The 58th Annual Grammy Awards took place last night. For me they might as well be the 1st Annual Grammy Awards. I don’t suppose I became aware of their supposed importance until I was about 9 or 10 years old, but that’s still several decades worth of Grammy Awards that I’ve never actually watched. From before internet access was available to everyone (not just college professors, Army installations and European scientists) to the present day, I’ve probably seen a few minutes of the broadcast per year or less.
This year it will definitely be less.
I’d be a complete hypocrite if I didn’t tell you that I understand the appeal of WINNING an award. It’s incredibly validating to have your peers recognize you for working hard, creating something artistic, contributing to society as a whole, or perhaps even all of the above at once. I even bought into the hype once and flew to New York at my own expense for a “Hip-Hop Awards” ceremony because a website of mine was nominated for an award. My most vivid memories of that night are as follows:
1.) Funkmaster Flex was booed for winning a “DJ” award because people in the crowd didn’t accept him as a true turntablist. He was (and is) a deejay in the LITERAL sense, but that would be like saying I was literally one in college radio too. People expected a musician to win and were pissed that Flex did instead. I’m not sure who SHOULD have won, just that to that crowd, it wasn’t Flex.
2.) I saw Chuck D holding court outside the awards ceremony dispensing knowledge and wisdom to the next generation. I wanted to go up to him, shake his hand, and say thank you for inspiring me to as a youth — but instead I just stood there for a while to listen and realized a white kid from Iowa really didn’t have anything to say he wanted to hear. To put it another way I just didn’t have the balls to tell a rap legend he had changed my life.
3.) I stuck my head outside the subway door to see which station I was at and failed to heed that old “watch the closing doors” adage. My ears were ringing for a while and certainly not from the loud music (Naughty By Nature and the Mountain Brothers both performed live – among others). Don’t stick your head out the door guys. Then again is that even still a thing? That was over 20 years ago now. These days they probably have infrared sensors that detects if anybody’s in the way before they shut.
Either way I flew home the next morning, to a squalid subterranean apartment in Ypsilanti, tail tucked firmly between my legs because the category I was nominated in wasn’t even announced during the ceremony. The next year I was nominated and didn’t even go. One of those two years I actually did win, but it wasn’t announced live either time. They eventually sent me the trophy in the mail. It’s in a box somewhere, or I gave it to my parents, I’m not sure which. I was pretty bitter about the whole thing and if you’re tasting salt reading this it probably still comes across that way even today.
If I did learn anything from the whole experience though it’s that the best validation you get for what you do isn’t necessarily from an awards ceremony, or even from your peers. As corny as it seems to say this, it really is true that you have to validate yourself, and not wait around for anybody else to do it for you. I’d even say that about album reviews. Despite the fact they’re the bread and butter of this website, the glue that holds it together and all of those cliches, the artist has to be true to themselves and not to the critics. Don’t wait for us to hand you The Nines and up, and don’t wait for the Grammy Awards to hand you a trophy for “Rap Album of the Year” either.
Listen up emcees, deejays, and artists of all kinds! If you make something important to you, with substance and meaning for yourself and for an audience of listeners, something you can be proud of in 20 years — THAT is your validation. Not 10 out of 10, 5 mics, or a “G*d damn trophy” as Willie D would say. Besides most of the albums I have and still do consider to be classics never won a “G*d damn trophy” at the Grammy Awards either. Does any of us believe Blueprint will ever receive that G*d damn trophy? No. Does it make his music any less meaningful? Again – no. Awards are nice, great reviews are nice, but if you have to choose between something to clutter up your coffee table or making art please go for art first. I know it doesn’t pay the bills like being famous and admired, but as anybody stalked by the paparazzi will tell you, fame isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be either.
In my life I try to walk the line between a little bit of recognition for my work, and almost complete anonymity when I’m in a crowd at a concert. Nobody ever goes “Hey there goes the RapReviews guy” and that’s fine. I make less on this website than most indie rappers who go double wood, but if I wrote something I can be proud of then I’ll let that be the trophy on the mantle of my mindspace. It’s enough. Maybe someday someone will send me another award in the mail – probably not though – but I’ll keep on writing either way. To the rappers out there with pie in the sky dreams keep on dreaming, but dream of making good music, not of Grammy Awards. Your favorite artist and album probably didn’t win one either, and if they did then we can all say an institution that doesn’t really understand hip-hop tripped over their own shoelaces and stumbled into the right choice by accident. Even broken clocks are right now and then – and hopefully your RR staff are slightly more often than that. Thanks for reading.