10 albums by black artists that should have won album of the year at the grammys

With Beyoncé’s 'Lemonade' relegated to the environs of R&B, we look at the other seminal albums overlooked by the Grammys, from Prince and Kanye to Janet and Aaliyah.

by Hattie Collins and i-D Staff
13 February 2017, 6:40pm

The first time hip-hop was introduced to the Grammys audience was 1995 (sips tea). Naughty by Nature won Best Rap Album for Poverty's Paradise (sips more tea), beating out 2Pac, Bone Thugs, ODB (finishes tea, pours another cup) and Skee Lo (temporarily stops drinking tea). As has become increasingly clear over the years, the achievements of black musicians are rarely celebrated by the Grammys outside of the categories of rap and R&B. And even then, they often get it wrong — whether that's Kanye's rap, Erykah Badu's eccentric R&B, Prince's dirty rock, or Rihanna's perfect pop.

Over the Grammys's 59 ceremonies, only 12 albums by black musicians have ever won Album of the Year. And, as @_jackfreeman pointed out on Twitter today, three of those wins were by Stevie Wonder. The last black musician to win Album of the Year earned the title 10 years ago. Herbie Hancock's River: The Joni Letters won in 2008, beating Amy Winehouse's Back to Black. The Grammy for Album of the Year has only ever been won by three black women: Natalie Cole (the first black woman to win, in 1992, some three decades after the awards inception — tea, tea, tea), Whitney Houston (for the Bodyguard soundtrack) and Lauryn Hill, for her own Miseducation of and again in 2000 for her work on Santana's Supernatural.

At first glance, the amount of nominations and awards bestowed upon Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, and Alicia Keys is impressive — until you consider that rarely do these nods stray from 'black music' categories. Video of the Year, maybe, or, if they've happened to work with a white performer, then maybe Song of the Year. Even within these categories, the Grammys tend to get it so very wrong; white artists have often fared better than their black counterparts. Eminem is the most highly decorated rhymer in Grammy history, having won 12 awards to date — considerably more than Jay Z, Snoop, Drake, or Kanye. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis beat Kendrick Lamar in 2014. And Iggy Azalea has been nominated four times within 'rap.'

It's pretty astonishing to consider the artists and albums that haven't been celebrated by the Grammy committee over the years, including this one. Lemonade slayed on every level, yet still the committee awarded its top prize to a white woman — who emotionally and passionately acknowledged the superiority of Beyoncé's offering. So, in no particular order, here are just 10 albums by black artists that should have been honored with an Album of the Year. Grammys take note; it's time to do better. So, so much better.

Read: Here's what you missed at the Grammys last night.

Beyoncé, Lemonade
We didn't need Adele to tell us that Lemonade has been horribly overlooked this year. Queen Bey's most important release to date, the cultural impact of this album can't be underestimated. Every aspect of Lemonade is on point: lyrically, vocally, visually, politically, culturally. The videos. The words. The tour. The vulnerability. The strength. The tunes. The catchphrases. Boy Bye. Becky. Her Hair. The Tea. The Shade. The (Pink) Lemonade. Yoncé's sixth offering will long, long outlive the normal lifespan of your average pop record, inspiring and galvanizing generations to come. You know Bey, they really just don't love you like we love you.

Destiny's Child, Survivor
While we're on the subject, let's shake our collective heads at the lack of love Survivor got back in 2001. Although Writing's on the Wall is perhaps the superior record, we can acknowledge it may have been a little too ahead of its time to be considered Album of Year. But Survivor? Here is an album that bound us together with collective heartbreak, empowering anthems, and big, massive pop hits. Survivor didn't even win Best R&B album! Survivor was a moment in time, an album that the majority of planet Earth spent in thrall singing along to "Survivor," "Independent Women," "Bootylicious," and "Emotion." And we sang them at the top of our lungs, during nights out or as the soundtrack to break-ups and make-ups. You thought we'd be weak without you, Grammys? We're stronger!

Janet Jackson, Rhythm Nation 
Her brother managed one with Thriller, yet JJ remained largely overlooked by the Grammys, despite seminal offerings that were as impactful as they were forward-thinking. Rhythm Nation in particular would be a triumph if released today. A concept album to end all concept albums, Jackson pitched the record perfectly, from the extraordinary choreography to the outstanding fashion and of course the music itself. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis's expert touch encompassed New Jack Swing, dance, rock, and pop — the perfect partners for the album's lyrical offering. Protest. Power. People. Politics. The album would go on to inspire pretty much every living breathing pop star in its wake. From Britney to the Backstreet Boys, most of these all-singing, all-dancing pretenders to the crown would be nothing with out the influence of the mighty Ms. Jackson. Janet said it back in 1989 and it's perhaps even more pertinent today: with music by our sides, we can break the color line.

