Grammys Rename Controversial ‘Urban Contemporary’ Award Field


The organisation behind the Grammy Awards on Wednesday announced a number of changes to its category names, including changing “urban contemporary” to “progressive R&B.”

The Recording Academy’s move comes amid growing criticism in the music industry over the term “urban” that has long generalized genres including hip-hop and R&B but which many believe belittles the innovation of black music.

The renamed category “is intended to highlight albums that include the more progressive elements of R&B and may include samples and elements of hip-hop, rap, dance, and electronic music,” the academy said. “It may also incorporate production elements found in pop, euro-pop, country, rock, folk, and alternative.”

On Friday, the label Republic Records, a division of Universal, said it would stop using “urban” in its company lexicon.

While the origins of the term’s use in music jargon were not negative — a black New York radio DJ coined it in the 1970s — today it is considered an antiquated umbrella term that marginalizes the work of black music, especially as hip hop and R&B are among the globe’s most popular genres.

Past winners of the Grammys “Urban Contemporary” prize include Lizzo’s “Cuz I Love You,” Beyonce and Jay-Z’s “Everything Is Love” and Beyonce’s landmark visual album “Lemonade.”

In its rechristening announcement, the academy also said it would change Best Rap/Sung Performance to Best Melodic Rap Performance.

But the academy did not completely drop “urban:” it remains in categories including the newly titled field “Best Latin Pop or Urban Album.”

“Urbano” remains widely accepted as a transnational umbrella term that includes reggaeton, Latin hip hop, Latin trap and dancehall — all of which have exploded in popularity in recent years.

The academy told Rolling Stone that “we understand that in the current climate, sentiment might be changing. We are continuing to follow the conversation and are committed to making necessary adjustments.”

The Recording Academy also changed its controversial but prestigious “Best New Artist” award, removing the eligibility requirement that capped a specified number of releases.

And months, after the LA-based organization was roiled by scandal, triggered when its now-sacked CEO levelled accusations of sexual harassment and voting irregularities, the body has announced changes within its Nominations Review Committee.

The academy set term limits for the membership committee and vowed to better scrutinize conflicts of interest in the nomination process.

Michelle Obama Wins Grammy For Best Spoken Word Album

Former United States first lady Michelle Obama can now add ‘Grammy Winner’ to her resume. File photo: NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP


Lil Nas X, Lady Gaga, Beyonce and… Michelle Obama?


The former first lady can now add Grammy winner to her resume, after snagging the award on music’s biggest night for Best Spoken Word Album, for the audiobook of her memoir “Becoming.”

Her win on Sunday gives the Obama household its third Grammy: former president Barack Obama has already snagged two Grammys in the same category for his books.

She faced an eccentric group of rivals that include Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys for “Beastie Boys Book” and John Waters, the director-performer known for his transgressive cult films, for “Mr. Know-It-All.”

Released in late 2018, “Becoming” saw the former first lady slam President Donald Trump for questioning her husband’s citizenship and promoting the notion that he was born abroad.

“The whole [birther] thing was crazy and mean-spirited, of course, its underlying bigotry and xenophobia hardly concealed,” Obama wrote.

America’s first black first lady also dug into her personal life in her book, expounding on issues including a miscarriage, using in-vitro fertilization to conceive her daughters and marriage counseling.


‘Tonight Is For Kobe’: Lizzo Dedicates Grammys To Late NBA Legend


Top nominee Lizzo kicked off the 2020 Grammys on Sunday with a tribute to the late basketball legend Kobe Bryant, before launching into a rousing medley of her hits.

“Tonight is for Kobe,” shouted the 31-year-old, who has already won two awards in the pre-gala event that led into music’s marquee night.

Bryant — a hero for Los Angeles who played for the Lakers in the Staples Center, where the Grammys are being held — died in a helicopter crash earlier in the day, along with eight others, including his 13-year-old daughter.

An image of the late Kobe Bryant is projected onto a screen during the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards. Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy /AFP


After a glittering performance of “Truth Hurts” and “Cuz I Love You” — which featured ballerinas, orchestral and the artist’s signature flute skills — Lizzo passed the torch to Grammy host Alicia Keys who offered another moving tribute to Bryant.

