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Frank Ocean Tried to Warn Us About the Grammys’ Unwillingness to Recognize Black Genius

It's been nearly a decade since a Black artist won Album of the Year, and many are wondering why

by Britni Danielle, February 13, 2017

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Beyonce performs at the 59th annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

The 59th annual Grammy awards are in the history books, and once again several prominent Black artists find themselves being overlooked for their work.

Things got off to a promising start when Chicago emcee Chance the Rapper won Best New Artist, a monumental achievement for an independent hip-hop artist. Chance, who became the first Black rapper to win the prestigious award since Lauryn Hill took home the trophy in 1999, praised God for the honor.

“Glory be to God. I claim this victory in the name of the Lord,” Chance said before thanking his parents, business partners, and daughter.

Chance would return to the stage to talk up the power of being an independent artist when he accepted the award for Best Rap album for Coloring Book.

Though Solange, Lalah Hathaway, and Maxwell would all win Grammys, the night’s biggest awards—Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Album of the Year—were once again out of reach for Black artists.

Going into Sunday night’s ceremony, Beyoncé (who won for Best Urban Contemporary Album and Best Music Video) seemed to be the front-runner for at least one of the major categories, even though it would be difficult to sweep all three. While Bey was competing with Adele, whose hit “Hello” was one of the biggest songs of the year, many considered Lemonade the project to beat. The album was not only a commercial success, but critics–and academics–loved it as well. Though Adele’s “Hello” was a bona fide hit, Lemonade was a cultural phenomenon.

The voting members of the Recording Academy didn’t see it that way, however. In fact, a Black artist hasn’t won Album of the Year in nearly a decade (the last was Herbie Hancock in 2008), and this wasn’t the first time a creatively stunning project was snubbed in favor of a less daring, commercial work.

Just like voting members elevated Taylor Swift’s ultra-pop 1989 over Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly last year, and Mumford & Sons’ Babel over Frank Ocean’s critically acclaimed Channel Orange in 2013, the Recording Academy rewarded Adele’s uneven 25 with Album of the Year, over the juggernaut of Bey’s Lemonade.  And while the BeyHive was rightly pissed, Adele went full Kanye during her own acceptance speech to sing Beyoncé’s praises instead of her own.

“The Lemonade album, Beyoncé, was so monumental, and so well thought out, and so beautiful and soul-bearing. And we all got to see another side of you that you don’t always let us see, and we appreciate that. And all us artists adore you. You are our light,” the British singer gushed from the stage.

Backstage, Adele asked what many music fans wondered about Beyoncé’s inability to win music’s top prize, despite being its undisputed queen: “What the f–k does she have to do to win Album of the Year?”

The same question could be asked of Rihanna, who had one of the most underrated yet sonically creative albums of the year. Anti was the Bajan artist’s most mature and thoughtful project to date, yet it failed to even win one award, even though it was awkwardly marginalized into categories like Best R&B Song and Best Pop Duo/Performance. True to her IDGAF attitude, Rihanna spent the night sipping from her bejeweled flask, while her Navy–her fans–complained about the major slight.

While Beyoncé and Rihanna’s fans went in on the Recording Academy for failing to properly reward both artists, Frank Ocean decided to opt out of the night all together.

After a four year hiatus, Ocean returned with two critically acclaimed projects, Blonde and Endless. Though the albums were prime to rack up several Grammy nominations, the singer refused to submit them for consideration. When asked about his decision to sidestep the show, longtime Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich and writer David Wild slammed his decision, citing Ocean’s “faulty” 2013 Grammy performance.

The singer took to Tumblr to respond:

Ok Ken (and David). As much as I hate to make you guys famous or even respond to you directly. We all die one day and you’re old so f–k it. Yea yea my 2013 performance at the Grammys was absolute sh-t. Technical difficulties, blah blah. Thanks for the reminder. Very much appreciated. F–k that performance though. You think that’s why I kept my work out of the Grammy process this year? Don’t you think I would’ve wanted to play the show to ‘redeem’ myself if I felt that way? In reality, I actually wanted to participate in honoring Prince on the show but then I figured my best tribute to that man’s legacy would be to continue to be myself out here and to be successful.

Winning a TV award doesn’t christen me successful. It took me some time to learn that. I bought all my masters back last year in the prime of my career, that’s successful. Blonde sold a million plus without a label, that’s successful. I am young, black, gifted and independent.. that’s my tribute. I’ve actually been tuning into CBS around this time of year for a while to see who gets the top honor and you know what’s really not ‘great TV’ guys? 1989 getting album of the year over To Pimp A Butterfly. Hands down one of the most ‘faulty’ TV moments I’ve seen. Believe the people. Believe the ones who’d rather watch select performances from your program on YouTube the day after because your show puts them to sleep. Use the old gramophone to actually listen bro, I’m one of the best alive. And if you’re up for a discussion about the cultural bias and general nerve damage the show you produce suffers from then I’m all for it.

Though disappointing, the Grammy awards have always been slow to recognize Black artists and their creativity. After all, legends like Diana Ross, Nas, and Chuck Berry, the father of Rock n’ Roll, have still never won a golden statue, and it took a boycott by hip-hop artists to get the rap categories televised in the 1990s.

With artists like Drake, Frank Ocean, and Kanye West calling out the Recording Academy for failing to honor ground-breaking, culturally significant talent (and skipping this year’s show), it may take another artist boycott to get the slow-moving body to change its ways.


Britni Danielle is EBONY’s Entertainment/Culture Director. Follow her on Twitter @BritniDWrites

 
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