Three of this year’s five nominations are solo performances (Roddy Ricch for “The Box,” Travis Scott for “Highest in the Room,” and Anderson .Paak for “Lockdown”), and all of them feature rappers who both rap and sing.
Meanwhile, The Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance nominees are rewarding charismatic, talented newcomers like Megan Thee Stallion and DaBaby, along with Lil Baby’s urgent protest song “The Bigger Picture” and Pop Smoke’s “Dior”—an enduring hit that’s been featured on all three of his official releases.
The Best Rap Album category, though, steps back from celebrating big hits to showcasing throwback fandom. To put a point on that: not one of the above nominees was recognized for a full album. (Though in some cases, that might be down to release date eligibility and the increasingly trivial distinction between EPs—which Megan and Chika released during the appropriate window—and LPs.)
Best Rap Album nominees are all well over 30 years old, with Rhythm & Flow winner D Smoke the only one who could be considered a fresh face.
It’s nice to see Freddie Gibbs and the Alchemist, Jay Electronica, Nas, and Royce Da 5’9” get their shine, but it feels like the Grammys missed an opportunity not to acknowledge Lil Uzi Vert’s long awaited Eternal Atake or Pop Smoke’s posthumous debut. We promised we wouldn’t get caught up in snub talk, so we’ll just say: the clear-as-day division reads like the Grammys want to appeal to everyone, but it’s an awkward way to go about covering all the bases.
4. The Grammys dug deep for Album of the Year.
For the last few years, the Grammys have consistently let some new blood into the Album of the Year circle, signaling that the show’s tastes aren’t as…traditionalist…as they were in the mid-2000s, when mediocre U2 albums were racking up trophies. Last year, Lizzo, Lil Nas X, Billie Eilish, and H.E.R. were all nominated–fresh faces who had genuinely catapulted to the A-list.
The upstart acts that made the 2021 album of the year field are far more surprising to the casual fan. Multi-instrumentalist Jacob Collier is terrifically creative and his album Djesse Vol. 3 is inventive, but he’s a far smaller name than any of the 2020 acts who were nominated for the first time. The same goes for Austin band Black Pumas, whose self-titled debut earned its own spot on the Album of the Year list. (Confusingly, the Grammys nominated a deluxe version of the band’s record, which was released outside the eligibility window.)
Artists like Lil Nas X, Eilish, and Lizzo all had platinum releases that achieved impressive peaks. Black Pumas debuted at no. 200 on the Billboard Top 200, and Djesse Vol. 3 did not chart at all.
Other first-time nominees in this category—Dua Lipa, HAIM, and Jhené Aiko—feel more in line with last year’s superstar fresh faces. But if Collier or Black Pumas walk away with the Album of the Year award, it’ll be the most confusing upset for Twitter since RK Fire won.
5. The genre category nominations are still wildly weird.
Much has been made of the move to genreless music, and the fact that traditional designators try to force artists into boxes they don’t want for themselves. (Or leave them out of the boxes they want into—sorry, Justin.) It’s hard to imagine the Grammys ever abandoning the concept of genres, so we’ll continue to get some very WTF inclusions. Which, great. We all now thrive on chaos.
Poppy’s “BLOODMONEY” is furious and infectious, but it’s a trip being placed next to Body Count’s “Bum-Rush” in Best Metal Performance. Standouts from Brittany Howard’s excellent Jaime hopscotch all over the nomination categories, including in Best Alternative Music Album, Best R&B Performance, and Best Rock Performance. Even putting the comfort food EDM of Madeon’s Good Faith next to Arca’s norm-shattering Kick I feels a bit dizzying.
Thank you, Recording Academy, for never failing to leave everyone everywhere scratching their heads. See you again next year.