The day after the Grammys, while people who cared about the ceremony were debating the racial implications of the Academy shutting out Beyoncé from the major categories while awarding the decidedly more milquetoast Adele, Drake was having his own conversation about the Grammys’ race problem as it applied to him. And he brought up a very good point.
In an interview with the UK’s DJ Semtex that was recorded February 13 (which we saw via Billboard), Drake said winning two Grammys for “Hotline Bling”—in the Best Rap/Sung Performance and Best Rap Song categories—felt weird because that...song...is...not...a...rap...song. Said Drake:
I won two awards last night, but I don’t even want them ‘cause it just feels weird for some reason. It doesn’t feel right to me. I feel almost like alienated or you’re trying to purposely alienate me by making me win rap [awards] or just pacify me by handing me something, putting me in that category ‘cause it’s the only place you can figure out where to put me.
As for the underlying cause of a song that does not contain rapping being called the Best Rap Song (a statement on the Grammys’ utter cluelessness and/or disdain for the genre in itself), Drake suspects it’s race:
I’m a black artist, I’m apparently a rapper, even though ‘Hotline Bling’ is not a rap song. The only category that they can manage to fit me in is in a rap category, maybe because I’ve rapped in the past or because I’m black.
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Indeed, it is an infuriating sign of ineptitude (in the best case scenario!) when black artists are referred to as “rappers.” Now, today’s hip-hop is more melodic vocally than ever, as rappers sing their own choruses, season their verses with some notes, play in sing-songy margins between rapping and singing, and alternately sing and rap in a virtuosic flexing of versatility. That may be a lot for old people to take in, but when you are presenting yourself as the established authority on categorizing and rewarding achievement in recorded music, as the Grammys does, it is imperative to keep up. You have one job, Grammys: Call things what they are.
“They don’t decide the winners, but they do decide the nominations, so they have to play it politically,” said Drake.
As for the failure of Drake’s pop melding of Afrobeat and dancehall collboration with Wizkid and Kyla, “One Dance,” to grab any nominations, Drake said:
There’s pop obligations they have and fluked out and got one of the biggest pop songs of the year. That is a pop song and I’m proud of that. I love the rap world and I love the rap community, but you’re right, I write pop songs for a reason. I want to be like Michael Jackson, I want to be like artists I looked up to, those are pop songs, but I never get any credit for that.
On one hand, it’s hard to feel bad for the beloved millionaire who, in fact, does get some credit for his work (going to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 10 nonconsecutive weeks and selling two million copies counts as credit). On the other: Yeah! He’s right! The Grammys are fucked up and backward and they get shit wrong all the time.
We’ve been conditioned to think that this is the true reward for our accomplishments, for our music. And by the way, if you had a night like Chance last night, he deserves it...it’s amazing when they champion you. But all I’m saying is, to kids that will be coming up in the future and might not get championed, or might not get that moment, that’s OK, too. Because you have to realize what institution you’re dealing with. You’re dealing with a bunch of people that are just people at the end of the day. And they’re either good people to the core, or bad people to the core, and we’ll never know.
You can listen to Drake’s take on his Grammy wins in the embed below, starting at 23:33: