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Bound to a Tainted Public Perception

YeThe one thing Kanye wouldn’t say — Jay Z doesn’t deserve nine Grammy nominations.

It’s clearly evident that many people these days don’t like Kanye West. But for all the things people proclaim they hate West for, most of the time it has little to do with his music. So when the Grammy nominations were released on Friday and voters gave West only two nominations in token categories (Best Rap Song for “New Slaves” and Best Rap Album for “Yeezus”) it came as a surprise, but not a shock. Couple that with the announcement that Jay Z received nine nominations, it’s clear that Grammy voters don’t focus solely on music, at least when it comes to hip hop artists.

The GRAMMYs are the only peer-presented award to honor artistic achievement, technical proficiency and overall excellence in the recording industry, without regard to album sales or chart position.grammy.org

Kanye West is the greatest musical artist of the last 15 years. West has transformed the musical landscape, beginning with his masterful production on Jay Z’s The Blueprint, Jay Z’s best album. West has a minimum of five classic albums. He has only released six albums. Without College Dropout — one of the greatest albums of all-time regardless of genre — gangster rap would still be the preeminent representative of hip hop. Late Registration brought soul samples and significant strings into mainstream hip hop for the first time. “Stronger” off Graduation exposed a new generation of listeners to EDM and helped the genre grow rapidly. 808s & Heartbreak is the reason artists like James Blake, Frank Ocean, and Drake are accepted by the world. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is where music became art — a perfect album if there ever was one. Yeezus is a sonic masterpiece that sounds like nothing else ever created, and has been called the album of the year by nearly every respected music critic and outlet.

kanye-west

All of West’s albums have been critically acclaimed, but after taking the microphone from America’s sweetheart Taylor Swift on September 13, 2009 at The MTV Video Music Awards, no album of his has been nominated for Album of The Year by The Grammys. 808s & Heartbreak, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and Yeezus have all been disregarded, despite the actual quality of the music.

On the other hand we have Jay Z. The man who grew up in the hallways of Marcy Projects in Brooklyn, had one the best tenures of any Def Jam President/CEO in years (Rihanna, Ne-Yo, Rick Ross, Kanye West, Young Jeezy), secured a $152 million record deal from Live Nation five months before a recession (and most likely the last colossal record contract we’ll ever see), launched a sports agency, became a certified-agent in two sports, and helped former Yankee Robinson Cano get a 10-year, $240 million contract, the third-largest sports contract in history — becoming only the third sports agent to negotiate a contract over $200 million. Jay Z has changed the perception of what a rapper could accomplish financially.

Both Kanye West and Jay Z are legendary artists in their own rights, but as you may have noticed, the previous paragraph doesn’t mention any of Jay Z’s solo albums. This is because the last album that could be considered a classic from Jay Z was released 3676 days ago. The Black Album was released on November 14, 2003, four months before West’s College Dropout. The last album that should have garnered any consideration for Album of The Year from The Grammys is American Gangster, which was released six years ago. There was no clamor for an Album of The Year nomination for Magna Carta Holy Grail, even from the biggest Jay Z fans. Magna Carta Holy Grail is widely considered a good rap album, but not a project that would shift perceptions of Jay Z or the hip hop genre as a whole either way.

Jay Z and Kanye West

Jay Z is generally liked by most people. Kanye West not so much. But this doesn’t have anything to do with the public at large. It has to everything to do with the voting members of The Recording Academy. It seems as if the members are taking into account Jay Z’s business acumen over his actual musical output, while penalizing Kanye West for his rants and not taking under consideration the fact that his last three albums have easily been one of the top five albums in the years they were released. It is the voting member’s duty to “honor artistic achievement, technical proficiency and overall excellence in the recording industry,” according to their mantra, not achievements in business world.

I’ve noticed the public, and now apparently the voting members of The Recording Academy don’t respect Kanye West’s musical or artistic ability anymore. When I ask people why they dislike West to the point where they don’t enjoy his music, I get the customary “He’s a dick,” which doesn’t explain much. When pressed, most people say West is arrogant and obnoxious, but even that doesn’t explain the level of hate he receives from the public. Michael Jordan was arrogant, obnoxious, and a dick by most accounts, but he was beloved by just about everyone.

I’ve asked people who they dislike more, Kanye West or Chris Brown, and many have thought about it as if it is a question that deserves deep consideration. One has been arrested, charged, and convicted of domestic assault, and the other rails against corporations that won’t let him work for them. Replace Chris Brown with Michael Jackson in the same question and people quickly and routinely choose the man who was charged and accused of sexually abusing children multiple times. Where did this unbridled hatred of Kanye West come from?

Kanye at the VMAs

The answer to where the hate began is the Taylor Swift incident at the VMAs. The perception that West is arrogant buffoon compounded it (Honest? Yes. Arrogant? It depends on your perception of his honesty. It’s hard to find a non-aspirational quote from West that isn’t technically true) The hate reached new levels when the news that West and Kim Kardashian — the person America made famous, and subsequently hates for being famous — were in a relationship.

The last two are understandable, with the public perception of West and Kardashian taken into account. The troubling episode is The Swift/VMA situation, which has the disappointing tinge of racial undertones. The famous, untainted, then 19-year old white pop star is scared by loud, brash, black rapper and White America came to her defense. Few remember what West said after he took the mic, only that he bounded on stage and stole Swift’s moment (West was right, and Beyonce did win Video of The Year afterwards). Yes, it was a dumb, boneheaded move on West’s part, but it wasn’t something that deserved or required years of public disdain. If you don’t agree, ask yourself this — if Rihanna was in Swift’s place, would the international anger, the continuous morning show coverage, the unfavorable comments from two Presidents, and celebrities calling for boycotts of West have risen to the same levels?

Artists get snubbed by voters all the time, but this is something different. This is a group of voters bequeathing their duties to the public and its perception of an individual, and not taking into account the actual art. This is Lebron James not being in the top five of MVP voting. For three years. The continued treatment of Kanye West by The Recording Academy is not your ordinary snub, and it is very unsettling.

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