“We’re all feeling crazy sadness right now. Earlier today, Los Angeles, America and the whole wide world lost a hero,” she said.

“And we’re literally standing here heartbroken in the house that Kobe Bryant built,” said Keys, before launching into a soulful rendition of “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye” with the group Boyz II Men.

Top contenders at Sunday’s glam gala include Lizzo, Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X.

Grammys Kick Off As Kobe Death Stuns Los Angeles




The Grammy awards got underway Sunday with superstars Lizzo, Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X primed for glory — as grief over the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant cast a pall on music’s marquee night in Los Angeles.

Sorrow casts a shadow over the show held at the Staples Center — the same venue where the basketball icon led the city’s Lakers to multiple championships.

Dozens of people, many of them in tears, gathered near the arena to mourn the 41-year-old Bryant, who died Sunday in a helicopter crash in the hills west of the California metropolis. Flags were flying at half-mast.

The evening nevertheless still promises rollicking performances from the trio of Grammy frontrunners, as well as tributes to the veteran rockers Aerosmith and the late rapper Nipsey Hussle.

Early prizes handed out at the pre-gala event went to Lady Gaga, who won two for her soundtrack for the hit film “A Star Is Born,” and Beyonce, who nabbed the prize for best music film for “Homecoming.”

“Rest in peace Kobe, we love you,” Steve Pamon, a “Homecoming” director, said in accepting the trophy.

Overnight country-rap sensation Lil Nas X, up for six awards, snagged his first Grammy for the music video of his smash earworm “Old Town Road.”

“Um, thank you!” the bubbly 20-year-old told the audience with a wide smile glimmering below his white 10-gallon hat.

Eilish’s debut studio album won its first award of the night in the engineering categories.

Pop’s new guard is poised to usher in a new era — but scandal backstage has threatened to tarnish the glitz.

Just days before the gala, the Recording Academy’s suspended CEO Deborah Dugan — the first woman to lead the embattled institution behind the Grammys — filed an explosive discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

She says she was suspended after raising concerns over sexual harassment, voting irregularities and other misconduct within the Academy — one of music’s most influential organizations, but one long accused of favoritism and a lack of diversity.

Dugan also alleged that her predecessor, Neil Portnow, had raped a foreign female musician — an allegation he has rejected as “ludicrous and untrue.”

‘We need transparency’

The backstage storm has threatened to cloud the Grammy celebration, despite a diverse slate of nominees that celebrates a mix of established and budding stars.

On Saturday night at the annual pre-Grammy gala hosted by industry legend Clive Davis, hip-hop mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs railed at the Academy.

“Black music has never been respected by the Grammys to the point that it should be,” Combs told a star-studded audience as he was honored as an industry icon, according to Variety.

“We need transparency, we need diversity.”

The magnetic Lizzo, 31, is poised to be this year’s queen bee, leading the Grammy pack with eight nominations, including in all the top four categories (album, record and song of the year plus best new artist).

Lil Nas X, the 18-year-old goth-leaning pop iconoclast Eilish and the enigmatic 22-year-old R&B prodigy H.E.R. are also formidable contenders.

The establishment’s newcomers will square off against veteran powerhouses including Ariana Grande and Beyonce, as well as alt-leaning acts Lana Del Rey, Bon Iver and Vampire Weekend.

Often remembered as much for its performances as its winners, the Grammys will feature Lizzo, Eilish and Grande, along with a genre-blending rendition of “Old Town Road” that will feature K-pop sensation BTS, country star Billy Ray Cyrus and the eclectic DJ Diplo, among others.

Artists including John Legend, Meek Mill and DJ Khaled — all up for Grammys this year — will perform a tribute to Hussle, who was shot dead last year and is up for three posthumous awards.

The British country-soul revivalist Yola, up for four Grammys including the prestigious best new artist prize, said she’s still soaking in all the glamour.

Upon learning of her nominations, the bluesy singer with a big voice told AFP on Friday that she “cried for days.”

“It was hilarious and emotional and I’m just so thrilled to be here,” she said.

Naira Marley’s Advice, DJ Cuppy’s New Mission, Grammy Awards And More


It was yet another interesting week in the world of showbiz.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the week’s Vibez.

