The 61st Grammy’s: hip hop paves the way for genre bending

The 61st Grammy’s is shaping up to be a fascinating affair. As far as the music being nominated is concerned, the past 2 years, for the most part, have been quite solid.

 Perhaps the most intriguing category of this year’s awards show is Rap Album of the year. The late great Mac Miller’s Swimmingseems to be getting a push for a posthumous win. Miller’s 2018 album was a crowd pleasing success and critically acclaimed.

His smooth flow, mix of Psychedelic and jazzy beats, and a dark dive into the mind of Miller, which since his passing, feels almost like a 13 track obituary.

 The 26-year-old rapper’s death was the result of “mixed drug toxicity,” according to the L.A. County Coroner’s Office.

 According to Lyndsey Parker of Yahoo Music, Miller could pull out a win over the favored Cardi B and Travis Scott. Gold Derby has Miller ranked third in their predictions with 4/1 odds.

 With the meteoric rise of Soundcloud Rap, where artists such as Future and Lil pump have chosen an auto tune croon over rapping, is it possible that it’s time to change that category from Rap Album of the year to hip hop album of the year? Considering Travis Scott sings all across his nominated Astroworld, it might not be out of the realm of possibility.

Outside the world of award shows, the idea of genres and categorization is questioned more than ever. What is hip hop? Do you have to rap to be a hip hop artist? More than ever it feels like rappers and producers, newcomers and veterans alike, are testing this theory.

Post Malone was hip-hop’s biggest breakout star in 2018. Although his commercial debut Stonywas a monetary success and built the fan base he holds on to tightly, his album of the year nominated Beerbongs and Bentleyshas both fans and critics raving.

Malone and Drake, arguably the biggest name in hip hop over the last decade, which was furthered this with his release of Scorpion, were nominated for album of year and record of the year, but not rap album of the year.

The two superstars have pushed the narrative that hip hop is the new pop by crushing the streaming market. The pair, although missing out on a rap album nomination, continue to make music listeners question what is and what isn’t hip hop, and how rap still fits into hip hop itself.

One absent name from the Grammys this year, is Kanye West… Kanye released two albums this year, his introspective isolated solo work Ye, and his collaboration with long-time friend Kid Cudi under the name KIDS SEE GHOSTS.

Yehad a lavish rollout and was met with mostly high praise from critics and fans, however, KIDS SEE GHOSTSwas a landmark for hip hop and psychedelic music. With a seamless blend of rap and rock, the seven-track album is a high point for not only Kanye but also a true return to form for Kid Cudi as well.

 Songs such as Freeee, Reborn, and CudiMontageare a display of Kanye and Cudi’s truest potential, as well as their chemistry. The two have worked incredibly well together on West’s past projects, as recently as the Life of Pabloand as far back as 2009’s 808’s and Heartbreak.

 Anthony Fantano of The Needle Drop proclaims writes ‘KIDS SEE GHOSTSfinds both Kanye West and Kid Cudi in top form as they host a psychedelic odyssey through the darkest and brightest corners of their psyches.’

 From the Needle Drop to Pitchfork, the critically acclaimed trippy rap rock collaboration might be Mr. West’s biggest Grammy snub to date.

Twenty-One Pilots might be feeling a little snubbed at this year’s award ceremony for their album Trench. Given the hysteria behind their last record, many thought this new album get at least a bit more Grammy buzz. Gary Ryan of NME describes Trenchas ‘a concept album about a fictional destination, the duo’s fifth album is a rich but accessible record that plays fast and loose with genre.’

 This type of album description is typically one that plays really well with the Grammy committee. Take Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, which won album of the year in 2011, or Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid M.a.a.d. City, which was nominated for best album in 2014. Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun masterfully navigate sounds spanning from modern trap rap in the song levitate, to disco flavored indie rock on tracks like my blood and Chlorine. Their track The Hype, managed to pull off Brit-pop so well that it would do early Radiohead and in their prime Oasis justice.

Trenchand KIDS SEE GHOSTS, are critically acclaimed achievements in both pop, rap and rock music. Each a masterclass in maximizing the performances within a genre and crossing over from sound to sound. Yet both records are two of the biggest snubs of the 61st Grammys.

These records were smart and savvy in their maneuvering of different genres, may have been too smart and savvy. The seamless blending of sounds almost makes it hard to identify what genre an album truly is. Kanye West even prompted, and actually submitted KIDS SEE GHOSTSto the Grammys as a rock album. Innovative to many, yet that must’ve confused lots of listeners and the committee as well.

It’s hard to necessarily see the point of these huge award shows such as the Grammys. The sounds of the music industry are progressing. It’s only going to get harder and harder to categorize certain artists and determine what genre they are in.

Country is going pop, pop is going hip hop, and rock seems to be continually confused.

Bands such as Greta Van Fleet are taking up the mantel as the second coming of Led Zeppelin, attempting to save rock and roll, but who says rock needs saving? Who says that any particular genre needs to be saved? Music is changing, innovation is happening sonically and conceptually, and that’s a beautiful thing.

Having discussions such as the difference between hip hop and rap is a much more productive conversation than how can we save rock and roll. Music is amazing because it can be listened to in an infinite number of ways. One way it is challenging its listeners, is by taking less time to decide what genre a band or artist falls under. The listener can spend more time enjoying, analyzing, or just relaxing to whoever their new or old favorite artist is.