Kendrick Lamar, Bruno Mars, Cardi B, Dave Chappelle, and Childish Gambino showed the world why hip-hop culture reigns supreme.
The Big Apple was the backdrop for the 60th edition of The Recording Academy's prestigious award show, the Grammys. This year, the top categories were highlighted by rap, hip-hop, R&B, and funk artists. Black music was the centerpiece of the ceremony and its accompanying performances, kicked off by Kendrick Lamar. K Dot took home five golden gramophones, a triumph for his masterpiece DAMN., which effectively prevented Jay-Z from winning any awards. In his opening performance, Kung-Fu Kenny energetically outdid himself, delivering a performance that was more grandiose than his last Grammy performance, which is legendary.
Kendrick began his political and spiritual presentation with "XXX." He stripped away the sirens and percussions that make the track a high energy banger on DAMN. In front of screens that displayed the American flag flapping in the wind, K Dot replaced the original beat with the instrumental for "Lust." The smooth guitar rift lulled the audience into a peaceful trance before Bono and the Edge graced the stage to hammer the single home. After the rock icons finished, Kendrick hurriedly switched the calming guitar rifts for the boisterous beat on "DNA." Surrounded by a mob, K Dot reminded the world that he's got royalty and loyalty inside his DNA. As the performance drew to a close, a faux interruption was made by Dave Chappelle.
"I just wanted to remind the audience that the only thing more frightening than watching a black man being honest in America, is being an honest black man in America," stated the comedian who has ascended the ranks to become an ambassador to hip-hop. Attention quickly shifted back to Kendrick, as he performed a verse from his collaboration with Rich the Kid, "New Freezer." This time, the mob had dispersed and Kendrick was alone with a drum-beating woman that expressed his words through interpretive dance.
"Rumble young man, rumble," cheered Chappelle in another faux interruption that led into Kendrick spitting a verse from "King's Dead." Once again surrounded by his mob, K Dot "shoots" every member of the squad down and he immaculately glides through his verse. Kendrick made a statement that was politically relevant, without getting "too political," or trite. He burned down the house with an artistic experience that aimed to stun both sonically and visually. He molded art and politics together in a performance that would have made Tupac proud. A true testament to black excellence.
Soul, funk, and R&B made a glorious comeback this past year. Later in the night, Childish Gambino, who won a golden gramophone for "Redbone," also took to the stage. In a brilliant and bold move, he strayed away from the single that propelled his Awake, My Love! campaign and performed "Terrified."
"There's a bottom to the top of the moment. You won't always be around," sang 'Bino, a sentiment that evokes emotions of both euphoria and depression. The live band was accompanied by a choir that snapped their fingers, and loaned their heavenly vocals to a powerful conclusion that was led by JD McCrary. JD is set to play young Simba alongside Gambino's grown Simba in Disney's live-action/CGI remake of The Lion King. The ten-year-old impressed Gambino with a Michael Jackson performance that earned him a guest spot on Awake, My Love! The two playfully competed with melodic vocals and high pitch legatos that reverberated through The Garden.
Bruno Mars stated in an interview with Latina that "When you say ‘black music, understand that you are talking about rock, jazz, R&B, reggae, funk, doo-wop, hip-hop, and Motown. Black people created it all. Being Puerto Rican, even salsa music stems back to the Motherland [Africa]. So, in my world, black music means everything. It’s what gives America its swag." It seems as if his entire performance was imagined with that quote in mind.
Instead of performing "24K Magic" or "That's What I Like," records that allowed Mars to sweep all six categories he was nominated for, the Hawaiian multitalented entertainer brought Cardi B on stage for his "Finesse" remix. Just like the music video, their performance was a nod to In Living Color, a successful comedy sketch show that launched several careers. Every element of Cardi B and Bruno's performance was an ode to black culture.
Dave Chappelle received a Grammy himself, for Best Comedy Album.
When Tupac said, "I'm not saying I'm gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world," he might have been talking about Kendrick. 'Pac's brainchild shocked the award ceremony, and took home multiple awards. The man who brought us a balling Prince, a urinating R. Kelly, and the "Niggar Family," had a comeback year that was highlighted by a Grammy win. Bruno Mars, a product of funk, soul, R&B, and hip-hop, cleaned house while pop-locking on stage alongside hip-hop's hottest Queen. Yes, SZA was snubbed, and Jay-Z didn't reign triumphant as usual. Still, the young R&B starlet is only beginning, and she'll have a multitude of opportunities to win again. Jay has more Grammys than Bruce Springsteen, Tony Bennet, Michael Jackson, and Aretha Franklin, he'll be alright.
SZA, a goddess who resides at TDE, was nominated for five awards. She walked away with nothing. Her album CTRL was undoubtedly one of the best projects of 2017. Her introspective and unorthodox methods of chronicling love, lust, and the journey between the two emotions, earned her the respect of her peers, and strengthened her fanbase. Although she was snubbed, remember that her labelmate Kendrick was also snubbed when his album Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City debuted. Her time will come, let's not forget she was still the most nominated woman at the event. That alone was a monumental moment for the dark chocolate goddess. Speaking of goddesses, Rihanna, existing at the sexiest level of "thick," danced across the Grammy stage while performing "Wild Thoughts." Glowing as if she had just touched down from above, RiRi captivated the crowd with her booming vocals and addictive hip swings. She took home one Grammy, for her collaboration with Kendrick Lamar on "Loyalty."
Even though "Despacito," performed by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, highlighted Hispanic culture, The Record Industry snubbed the highest selling Spanish song ever in the U.S. That was possibly the darkest spot on this year's award ceremony. "Despacito" spent 16 consecutive weeks at #1 on Billboards Hot 100, and is currently among the most streamed songs of all time. Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee performed the song without Biebs, who elected to skip the ceremony. The two men brought Hispanic culture to the forefront amid rising tensions in the U.S. regarding immigration and "dreamers," illegal immigrants who have spent the majority of their lives in America. Although the two men were not awarded, their single shook up the music industry all of 2017, and their performance was validation and testament to that.
Although the 2018 Grammys did acknowledge and award black music more prominently than ever this year, it was ultimately the performers who were tasked with ensuring the visibility of black culture and beyond -- and that they did, showcasing its importance and influence across pop culture worldwide, as well as some of the intricacies and difficulties therein.