Naira Marley Dishes Some Good Advice To Marlians

Controversial hip hop artiste, Naira Marley yet again stirred social media after he cautioned fans to take their future seriously.

He took to twitter where he wrote, “as a Marlian you have to enjoy your youth but don’t destroy your future”.

While some hailed the singer for his words of advice, others expressed shock because Marlians claim to have “no manners”.

Some also asked the soapy crooner to tell his fans to take a cue from him because beyond his accolades as a musician, he is a college graduate with a distinction.

Cuppy On A New Mission

Popular DJ and daughter of billionaire businessman Florence Otedola, a.k.a DJ Cuppy is on a new mission.

The singer who is always shaking up the social media space with various fascinating posts has again defied critics and taken to Instagram to announce that she’s been working on her debut EP.

According to her, it’s already more than halfway done but she has asked fans for suggestions on what to name it.

Meanwhile, the gelato crooner also took to her insta-stories where she disclosed that she’s working towards earning $1 million by the end of 2020.

Zlatan Accused Of Masterminding Attack On Vic O

Upcoming singer, Vic O accused rapper, Zlatan of assaulting him with the help of his friends.

The singer took to Instagram where he shared a video of his badly bruised face.

According to him, he was attacked in the Lekki area of Lagos by men, numbering about eight who are allegedly loyal to Zlatan.

He went further to announce that the battle line has been drawn, between Zlatan and himself. Meanwhile, Zlatan is yet to react to the allegations.

Cause Of Juice Wrld’s Death Revealed

One month after rising artiste, Juice Wrld passed away, the cause of his death has been revealed.

According to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office, the rapper died of an accidental opioid overdose, specifically oxycodone and codeine toxicity”.

Juice Wrld is the latest in a string of famous musicians to die of an opioid overdose in recent years.

Meanwhile, his family has disclosed plans for a public tribute to be held for the late rapper in Chicago.

Davido Drops “2020 Letter To You”

On to some new music, Nigerian pop star, Davido has risen above all the drama that ushered him into the new year with the release of a freestyle track titled: ‘2020, Letter To You’.

In the new track, O.B.O advices everyone to be true to themselves.

He also says no one is perfect and so, everyone should learn to accept each other as they are and aim for higher.

‘Eyimofe’ To Premiere At Berlin International Film Festival

And to movies, Nigerian feature film ‘Eyimofe’ is set to premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival which starts in February 2020.

Written by Chuko Esiri and produced by Melissa Adeyemo, the film addresses the endless pursuit of migrants for greener pastures in Europe and the sad reality they often meet at the end.

‘Joseph’ Hits The Big Screens

Meanwhile, African-Carribean film, Joseph is also set to hit the big screens.

The movie chronicles the life of a young, successful medical doctor in the Caribbean whose curiosity about Africa sets him on a journey to an unknown world amidst warnings from friends and family.

Movie enthusiasts joined some cast and crew of the film for its premiere which took place in Lagos, Nigeria.

Diane Makes Fashion Statement

To some more exciting stuff, Mercy Johnson’s Epic Movie, the legend of Inikpi is finally out and some of our faves stepped out in style for the premiere which took place at the Film House Cinemas in Lekki.

Those in attendance included Yvonne Jegede, Paul Obazele, Ay Makun, Denrele, popular OAP, Lolo, and some of Big Brother Naija’s finest, Ceecee, Diane and Thelma.

Diane particularly wowed fans with what seemed to be a surprisingly bold fashion statement.

A photo she posted on Instagram, was accompanied with a caption that read: “be crazy enough to know you can do anything you want in life”. and fans could not hide their excitement in the comments.

Grammys: Fans Anticipate Burna’s Win

Finally, the Grammys is only few hours from now and our very own Burna Boy a.k.a African Giant, is a nominee for the ‘best world music category’, alongside heavyweights such as Angelique Kidjo.

A lot of fans are very optimistic and so far, social media has been buzzing, with #BurnaBoy as one of the top trends.

We have our fingers crossed and we’re wishing him all the best.

