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Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar lead hip-hop’s resurgence at the Grammys

This year’s nominations certainly show that The Recording Academy has recognized a change in musical tastes.

Kendrick Lamar performs at the Faena Art Dome

Kendrick Lamar performs at the Faena Art Dome in Miami Beach, Florida on Dec. 1, 2016. Photo Credit: Getty Images for American Expres / Bryan Bedder

Hip-hop had a banner year in 2017.

Tied to R&B, it became America’s most popular genre for the first time, according to Nielsen Music, with nine of the year’s top 10 songs coming from that format. Rappers were also responsible for 10 of the year’s No. 1 albums.

So will the 60th Annual Grammys choose the ceremony’s return to New York, the birthplace of hip-hop, to give the genre the recognition it has been seeking for years? We will find out on Sunday, Jan. 28, as the awards are handed out at Madison Square Garden for the first time in 15 years.

In any case, the nominations certainly show that The Recording Academy has recognized a change. Rapper Jay-Z leads all artists with eight nominations this year for his confessional “4:44” album, including nods in the top three categories — album, record and song of the year. Rapper Kendrick Lamar received seven nominations for his fiery “Damn.” album, including for album and record of the year.

In fact, hip-hop and R&B dominate all of the top categories, including album of the year, which hasn’t gone to a hip-hop album since 2004 when OutKast’s “Speakerboxxx / The Love Below” took home the big prize. That drought has received plenty of attention, with Kanye West declaring that the awards are “completely out of touch” and Frank Ocean withholding his “Blond(e)” album from consideration for last year’s awards. “That institution certainly has nostalgic importance,” said Ocean, explaining his decision in The New York Times. “It just doesn’t seem to be representing well for people who come from where I come from and hold down what I hold down.”

Paul Porter, native of Jamaica, Queens, and author of “Blackout: My 40 Years in the Music Business,” thinks the drought could end this year.

“America has changed,” says Porter, a former BET exec who is now program director at The Wire 98.5 FM in Orlando. “It embraces this music. As an art form, it is bigger than ever. And R&B is making a great comeback as well.”

This year’s album of the year nominations reflect that. Jay-Z and Lamar’s hip-hop albums are in the running, as are R&B albums from Bruno Mars and Childish Gambino. Lorde’s “Melodrama” is the only pop album nominated.

Porter says he is rooting for Lamar’s album. “It’s a special record,” he says. “Kendrick is that breath of fresh air. . . . He is the hottest thing we’ve seen in 10 years. I understand that people may be sentimental and vote for Jay-Z. But there is no comparison on impact. Nobody comes close. Jay wasn’t close. Kendrick dominated for a year.”

Not only did “Damn.” stay at No. 1 on the albums charts for four weeks, tieing The Weeknd’s “Starboy” for the longest time at the top in 2017, but the hard-hitting “Humble.” single also made the unlikely climb to the top of the pop charts.

R&B singer-songwriter Ledisi, who is nominated for three Grammys for songs from her “Let Love Rule” album, says the recognition that comes with the nominations makes all the artists winners.

“I’m not very competitive about this,” says Ledisi, who is nominated for best R&B album, best R&B performance and best traditional R&B performance. “When one wins, we all win.”

The “All the Way” singer says she admires Lamar’s album. “Honesty always wins,” she says. “I love that people are making music that represents the culture.”

Ledisi’s “Let Love Rule” is the kind of album that Grammy voters tend to reward. It’s ambitious and adventurous, showing how diverse R&B can be by tackling classic soul ballads, hip-hop with “Us 4Ever,” a collaboration with BJ The Chicago Kid, and the political reggae-tinged anthem “Shot Down” in which she wonders why “The System says we matter, but the black lives only matter certain days.”

“I didn’t expect anything,” Ledisi says of the Grammy nominations, adding that they are sweeter because they show acceptance from her peers. “I was only hoping that the fans would buy it. I was really floored.”

To make her Grammy experience even more special, Ledisi was chosen to be a part of the “Grammy Salute to Classical Music” concert at Carnegie Hall on Friday, Jan. 26, to help celebrate the legacy of Leonard Bernstein.

The event is one of many The Recording Academy has planned to highlight its return to New York after 15 years in Los Angeles. In addition to the classical music tribute, there will be a tribute to Broadway featuring Northport native Patti LuPone during the telecast. But it is hip-hop that is driving numerous public and private events.

Jay-Z will be honored with the 2018 Grammy Salute to Industry Icons award at the annual pre-Grammy gala hosted by the legendary Clive Davis on Saturday, Jan. 27. Eminem will perform at Citi’s “Sound Vault” concert series at Irving Plaza on Friday, Jan. 26. And The Roots will take over the Gramercy Theater from Wednesday, Jan. 24 through Saturday, Jan. 27 for their invite-only The Roots Jam Sessions with numerous special guests sitting in.

Roosevelt’s Chuck D will co-host YouTube’s Grammy party Friday, Jan. 26, along with Nas, Grandmaster Flash and Q-Tip, as the company pays tribute to hip-hop’s early days with massive graffiti murals and special old-school boomboxes as party invites.

“We’ve been living in this world forever and I slowly transitioned into it a long time ago because I’ve just grown up that way,” Ledisi says. “The rest of the world has caught up. You can see it in the shows. But we will just keep on going. I’m so happy to be present.”


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