Grammys get in tune with hip-hop and diversity

Randy Lewis
Los Angeles Times
Jay-Z performs on stage at Little Caesars Arena. He's up for eight 2018 Grammy Awards.

After treading cautiously through the realm of hip-hop for nearly four decades, the Recording Academy belatedly has embraced the genre wholeheartedly in its most prestigious categories for the 60th Grammy Awards, nominations for which were announced Tuesday.

Combined, genre stars Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar received 15 nominations, and one-time rapper Childish Gambino, the musical alter-ego of actor Donald Glover (“Atlanta,” “Solo: A Star Wars Story”) received five nods for his more recent, funk-leaning work.

Each artist received nods in the top categories of record and album of the year, acknowledging the central role hip-hop and urban music hold in contemporary pop music.

Additionally, nominations in the Grammys’ four general categories of record, album, song and new artist illustrate the broad-based diversity at work in today’s pop music, with nods to artists of color and women, with a notable absence of white males among the top artist nominees.

“I think the nominations are a reflection of a very savvy current voting membership who really do have their fingers on the pulse of what is happening in music,” Academy President Neil Portnow told the Los Angeles Times on Monday. “I think they’re also exhibiting good judgment about what represented excellence in music this year.”

Michigan artists who received nominations Tuesday are Detroit rapper Big Sean for the smash hit “Bounce Back” in the Best Rap Performance category; Detroit native CeCe Winans with two nominations, for Best Gospel Album and Best Gospel Performance/Song; and Grand Rapids gospel singer Marvin Sapp for Best Gospel Album.

Jay-Z leads this year’s nomination slate with eight surrounding his “4:44” album, followed by Compton’s Lamar with seven and R&B-pop singer-songwriter Bruno Mars with six. California-born, Georgia-reared Gambino, Georgia-born R&B-pop singer-songwriter Khalid, Chicago producer-songwriter No I.D. and St. Louis-born R&B artist SZA tied with five apiece, academy officials announced early Tuesday.

Album of the year nominees are Jay-Z’s “4:44,” Gambino’s “Awaken, My Love!,” Lamar’s “Damn.,” Lorde’s “Melodrama” and Mars’ “24K Magic.”

Contenders for record-of-the-year, which honors vocal performance, songwriting, production and engineering, are Gambino’s “Redbone,” Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito” (which also featured Justin Bieber), Lamar’s “Humble.,” Jay-Z’s “The Story of O.J.” and Mars’ “24K Magic.”

“Despacito,” one of the runaway hits of 2017 that has racked up more than 4.4 billion views on YouTube for the accompanying video, is the first non-English-language song nominated for overall song and record of the year, an acknowledgment of the growing influence of Spanish-speaking musicians, and listeners, in the U.S. today.

Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic” record and album are among his six Grammy nominations announced Tuesday.

Nominations for song-of-the-year, which is strictly a songwriting category, are “Despacito,” “4:44,” Julia Michaels’ hit “Issues,” Logic with Alessia Cara and Khalid’s single “1-800-273-8255” and Mars’ “That’s What I Like.” All are collaborations among multiple songwriters ranging from two, in the case of “4:44” (written by Shawn Carter — Jay-Z’s given name — and Dion Wilson), to eight for “That’s What I Like.”

Three of those songs focus on social or topical issues such as womanizing (“4:44”), suicide (“1-800-273-8255”) and relationship struggles (“Issues”), while two are more lighthearted celebrations of the party spirit and romance (“Despacito” and “That’s What I Like”).

The new artist nominees also constitute a diverse bunch, from Philadelphia-based hip-hop artist Lil Uzi Vert, Georgia-born military brat Khalid and Canadian singer-songwriter Alessia Cara to the aforementioned SZA and Iowa-born, Santa Clarita, California-reared electro-pop singer/songwriter Julia Michaels.

Singer-songwriter Kesha, whose career had been sidelined for years while she has been tied up in court battles with producer Dr. Luke, whom she accused of sexual assault, landed two nominations for pop vocal album for “Rainbow,” her first in five years, and for pop solo performance for her single “Praying”.

This year’s nominations virtually ignore the rear-view mirror sensibility that’s often been a key factor in the general categories.

In years past, Grammy voters have awarded heritage artists decades after they made their initial contributions. Those include late-career album-of-the-year Grammys to artists including Ray Charles, Santana, Steely Dan, Herbie Hancock, Tony Bennett and Eric Clapton, many widely seen more as lifetime achievement honorariums rather than awards supported by the merits of their nominated works.

