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Grammys 2023
Grammys 2023
Photo Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Grammys 2023: Will Hip-Hop's Massive Celebration Signal a Change for the Recording Academy?

The Recording Academy hasn't always done right by hip-hop. Hopefully, the hip-hop tribute at Grammys 2023 signals a much-needed change.

The Grammys have always had a complicated relationship with hip-hop. Whether through snubs or failing to acknowledge hip-hop in its big four, the annual awards ceremony has often disregarded the genre, resulting in a number of pieces questioning if the Grammys has a hip-hop problem throughout the years. But Grammys 2023 seemed to want to rectify that, not only in nods to notable awards (Kendrick Lamar getting nominations for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Album of the Year) but performances, too, with the centerpiece of the night being a 50th anniversary hip-hop tribute.

"For five decades, hip-hop has not only been a defining force in music, but a major influence on our culture,” Harvey Mason Jr., CEO of the Recording Academy, said in a statement ahead of the tribute. “Its contributions to art, fashion, sport, politics, and society cannot be overstated. I’m so proud that we are honoring it in such a spectacular way on the Grammy stage. It is just the beginning of our year-long celebration of this essential genre of music."

Since being appointed as the Recording Academy's president/CEO in 2021, Mason Jr. (who's also the Academy's first Black leader in its 65-year history) has been integral to the much-needed change the academy has needed, especially in regards to diversifying its voter membership. Speaking on the Academy's fraught relationship with hip-hop, Mason Jr. spoke in an interview from November on how membership expansion would help the genre be better represented, saying: "So, when you say inequity or out-of-balance representation around hip-hop, I truly believe that our job now as an academy is to make sure our voting membership represents music and is reflective of what’s going on in music and culture. We all know that Black music is the highest-, most-consumed, and most-created form of music right now around the globe. That tells us we have to make sure that our voting membership is reflective of that and those numbers."

So, what better way to show a want to do better by not only improving its representation in the award categories, but celebrating it in a very big way? Such was the case with this tribute. Led by Questlove, the performance condensed 50 years of hip-hop into 10 minutes, with everyone from The Furious Five to GloRilla taking the stage. In between that were standouts: Posdnuos of De La Soul performing "Buddy"; Public Enemy performing "Rebel Without A Pause; Missy Elliott performing "Lose Control"; and The Lox and Swizz Beatz performing "We Gonna Make It." Ambitious, fun, and slightly turbulent, it was an endeavor that showed just how far hip-hop had come, with different decades, regions, and sounds all accounted for, with LL Cool J declaring at the tribute's end: “We started in the Bronx. And ever since, we’ve gone everywhere."

"We wanted to literally cover from Grandmaster Flash all the way to Future and all stops in between," Questlove said in a red carpet interview ahead of the performance. "And it's not about the A-listers — we really wanted to get to the grit of hip-hop's nucleus, and really offer something that hip-hop connoisseurs would enjoy."

Sure, there were some notable omissions. Although the tribute had Salt-N-Pepa, Queen Latifah, and GloRilla, some wondered why more female rappers weren't accounted for. But overall, it was well-received, becoming one of the best performances the Grammys has ever had. And just as enjoyable as the tribute was, so was watching those in attendance enjoying themselves. Seeing JAY-Z rap along to "Method Man" or Doja Cat dance during Missy Elliott's performance only added to the tribute.

As great as the performance was, the Grammys still have a long way to go to improve its relationship with hip-hop and Black fans in general. The narrative after the show was centered around Beyoncé and her dance and hip-hop-influenced album Renaissancelosing Album of the Year. And figures like Drake have taken a firm stance against the Academy in recent years, even going so far as to decline submitting his music.

"We want to lift the industry. That’s the only thing we care about. So when somebody’s upset with us, I’m upset,” Mason Jr. said in an interview with Fast Company. "We have to continue to evolve and change the things that people have issues with so we can ultimately earn the trust of the industry."

Hopefully, the Grammys having such a notable hip-hop performance signals a shift in how the academy treats the genre moving forward. At the very least, there's no denying that the tribute proved to us something that we've known for quite some time — the academy isn't as interesting when hip-hop isn't around.