Every year people both cheer and balk at the Grammy nominations. Some years, I wonder what the voting members of the Recording Academy are thinking, and other years I feel hope that the music community has found a new appreciation for what's truly creative, innovative, and transformative. This year's nominations mostly have me feeling the latter, so let's take a look at some of the nominations that I most agree with, and those I think are more political than deserved:
BEST NEW ARTIST: H.E.R. | LOVE IT!
This nomination (and the four others she received) is well deserved and right on time! H.E.R. self-titled debut album took the best references from soul and R&B and brought them into the more contemporary sound of R&B with some trap and hip-hop influences in the production. I'm very, very excited for this nomination and happy for this young artist getting recognized out of the gate for her extraordinary musicianship! H.E.R. is also nominated for Best R&B Song, Best R&B Performance, Best R&B Album, and Album of the Year.
RECORD OF THE YEAR: "SHALLOW" - LADY GAGA AND BRADLEY COOPER | LOVE IT!
Now I've read some articles that say that this song is being overhyped and doesn't deserve its Grammy nominations, but I COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY DISAGREE. While there are many great performances throughout the film "A Star Is Born," besides the closing song with Lady Gaga (which was one of her greatest performances EVER, in my opinion), "Shallow" is the song that most stands out for me in the film and its a beautiful duet between Gaga and Bradley Cooper (yes, he's actually singing on the song)! I've longed for the days when film soundtracks would become amazing again, but if we can't get great movie soundtracks from all movies, I'll at least take them from movies about music (am I right?)!
BEST RAP ALBUM: INVASION OF PRIVACY, CARDI B | HATE IT!
I know that a lot of you out there love Cardi. I don't. I find her to be a caricature, being paraded around as the "ghetto" girl who raps, proliferating all of the negative stereotypes about people from minority communities. She also doesn't write her raps, which to me, is a prerequisite for being taken seriously as a rapper (check out the credits for her album and all of the names listed under "Composer"). Seriously... what is being nominated here? I also find her nomination an obligatory one by the Academy to include a woman in this category. This speaks to a larger problem around representation in the hip-hop community, but regardless, I'd rather see nominees in this category who wrote their own rhymes.
BEST CONTEMPORARY BLUES ALBUM: PLEASE DON'T BE DEAD, FANTASTIC NEGRITO | LOVE IT!
I had to mention this nomination, as it is the second nomination in a row for Oakland native and (for me) hometown hero, Fantastic Negrito. His storied rise to prominence includes a near-death experience, an almost irreparably mangled playing hand (he plays guitar), years as a farmer, busking on corners and in train stations for years (where he would meet one of his band members), and his first Grammy nomination last year for his debut album, The Last Days of Oakland (which he won!). Throughout his roller-coaster journey, he's maintained that music saved his life and that the people are his record label. His nomination this year further recognizes artists who aren't signed to major labels as valuable contributors to the landscape of music.
BEST R&B ALBUM: GUMBO UNPLUGGED (LIVE), PJ MORTON | LOVE IT!
Many of us were in the room when PJ Morton's tour hit Boston this past summer, and can attest to the fact that it was a transcendent experience. This nomination is so deserved because, although the songs on the live album were exactly the same as the studio album, the listening experience was completely different! Some people like one version of Gumbo more than the other, but most people agree that both are spectacular. While most artists have a difficult time translating their live show onto a record, I can attest to PJ's live album being as close as any live album I've listened to, to making me feel as though I'm back in that concert hall seeing the show in person.
SONG OF THE YEAR: "BOO'D UP", ELLA MAI | HATE IT!
Yes, this song was a "huge hit" this year... but it was released in February 2017. That alone should disqualify it from being nominated this year, in my opinion. However, according to Billboard, "A song is eligible if it was first released or if it first achieved prominence during the Eligibility Year." Though it was released last year, it didn't first achieve "prominence" until this year, so that overrides my first opinion. Beyond that, it's just not a great song to me, certainly not good enough to warrant a "Song of the Year" nomination.
BEST SONG WRITTEN FOR VISUAL MEDIA: "ALL THE STARS," KENDRICK LAMAR AND SZA | LOVE IT!
It's no secret that the movie Black Panther had a stellar year at the box office, shattering records and inspiring moviegoers worldwide to come out in their best Wakanda-inspired outfits to see the film. Kendrick Lamar didn't have too shabby of a year either, taking the lead on composing the Black Panther album in tandem with the film. Because the movie and the music were so culturally influential a Grammy nomination feels appropriate (and hopefully, a few Oscar nominations as well). The music on this album was certainly very enjoyable, with several artists pitching in to help Kendrick put together an amazing soundtrack.
BEST MUSIC FILM: QUINCY, QUINCY JONES | LOVE IT!
Anyone who has watched the Netflix documentary about Quincy Jones has to have been inspired. The influence that Jones has had on pop culture, decade after decade, is astounding and transcends race, class, and genre! From jazz to pop to hip-hop, from composition to production, to film scoring, Quincy has done it ALL! The fact that he continues to do even more just cements his legacy as one of the greatest musicians, philanthropists, and influencers of all time. This was an easy nomination (and we hope an easy win). PLUS, HE'S A BERKLEE ALUM!
ALL OF THE BERKLEE COMMUNITY MEMBERS NOMINATED THIS YEAR | LOVE IT!
From Berklee Alumnas MAJOR's nomination (pictured above) for Best Traditional R&B Performance and Lalah Hathaway's nominations for Best R&B Performance and Best R&B Album to Professor Tia Fuller's nomination for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, the Berklee community is showing its weight to the Recording Academy. It's inspirational for all of us who aspire to one day receive such an honor.