Instead, virtually all the latest nominations single out artists who have largely come of age in the past decade. At 47, Jay-Z is the grand old man of the lot.

Even some recent-vintage favorites among Grammy voters, including English singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran and singer-songwriter-performance artist Lady Gaga, have been passed over in favor of fresher names in the top categories.

Portnow cited three reasons he believes this year’s nominations appear to be more reflective of the most current forces in pop music: ongoing efforts by the academy to ensure that its voting members are actively engaged in making music, the impact hip-hop and urban music continue to exert creatively and commercially, and the introduction this year of online voting for the nominations, which Portnow said reflects the reality of academy members’ “schedules, which are pretty upside down.”

“I think the fact is this is just maybe a time in music history and culture where you can get a slate like you have this year,” he said.

The Grammys have weathered criticism for favoring well-established artists over those at the forefront of popular music, an issue that largely falls by the wayside with this year’s slate of au courant nominees.

Perhaps the most visible example of the pivot from the tried-and-true this year is the absence of any nominations for the Beatles, or Beatles-related recordings.

Even the highly touted, and enthusiastically received 50th-anniversary reissue of the group’s landmark 1967 album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” failed to score nods in the boxed or special limited edition package, historical album or album notes categories.

Deeper into the nominations however, veteran artists can be found in the traditional pop album category (Bob Dylan’s “Triplicate” triple-album of pop standards is up against “Tony Bennett Celebrates 90,” among others), traditional blues album (The Rolling Stones for “Blue and Lonesome”) and spoken word (Bruce Springsteen, for his “Born to Run” audiobook).

The late Chris Cornell, former frontman for Soundgarden, was nominated for best rock performance for "The Promise."

As usual, however, industry voters did set the stage for potential posthumous Grammy Awards to artists who died recently.

Canadian poet-songwriter Leonard Cohen is nominated in two categories for songs from his final studio album, “You Want It Darker,” the title track up for rock performance and his song “Steer Your Way” for American roots performance, a category in which Glen Campbell is also nominated for his track “Arkansas Farmboy.”

Allman Brothers Band co-founder Gregg Allman’s name also appears in two categories, while Soundgarden/Audioslave/Temple of the Dog singer-songwriter Chris Cornell is nominated for rock performance for “The Promise.”

In conjunction with this year’s 60th-anniversary award ceremony, the Grammy Awards show will originate this year from Madison Square Garden in New York City on Jan. 28, instead of its usual home at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Grammy Awards are determined by 13,000 voting members of the Recording Academy, which consists of performers, songwriters, producers, engineers, managers, record executives and other industry personnel. Recordings released Oct. 1, 2016, to Sept. 30, 2017, are eligible for consideration.

Detroit native CeCe Winans was nominated Tuesday for two Grammy Awards: Best Gospel Album (“Let Them Fall In Love”) and Best Gospel Performance/Song (“Never Have To Be Alone”).

Grammy Nominations

Locally, here are the Michigan artists who received Grammy nominations:

CeCe Winans: 2 (Best Gospel Album, “Let Them Fall In Love,” and Best Gospel Performance/Song, “Never Have To Be Alone”)

Marvin Sapp: 1 (Best Gospel Album, “Close”)

Big Sean: 1 (Best Rap Performance, “Bounce Back”)

Top nominations

Here’s a breakdown of artists who received three or more nominations this year (asterisks denote artists who are members of a nominated group):

Jay-Z: 8

Kendrick Lamar: 7

Bruno Mars: 6

Childish Gambino: 5

Khalid: 5

No I.D.: 5

SZA: 5

Alessia Cara: 4

Chris Brody Brown: 4

John Hanes: 4

Justin Hurwitz: 4

Morten Lindberg: 4

Philip Lawrence: 4

Serban Ghenea: 4

Ben Anderson*: 3

Charles Moniz: 3

Chris Stapleton: 3

Chuck Owen: 3

Daddy Yankee: 3

Daniel Oliver*: 3

Dave Kutch: 3

James Fauntleroy: 3

Jeremy Reeves*: 3

Jonny Hawkins*: 3

Jonathan Yip*: 3

Justin Bieber: 3

Ledisi: 3

Ludwig Goransson: 3

Luis Fonsi: 3

Mark Vollelunga*: 3

Nothing More: 3

Pharrell Williams: 3

Ray Charles McCullough II*: 3

Ray Romulus*: 3

Tom Coyne: 3