“You think I give a damn about a Grammy?” rapped Eminem, on Marshall Mathers LP single “The Real Slim Shady.” “Half of these critics can’t even stomach me, let alone stand me.” Later that same year, Eminem found himself nominated for Album Of The Year, Best Rap Solo Performance, Best Rap Performance From A Duo Or Group, and Best Rap Album. He even performed at the ceremony, laying down an iconic rendition of “Stan” alongside Sir Elton John. For the record, Em took home three out of four awards; he ultimately lost the album battle against Steely Dan’s Two Against Nature.

It’s interesting to note that Em’s initial anti-Grammy sentiment was met with a surprising lack of resistance from the ceremonial torch-bearers. In fact, a “kill them with kindness” approach seemed to be taken, bestowing honors upon a man who once decried them in a public forum. Clearly, it worked to a degree; Eminem went on to attend the ceremony, using his steadily-rising platform to cement his place in Grammy history. For those old enough to remember, Em and Elton John’s performance was a monumental occurrence, given the homophobia allegations surrounding Slim’s good name.

Looking back, it’s easy to see the 43rd Grammy Awards as the moment in which Em, by his own omission, sold his soul. Consider his reflective bars on “Lucky You,” in which he spits:

I done said a lotta things in my day, I admit it
This is payback in a way, I regret it that I did it
I done won a couple Grammys, but I sold my soul to get 'em
Wasn't in it for the trophies, just the fuckin' recognition

Eminem & Joyner Lucas - "Lucky You"

A couple is somewhat of an understatement. To date, Eminem has taken home 15 trophies, though never managing to secure the coveted “Album Of The Year.” Still, it’s clear that Em’s history with the Grammys has been weighing heavy on his conscious. Of course, the rapper has alluded to the Faustian bartering of his soul on songs like “Say Goodbye Hollywood” and “My Darling.” Yet 2018 has awakened in him a renewed sense of animosity toward The Grammys, culminating in his most public disavowal of the ceremony since “The Real Slim Shady.”

His rationale is sound. He claims he wasn’t in it for the trophies, rather the recognition. Many are accustomed to dubbing the Grammys as an authority on music, the most prestigious award one can secure. But consider this: The Grammys have awarded Album Of The Year to a hip-hop album once. Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below took home the prize, though one has to wonder if the radio-friendly “Roses” and “Hey Ya” played a pivotal role in that conclusion. It might be recognition, but from whom, exactly? The same people who would seemingly rather draw blood from a stone than reward a hip-hop album? It’s obvious that those behind The Grammys have little value for hip-hop music, though utmost respect for its cultural ubiquity.

Eminem on Sway Calloway, Part 4

Last year, it seemed as if the Grammys were attempting to assuage the public’s growing dissent. In the album of the year category, Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z, and Childish Gambino were given nods, leading many to believe that hip-hop would finally earn its due. And then, the award was given to Bruno Mars, despite the fact that Kendrick and Jigga delivered a pair of critically acclaimed projects. No disrespect to the talented Mr. Mars, but the result once again spoke to a culture unwilling to bend to the evolving musical landscape; in fact, the landscape has been evolved for a minute. How many more rap projects need to get snubbed before the dreamers wake up?

Eminem elaborated on his frustration during a conversation with Sway Calloway, who claims the Grammys suck the blood out of artists, getting them to attend only to be later slighted. “Every fucking year,” says Em. “I’m tired of seeing it. For whatever reason they’re always pitching this hint that you might win album of the year, which used to be a big deal. I don’t think it’s a big deal now. I sat at home for the Grammys this year and watched Jay and Kendrick not get it, and I felt like one of them should have got it. I felt Joyner Lucas should have won a Grammy for "I’m Not Racist." Every year we went, I was up for album of the year, and then ‘the winner is Norah Jones!’”

He eventually breaks it down in a passionate plea: “Don’t fucking get us all here, to use as your selling point for your fucking show, and stiff everybody every single fucking time. After that point in time I said don’t ever ask me to come here again. My answer is no for a hundred million years.”

Em’s lone nomination in the 2019 Grammy Awards came courtesy of the Joyner Lucas assisted “Lucky You,” the very same track in which he disavowed the ceremony. While it might be a tad conspiratorial, does it not feel as if the powers that be are playing mind games? Especially given that Joyner Lucas’ reaction was the polar opposite of Em’s own. Taking to Instagram, Joyner penned an emotional message, affirming that sense of recognition Em once desperately sought. Of course, that’s not to take anything away from Joyner’s accomplishment; the man has forged an impressive career, and he should be proud of that. Yet what marks a stronger validation - a Grammy nomination, or a collaboration with Eminem? Of course, they don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but the difference in temperament between the pair speaks volumes.

It’s a safe bet that Joyner will be attending the ceremony. It’s equally safe that Eminem will not be. What then, might arise, if they request a live rendition of “Lucky You?” The soul can only divide into so many fragments.