse race. Raging out of the gates to the finish line are Rihanna’s ANTI and Beyoncé’s Lemonade. The other three nominees here are stuck at their starting blocks, unable to move, and the sad thing is that I think people are kind of OK with that since two of them are not well known and the other one (who I’d argue should be in the rap fields) still into in the caliber of the other two. The Grammys have somehow, someway, found a way to do a direct Rihanna vs. Beyoncé battle again, though even Buzzfeed is getting tired of this nonsense happening time and again. But at least this time, something is on the line as the golden gramophone hangs in the balance. Anderson.Paak, Gallant, and KING may turn in solid efforts here, but in the battle for this award, the star-power they’re stacked against harshly cuts them out.
Who I Want to Win: Rihanna, mainly as a “spread-the-wealth” kind of thing since we know Beyoncé is gonna win most everything else she’s up for.
Who Will Win: Beyoncé; even Rihanna may not be able to prevent a Bey win.
Best Rap Performance
Does the beat in some places of “Pop Style” make anyone feel like they’re about to face the final boss in a video game? All that bleeping and blooping was actually welcome in a year where every other song had a trap beat on it. But then the trap beat on this song kicks in and you realize your even your sanctuary is only open certain times a day. Also not helping is that Drake is definitely slurring in his cadence. But hey, at least he’s coherent, which Desiigner is not half the time on the admittedly-catchy “Panda”, where Desiigner is taking the term ‘mumble rap’ to a whole other level. But unlike most mumble rappers, Desiigner actually brings some personality to his track. Also filled with personality is Chance the Rapper, which makes his strange yet amusing delivery on “No Problem”, which contains a gospel sample, all the more enjoyable. My favorite beat in the category easily goes to “All the Way Up”. It’s just a catchy club beat, perfect for Fat Joe, Remy Ma, and French Montana to get totally braggadocios over. But then return to trap territory with the slow and surreal “THat Part”, where ScHoolboy Q remains chill while Kanye gets distractingly loud.
Who I Want to Win:
Who Will Win:
Best Rap/Sung Performance
Kanye West clearly has a complicated relationship with the Grammy Awards. While he’s often boycotted them for reasons ranging from not nominating Frank Ocean to picking white artists over him in non-rap categories, the Grammys certainly love him, as evidenced by the fact that he’s won an astounding 21 of them, mostly in the rap fields. They also love him so much they nominated him here TWICE, once for him taking us to church by recruiting Chance the Rapper, Kelly Price (of “As We Lay” fame), and my family’s favorite gospel act in Kirk Franklin (and The-Dream, for some reason) to get religious and another where he pulls a complete 180 by keeping his Taylor Swift feud going in a track that’s totally 2010’s Kanye. But also nominated in this field is Drake, who pulls off the rapping and singing (mostly singing) duties on his own #2 hit “Hotline Bling”. I never thought I’d ever see Lil Yachty nominated for a Grammy, but here he is, being (if I can be honest) the least interesting part of an otherwise fun, bouncy track by the much more interesting D.R.A.M. Finally, we have Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar getting thunderous with one of my favorite songs on Lemonade.
Who I Want to Win: Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar, again stemming from the fact that “Freedom” is one of my personal favorite Lemonade tracks.
Who Will Win: Probably Drake, despite the lack of actual rapping in his song.
Best Rap Song
For a guy normally accused of tapping ghostwriters to pen his tracks, Drake’s track “Hotline Bling” has the least amount of creditor writers in this category. Throw in the fact that it’s an R&B song about with Drake wanting his girl to be as regressive and submissive as she used to be and it’s kind of a wonder it wiggled it’s way in here rather than something else from his album. Kanye’s here a second time, and I’m sure Taylor Swift, who is the Sami Zayn to his Kevin Owens, is not happy about one of these. But the many writers on both tracks certainly are; hell, it’d be kind of amusing to see Kirk Franklin take home a Grammy for writing on a rap song (“Stomp” from his Grammy-winning God’s Property album notwithstanding). I have no doubt that Fat Joe, Remy Ma, and French Montana wrote their “All The Way Up” rhymes, and there are plenty of decent ones in this track. It was just what we needed to remind us why we need Remy Ma around. Chance the Rapper’s track also includes numerous songwriters, and the lyrics that he delivers are actually clever a lot of the time. However, I do feel like the old heads at the Grammy’s would probably feel a little afraid of the thought of some dread-head brothas showing up to their lobby in protest.
Who I Want to Win: I will give this one to “Ultralight Beam”.
Who Will Win: “Ultralight Beam”. I’m sure even the Grammys would be amused by awarding Kirk Franklin with a rap Grammy, especially if it means giving Kanye a Grammy at the same time.
Best Rap Album
I’m kind of shocked that The Life of Pablo actually still contends here. Is Kanye not still updating it well into the New Year, like a draft of an essay he keeps asking back from the teacher because he forgot to add something before he turned it in? Honestly, I didn’t like this album very much. It’s not terrible; I don’t know if it’s possible for an all-out terrible Kanye album to exist, but compared to his old albums, it didn’t grip me as much. The same could be said for Views, which I do give credit for being influential in the rap game, but as an album, I struggled to get through his mixes of dancehall, R&B, pop, and rap. The other nominees all have their own flavors, with De La Soul and their brigade of fellow Gorillaz collaborators (including Damon Albarn himself) bringing a desperately slept-on sound, Schoolboy Q holding it down for TDE, DJ khaled’s gathering pot of artists dispensing us all with the keys, and Chance the Rapper releasing a project so impactful, the Grammys altered their rules just to grant him contendership.
Who I Want to Win: If I was to pick the ones I enjoyed the most, definitely De La Soul and Chance the Rapper.
Who Will Win: Drake. They’re totally giving it to Drake.