Michelle Obama Steals Show At The Grammys, Delights Crowd With Girl Power Message

LOS ANGELES, CA – FEBRUARY 10: (L-R) Lady Gaga, Jada Pinkett Smith, Alicia Keys, Michelle Obama, and Jennifer Lopez speak onstage during the 61st Annual GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on February 10, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for The Recording Academy/AFP Emma McIntyre / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP


Michelle Obama made a surprise appearance on the Grammys stage Sunday to deliver a message about music and women’s empowerment alongside superstars Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, host Alicia Keys and actress Jada Pinkett-Smith.

“Music shows us that all of it matters — every story within every voice, every note within every song,” said the former first lady, looking glam in a sparkling gunmetal pantsuit with a 1970s-esque wrap jacket.

“Is that right, ladies?” she said to resounding applause.

The Recording Academy behind the awards gala has faced a barrage of criticism for not embracing diversity within its ranks, after nearly muting women nominees at the show last year.

This year, five of the eight nominees for Album of the Year are women: rapper Cardi B, folk-rock singer Brandi Carlile, pop futurist Janelle Monae, R&B prodigy H.E.R. and country star Kacey Musgraves.

At the start of the segment, Lady Gaga — a triple winner so far on the night — said: “They told me I was weird… And music told me not to listen to them.”

READ ALSO: Full List Of Nominees And Winners At The 2019 Grammy Awards

Lopez — who has parlayed her successful music career into acting — said that music “kept me moving from the block to the big stages and even bigger screens.”

Pinkett-Smith added: “Every voice we hear deserves to be honored and respected.”

And Obama added: “Whether we like country or rap or rock, music helps us share ourselves, our dignity and sorrows, our hopes and joys. It allows us to hear one another, to invite each other in.”

Obama quickly started trending on Twitter.

The moment came at the start of a show showcasing the female talent in the music business, one year after women were largely snubbed in the major categories.

Neil Portnow, the head of the Recording Academy, told women last year to “step up” if they wanted to do better on Grammys night.

The brazen comment drew outrage and Portnow said he would step down when his contract expires this summer.

On Sunday, the message was unmistakable — one of diversity.

“Thank you so much, ladies, for your light, your message of love, your sisterhood,” said Keys, the first woman to helm the show in 14 years.

“Give it up for these magnificent goddesses!” said Keys.



Grammys Vow To Tackle Gender Bias Amid Resignation Calls

Recording artists Beyonce, Jay Z and daughter Blue Ivy Carter attend the 60th Annual GRAMMY Awards at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 2018 in New York City. PHOTO:

The chief of the body that hands out the Grammys vowed Thursday to do more to tackle gender bias as he faced calls to resign over his contentious explanation on why more women weren’t winning.

The Recording Academy, which is comprised of 13,000 music professionals who vote on the industry’s most prestigious prizes, said it was setting up an independent task force to address gender issues.

The task force will “review every aspect of what we do as an organization and identify where we can do more to overcome the explicit barriers and unconscious biases that impede female advancement in the music community,” the Academy’s president and CEO, Neil Portnow, said in a statement.

“We will also place ourselves under a microscope and tackle whatever truths are revealed,” he said.

Portnow, a music producer and label executive who has headed the Recording Academy since 2002, caused a furor on Sunday in a customary press appearance at the close of the awards.

Portnow said that the music industry needed to show a “welcome mat” to women and increase mentorship to new professionals — and he raised eyebrows as he explained how female artists could win more awards.

“I think it has to begin with women who have the creativity in their hearts and their souls who want to be musicians… to step up, because I think they would be welcome,” Portnow told reporters at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

‘Time’s up’

Pop singers Katy Perry and P!nk were among the prominent women who took Portnow to task for his remarks.

Just as Portnow was announcing the task force, nearly two dozen women executives in music called on him to resign.

Using the language of the growing movement against gender discrimination and harassment, they wrote in their open letter, “Time’s up, Neil.”
His remarks at the Grammys “do not constitute recognition of women’s achievements, but rather a call for men to take action to ‘welcome’ women,” they wrote.

“We do not await your welcome into the fraternity. We do not have to sing louder, jump higher or be nicer to prove ourselves.”

Signatories included Carla Sacks, the founder of the prominent public relations firm Sacks and Co., and pop star Pharrell Williams’ manager Caron Veazey.

