The Grammy Awards might be considered the biggest night on the music calendar, but the event has come to be overshadowed by accusations of racism. Kanye West has long called out the racial prejudice he deems to lie at the core of the award show, something Tyler, the Creator supported as he described his nomination and win as a “backhanded compliment.” After taking home the award for Best Rap Album in January of this year for his record Igor, he told press that it “sucks that whenever we – and I mean guys that look like me – do anything that’s genre-bending, they always put it in the rap or urban category.” And as pressure mounts on all manner of businesses and industries to do more to amplify black voices in light of the Black Lives Matter protests sweeping the globe, the Grammys will now be removing “urban” from major award categories.
For years now, the Grammy Awards has celebrated artists by using “urban” to describe music of black origin in its award categories. But having faced enough backlash from the very artists within the music industry, the Recording Academy has announced changes will be made to ensure its awards were “inclusive and reflect the current state of the music industry.” In doing so, the prize for best urban contemporary album will be renamed to best progressive R&B album.
It’s something Tyler, the Creator also spoke to after winning his award. In an interview following his win, he said, “I don’t like that ‘urban’ word – it’s just a politically correct way to say the N-word to me. Why can’t we just be in pop?”
Along with the Recording Academy, other music labels and agents are taking note and seeking to embrace this time as an opportunity to make significant changes. In recent days, Republic Records has also gone on record and said it would no longer use urban to describe its departments and music genres.
As for the rest of the changes that will shape the future of the Grammy Awards, the award for best rap/sung performance will be renamed to best melodic rap performance so as to “represent the inclusivity of the growing hybrid performance trends within the rap genre” thanks to the likes of Drake and Post Malone. Meanwhile, The award for best Latin rock, urban or alternative album will be given a new title: best Latin rock or alternative album.
It’s a step forward for the Recording Academy, and one that has been a long-time coming given the controversy surrounding the Grammy Awards. Whether it will do much to alleviate the concerns of racial prejudice from those within the industry remains to be seen.