Erykah Badu, Baduizm
With all due deference and respect to the Nobel prize poet, Bob Dylan was on his 42nd album in 1998. As great as Time out of Mind was/is, did it change the course of music? Did it deliver unto us one of the most innovative, otherworldly, creative new voices in music, whose impact can be heard today in any number of artists, including her own daughter, Puma? Revisiting jazz riffs and classic R&B cuts, through Baduizm (and of course the offerings of Brown Sugar and Urban Hang Suite), the world of neo-soul was born, laying the eccentric footprint for everyone from Lauryn Hill to Frank Ocean.

Prince, Purple Rain
To think that Prince has never won Album of the Year is quite astonishing. Purple Rain. Lovesexy. Diamonds & Pearls. 1999. Dirty Mind. Take your pick of any of his exemplarily recordings. 1985, the year of his purple reign, the Grammy went to Lionel Richie's Can't Slow Down, which also beat out Springsteen's Born in the USA to win Album of the Year. Perhaps the Academy was confused by Prince. That same year he won both the pop/rock and the soul/R&B awards for Purple Rain. Maybe it was a sign o' the times.

Aaliyah, One in a Million
Aaliyah represents the tremendous three of R&B. We would be happy if either Missy, Timbaland, or Baby Girl been recognized in the main category for their revolutionizing of R&B and, ultimately, pop music in the 90s. Through songs like "Are You that Somebody," "Try Again," and "If Your Girl Only Knew," "The Rain," and "Hot Boyz," music was sent to the left, to the right, up to space, and underground, often all at the same time. The seminal recordings made between the three of these creative minds in the 90s have gone onto influence everyone from Drake to James Blake and The xx. It seems incredible that neither Miss E., Tim, or Aaliyah were ever fully acknowledged by the committee for their contributions to pop culture.

Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Kanye's ire towards the Academy is both well documented, and well placed. Over the course of seven albums, the Louis Vuitton Don has consistently and radically altered rap and pop. Burrowing himself in socio-politics, black politics, and cultural politics, Kanye has created consistent conversations around fashion, art, architecture, and music. One of the most important recording artists of the last twelve years, the Grammys show its lack of awareness, understanding, and appreciation of the contemporary by having never awarded Kanye Album of the Year. Seems like Sway isn't the only one without the answers.

Kendrick Lemar, Good Kid M.A.A.D City. Drake, Nothing Was The Same. Kanye West - Yeezus
None of these albums won Rap Album of the Year in 2014, let alone Album of the Year. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis's Heist won Rap Album (Macklemore very publicly tried to give it back to Kendrick), while Daft Punk won overall for Random Access Memories. Maybe they just got lucky.

Rihanna, Loud
It's hard to choose just one deserving Album of the Year from RiRi. Talk that Talk features "Where Have You Been," "Birthday Cake," "Cockiness," "Talk that Talk" (obvs) and "We Found Love," aka The Best Song In The World, ever. 2009's post-Brown breakup Rated R was another pitch-perfect offering, but perhaps "Rude Boy," "Hard," and "Wait Your Turn" were a little too edgy for the Grammys mainstream tastes. We even love Anti, home to one of the biggest tracks of 2016: "Work." Yet despite the fact that pretty much every Rihanna album has had at least four solid pop smashes on it and that at one point Rihanna released an album a year and basically ruled the world, it seems so incredibly strange that her work wasn't deemed 'pop' enough for the Grammy crowd. The list of hits on Loud includes "What's My Name," "Cheers (Drink to That)," "Only Girl (In The World)," "Man Down," "Love the Way You Lie," and "S&M." The year Loud was nominated, unfortunately for Riri, was the year of 21.

Jay Z, Reasonable Doubt
Though his album output can be patchy at best, there's no denying the perfection of Reasonable Doubt and the impact of Jay Z as a rapper, musician, entrepreneur, and father to the most magnificent Blue Ivy. It's an album widely regarded, for a long time, to be one of hip hop's greatest of all time. Jay wasn't even nominated that year in the rap category for Reasonable Doubt (nor was Nas's Illmatic), though he did take Best Rap Album in 1996 for Volume 2… Hardknock Life. When it comes to being a black artist trying to win a Grammy, it really, really is.


Text Hattie Collins

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