They cited a recent University of Southern California study that found that men accounted for more than 90 percent of Grammy nominees — who include not only performers but songwriters, engineers and others in the business — between 2013 and 2018.

‘Poor choice of words’

Portnow, revisiting his remarks in his latest statement, said “I understand the hurt” caused by “my poor choice of words.”

“I also now realize that it’s about more than just my words. Because those words, while not reflective of my beliefs, echo the real experience of too many women,” he said.

Only one woman, Lorde, was nominated for the most prestigious Grammy of Album of the Year at the latest awards and none were in the running for Record of the Year, which recognizes best song.

Funk revivalist Bruno Mars won in both categories.

The Grammys rallied behind the #MeToo movement through an intense performance by Kesha, who sang her autobiographical song “Praying” about her alleged rape by her producer.

But “Praying” lost out for Best Pop Solo Performance to the only man among the five nominees in the category — Ed Sheeran for “Shape of You” about a drunken hook-up with a woman he meets in a bar.

The year, however, was not entirely representative. Adele won Album of the Year in 2017 and Taylor Swift took the top prize the year before.

Swift’s latest album came out too late for eligibility while Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, major forces in past years, enjoyed less acclaim with their most recent works.

Bruno Mars Grammy Award Sweep Sparks Criticisms

Recording artist Bruno Mars, winner of the Record of the Year award for ’24K Magic,’ Album Of The Year award for ’24K Magic,’ Song of the Year award for ‘That’s What I Like,’ Best R&B Performance award for ‘That’s What I Like,’ and Best R&B Album album for ’24K Magic,’ and production team pose in the press room during the 60th Annual GRAMMY Awards at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 2018 in New York City. PHOTO: Michael Loccisano / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

After a tumultuous political year, the Grammys took a stand for the rights of women and immigrants — but the top awards went to a singer whose mind is on sex, booze and parties.

The surprise sweep by Bruno Mars has renewed criticism in quarters that the music industry’s premier prizes are out of touch with the wider world, but for fans of the retro R&B and funk star, he is an undisputed talent who provides exactly the type of joy the world needs right now.

The Recording Academy, the group of 13,000 professionals who vote for the awards, had seemed set to change the narrative this year, with hip-hop for the first time dominating the nominations.

But rap mogul Jay-Z, who led with eight nominations, left New York’s Madison Square Garden empty-handed. Kendrick Lamar, who has given musical voice to the Black Lives Matter movement, for the second time swept the rap awards but was shut out in the general categories.

During the televised broadcast, President Donald Trump was skewered, stars defended immigrants facing deportation and Kesha’s powerful performance punctuated the growing #MeToo movement to end sexual harassment.

The singer, who fought her label to stop working with a producer she says raped her, delivered her autobiographical song “Praying” with palpable ferocity.

But Kesha was also passed over for awards, with “Praying” edged out for Best Pop Solo Performance by Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” about putting the moves on a woman at a bar.

– ‘Least threatening artist’ –

Mars won Album and Record of the Year for “24K Magic,” whose title track speaks of the sight of hot women “waking up the rocket” in his pants, and Song of the Year for “That’s What I Like” about making love in high style.

His victory triggered an avalanche of social media postings questioning whether Mars really represented 2017 in music.

The satirical site The Onion summed up much of the criticism with the headline: “Bruno Mars Takes Home Coveted ‘Least Threatening Artist’ Award.”

Justin Vernon of experimental rockers Bon Iver, who won the Best New Artist Grammy in 2012, wrote on Twitter that while Mars had a “fun voice,” the singer “made a name in the INDUSTRY by making hits OUT of hits of yesteryear.”

Others faulted the Grammys for snubbing “Despacito,” the most-streamed track in history.

At a precarious time for Spanish-speaking immigrants as well as hurricane-hit Puerto Rico, “Despacito” would have been the first non-English song to take a top Grammy since the very first awards in 1959.

The fate of “Despacito” entered the political arena, with Democratic Senator Bob Menendez tweeting that the song by Puerto Ricans Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee was “robbed.”

– Proud of roots –

But Mars, whose real name is Peter Hernandez, does not lend to a simple narrative. He is himself partially Puerto Rican and also has Jewish, Filipino and Spanish ancestry.

