by Dom Jones
In case you hadn’t heard, Grammy Nominations are out. You can see the full list here. One hip-hop icon had a huge problem with an omission in the nominations. Super producer, emcee, and member of A Tribe Called Quest, Q-Tip went on an Instagram rant about how messed up he felt that Tribe’s last album “We Got It From Here… Thank You For Your Service” wasn’t nominated for an award. While the group has been nominated a few times (twice in 1997 and once in 1999), they’ve never never taken home that coveted trophy, and on the heels of beloved member Phife Dawg’s passing, this would have been a great bookend to their legacy as one of hip-hop’s most iconic and influential groups. Was Q-Tip’s rant justified? Let’s talk about it.
Hip-hop present day looks almost unrecognizable if we’re comparing it to the era in which ATCQ made their debut. The week that Tribe dropped their first album, the song that topped Billboard was called I’ll Be Your Everything by an artist named Tommy Page. In fact, the only “hip-hop” artist to top Billboard that year was Vanilla Ice for “Ice, Ice Baby.” Think about that. This year the big hip-hop hit was Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow,” which is nominated for a Grammy. Those who know me know my opinion about that artist and song, but the popularity and sales of the music were undeniable. Tribe’s latest album debuted at #1 on Billboard, selling over 100,000 albums and with 28 million streams in its first week. “Bodak Yellow” had 40 million in its first week, and while the song only became more popular over time, Tribe’s album kind of faded to black. It’s unfair to compare ONE SONG to a full album, but the question is – did Tribe’s album have a breakout single? The group performed “We The People” on last year’s Grammy Awards, but after that, it did not receive the level of airplay or streaming that “Bodak Yellow” has this year. Check out a clip of that performance below:
The hard truth is that if Luther Vandross or Marvin Gaye debuted today, they probably wouldn’t win Grammys (or even be nominated). Even if Queen Latifah or Rakim debuted, the likelihood of their receiving Grammy noms would be slim. Q-Tip’s rant speaks to two things: time and institution. Music changes over time: what’s hot, what’s not, what’s going to be hot next. Institutions like the Grammys don’t change as fast as music does. They can pay attention to popularity and sales easily, but they have never paid as much attention to cultural influence (especially regarding black music). While I find Q-Tip’s arguments valid, I also find them unrealistic in the landscape of music today and inside of the institution that he’s referencing. “Diversity” is that hot button topic that every major corporation or institution wants to claim that they have, wants to appear to have, but doesn’t really want to ACTUALLY have, and if an artist knows that, there should be no surprise. Getting older is sometimes both a blessing and a curse. With age comes wisdom and experience, but in music, sometimes also irrelevance. Q-Tip is not irrelevant by any means, but in the context of pop music (short for POPULAR), he may be on the declining end of the spectrum. That’s difficult to face, especially when peers like Jay-Z are still nominated. The difference between Jay and Tip is that Jay has intentionally and strategically moved with the times without losing his brand. I think Q-Tip has chosen to be unwavering in his creativity, never acquiescing to what’s hot in the streets. That’s admirable… but it might not win you any awards.
DO YOU THINK A TRIBE CALLED QUEST SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED? SOUND OFF IN THE COMMENTS!