The 32-year-old from Hawaii in an interview last year with Latina magazine voiced pride in his Puerto Rican heritage and suggested that he took a stage name to avoid being pigeon-holed as a Latin artist.

He has rarely spoken overtly about politics, instead of explaining that he sees music’s power to excite and unite.

Alisha Lola Jones, an assistant professor of ethnomusicology at Indiana University, said Mars deserved praise for acknowledging his debt to R&B and funk greats rather than appropriating them.

At the Grammys, Mars credited towering African American songwriters Babyface, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis and Teddy Riley for inspiring him.

Many scholars of African American culture “actually appreciate that as he draws from the tradition, he’s telling us the history,” Jones said.

“African American tradition does not always have to protest. Folks who are true to the tradition do as Bruno Mars suggests, which is get people up and moving.”

But she said that Mars’s high-energy dance routines could be an easier sell at the Grammys than Lamar, who put on a symbolism-rich performance with camouflage-clad dancers dropping to the ground to simulated bullets.

Mars “does a palatable music industry performance that folks can digest, where Kendrick Lamar, in contrast, has folks on edge,” she said.

Another possibility for Mars’s victory is that with multiple hip-hop stars in competition, he benefited from a split in the vote.

Recording Academy president Neil Portnow hinted at that theory, telling reporters: “When you look at five nominations (in a category), the math of how that works out and who votes for whom is a little unpredictable.”

Whatever the reason, the Grammys also face another issue. Initial figures from Nielsen said that 19.8 million people watched the show, a drop of more than one quarter from last year and the lowest in a decade.


Hillary Clinton Reads Excerpt Of ‘Fire And Fury’ At The Grammys

Former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton made a surpirse apparnce at the Grammy’s by reading from Michael Wolff’s controversial book “Fire and Fury.”

A pre-taped parody sketch saw Grammy Awards host James Corden audition celebrities, including John Legend, Cher, Cardi B and Snoop Dogg. They read excerpts from the deeply critical book about President Donald Trump’s first year in office, ostensibly as contenders for a spoken word Grammy prize.

Clinton, who lost the 2016 election to Trump, read an excerpt from the book about Trump’s eating habits. “One reason why he liked to eat at McDonald‘s: Nobody knew he was coming and the food was safely pre-made,” Clinton read.

Corden then praised her, saying “The Grammy is in the bag.”

The president’s family and members of his administration immediately criticized the segment.

His son Donald Trump Jr. tweeted: “Getting to read a #fakenews book excerpt at the Grammys seems like a great consolation prize for losing the presidency.”

In a follow-up tweet, he added: “The more Hillary goes on television the more the American people realize how awesome it is to have @realDonaldTrump in office.”

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who is known to post on social media about her love of pop music, tweeted that Clinton’s appearance “ruined the Grammys. Such a shame.”

Wolff’s book ”Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” became an instant bestseller on Jan. 5 when its release was pulled forward after published excerpts set off a political firestorm, threats by Trump lawyers of legal action and an effort to halt publication.

The book, dismissed by Trump as full of lies, depicts a chaotic White House, a president who was ill-prepared to win the office in 2016 and aides who scorned his abilities. It is based on extensive interviews with Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon and other aides.

Although Absent, Ed Sheeran Wins Two Pop Grammy Awards

English pop songwriter Ed Sheeran, one of the most successful artists of the past year, on Sunday won his third and fourth Grammys — both outside the major categories.

Sheeran won Best Pop Vocal Album for “Divide” and Best Pop Solo Performance for the album’s single “Shape of You,” a minimalist dance number about finding love in a bar.

He beat out fellow chart-toppers including pop superstar Lady Gaga, who was in the running for both awards.

Sheeran, 26, had been a favourite leading up to the nominations for the Grammys in light of his past recognition at the awards and his awesome commercial success, including his status as last year’s most streamed artist on Spotify.

But in a surprise seen as reflecting shifts in US pop culture, hip-hop for the first time dominated the major nominations, and Sheeran was left in the cold.

“Divide” generated a series of major hits for Sheeran including “Shape of You,” the rockier “Castle on the Hill” and the romantic ballad “Perfect.”

Sheeran was not present to pick up the awards.


Music Industry Hails Jay-Z Before Grammys

JAY-Z performs onstage during Day 1 of The Meadows Music & Arts Festival at Citi Field in New York City. / AFP PHOTO / ANGELA WEISS

Jay-Z, who once boycotted the Grammys as biased against hip-hop, was hailed Saturday by the music industry’s power brokers ahead of the latest awards where he leads nominations.

The rapper who rose from a broken home to become a hip-hop multimillionaire was contrite over his previous attacks on the Grammys when he accepted a prize as an “industry icon” at a pre-award gala thrown by veteran music executive Clive Davis.

Jay-Z refused to attend the Grammys in 1999 because the Recording Academy which administers the awards snubbed fellow rapper DMX.

He stayed away, upset at the lack of recognition for hip-hop, until coming in 2004 with wife-to-be Beyonce, who joined him on Saturday.

“I realize like, man, art is super subjective and everybody is doing their best and the Academy, they are human like we are,” Jay-Z told the packed ballroom in New York’s Times Square.

“We can pretend we don’t care, but we really care,” he said of Grammy recognition. “We care because we see the most incredible artists stand on that stage and we aspire to be there.”

A who’s who of top artists performed in Jay-Z’s honor, with soul legend Gladys Knight singing her classic “Midnight Train to Georgia” and Luis Fonsi dancing through his viral hit “Despacito.”

Alicia Keys weaved Jay-Z’s songs from “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)” to their collaboration “Empire State of Mind” into a piano medley, in which she raised her hands and led a chant of the rapper’s nickname Hov.

 Breakthrough year for rap 

Jay-Z is in the running for eight awards at Sunday’s Grammys including Album of the Year for “4:44,” a strikingly introspective work in which the rapper apologizes for infidelity to Beyonce and supports his mother as she comes out as lesbian.

The music industry’s premier awards gala — which has returned to New York after 15 years in Los Angeles — is shaping up to be a big night for hip-hop, which for the first time makes up a majority of nominations in the top categories.

Jay-Z is already one of the most accoladed artists in Grammy history with 21 awards. But until this year he had always been passed over for the main categories.

Jay-Z grew up fatherless in Brooklyn and became a small-time drug dealer.

He is now worth an estimated $1 billion with Beyonce after amassing a business empire that includes fashion, entertainment and the Tidal streaming service.

In an interview aired Saturday on CNN for a new show of Van Jones, the community activist and former aide to president Barack Obama, Jay-Z urged African American entrepreneurship.

“Until we come to the table with our own… power base, nothing will change,” he said.

Jay-Z is nominated for Record of the Year, which recognizes the top song, for “The Story of O.J.,” which explores the persistence of racism with his own success as a backdrop.

 Tough competition 

While Jay-Z is ahead for Sunday, music industry prognosticators see fewer clear-cut favorites compared with previous years.

West Coast rapper Kendrick Lamar closely trails Jay-Z with seven nominations amid acclaim for his album “DAMN.,” a return to a classic hip-hop sound by an artist known for his experimentation.

Lamar’s previous album, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” offered an unofficial musical soundtrack for the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality — but, to the disappointment of many music industry watchers, was denied Album of the Year two years ago.

Album of the Year contenders also include two high-selling pop albums — “24K Magic” by Bruno Mars, who has revived fun-loving retro funk, and “Melodrama” by Lorde, the 21-year-old pop prodigy from New Zealand.

A dark horse in the category is “‘Awaken, My Love!’,” the psychedelic, R&B-infused album of Childish Gambino, the rap alter ego of actor and comedian Donald Glover.

Lorde is the only woman nominated in one of the two top categories — despite the growing attention to gender discrimination in the entertainment industry following revelations of sexual misconduct by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

In a show of support for the #MeToo movement, performers selected for the televised Grammy show include Kesha, who has taken on sexism in the industry after accusing her producer of raping her.

A group set up by female entertainment executives plans to hand out white roses as a show of solidarity with women fighting abuse.


Jay-Z Leads Nominations In 2018 Grammys

JAY-Z performs onstage during Day 1 of The Meadows Music & Arts Festival at Citi Field on September 15, 2017 in New York City. / AFP PHOTO / ANGELA WEISS

The Grammys – often derided as a tone-deaf music industry love-fest – will take on new relevance this year, as hip-hop artists for the first time are leading the pack.

But after a tumultuous 2017 marked by racial strife and a nationwide reckoning about sexual harassment, the Grammys also must face up to a glaring hole — only one woman is in contention in the two most closely watched categories.

Rap mogul Jay-Z leads the nominations for the music industry’s biggest night, which is taking place Sunday in New York — the first time in 15 years that the ceremony is back in the Big Apple.

For the first time, no white male has been nominated for the top prize of Album of the Year with Jay-Z’s “4:44” up against works by fellow rappers Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino, funk revivalist Bruno Mars and the only woman, New Zealand pop prodigy Lorde.

The awards come after several years in which the Recording Academy, the group of 13,000 music professionals, has been accused of snubbing hip-hop.

Only two rap albums have won Album of the Year and one of the most acclaimed young figures in hip-hop, Frank Ocean, has gone so far as to refuse to submit work for Grammy consideration.

This year’s shift may partially show structural reforms at the Recording Academy, which switched to online voting —
meaning that itinerant artists, not just industry veterans checking their home mailboxes, have a voice.

But the nominations also reflect a year in which racial divisions have come into stark focus in America with the election of President Donald Trump.

Jay-Z and Lamar have both delved extensively into race relations. Rap also dominates the second most-watched category of Record of the Year, which recognizes best song, with other nominees including Spanish-language viral hit “Despacito.”

Hip-Hop Blends Into Broader Culture

“Pop culture has always provided distraction and in some ways has echoed what’s going on in the world,” said Akil Houston, an associate professor of cultural and media states at Ohio University.

But Houston also said that hip-hop — initially a rebellious, outsider movement — has become more intertwined with broader US culture with its presence in fashion, cinema and other musical genres.

“In years past, there has been a lack of presence for hip-hop culture, but I think commercial rap music has become ubiquitous with other parts of pop culture, whether it’s music or films,” he said.

Another change is how young people discover music. The boom in streaming lets listeners quickly sample a wide variety of music in a way that downloads, store sales or commercial radio cannot.

And festivals, which have become a rite of passage for American millennials, have brought a new, diverse audience for rap performers.

In a sign of changing tastes, Coachella – the US festival with the highest profile — will have no rock acts among its headliners this year, for the first time ever.

“A lot of fans and audiences are coming into contact with new artists and forms that were on the edge of their taste palate,” said Murray Forman, a professor at Northeastern University in Boston.

Forman also pointed to rising stars such as Khalid and Lil Uzi Vert, both up for Best New Artist, who came to prominence by releasing music on their own through mixtapes or sharing site SoundCloud.

“It’s a sidestepping of traditional industry gatekeepers and barriers and hurdles. So it makes for a really robust moment that established artists are still hitting it, but younger artists have different ways in,” he said.
Absence of Women

But the Recording Academy’s embrace for hip-hop, a genre historically known for its hyper-masculinity, has been a male-dominated affair.

Two fast-rising women rappers, Rapsody and Cardi B, won key nominations in rap fields but not in the four most prestigious categories.

Lorde, in an interview with Billboard, said Cardi B deserved a nomination in a mainstream category as “she kind of defined 2017” with her song “Bodak Yellow.”

Women have always played a role in rap “but it’s hard to break through at the top because it is such a male-oriented aspect of an industry that is already inordinately male-oriented,” Forman said.

The Grammys’ absence of women is in part a fluke of the calendar.

The last two artists to win Album of the Year were both women — Adele and Taylor Swift — but works by Swift, Beyonce and other top women were released outside the eligibility period for the latest Grammys.

But in a likely recognition of the #MeToo movement, Grammy performers will include Kesha, who has fought to exit a contract with her producer, Dr. Luke, whom she accused of rape.

Tanya Pearson, the founder of the Women of Rock Oral History Project at Smith College, said the music industry had a deeply rooted gender problem as tastemakers such as journalists are predominantly men.

“The whole sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll narrative is misogynistic and masculine and that is still the context that women are up against,” she said.