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THE FOURTH IN A 10-PART SERIES
By Grammy Whisperer Paul Grein


Today, in the latest installment of our 10-part series previewing key Grammy races, our resident Grammy seer looks at Best R&B Album and Best Urban Contemporary Album.

Best R&B Album
Two R&B legends, Aretha Franklin and Smokey Robinson, are vying for nominations. The Queen of Soul is in the running with Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics; Robinson is competing with his duets collection, Smokey & Friends. Both artists have received Lifetime Achievement and Grammy Legend Awards from the Recording Academy, but only Franklin has a Grammy tally (18 awards) befitting her stature. Remarkably, Robinson has won just one Grammy in competition—with or without the Miracles. He took home the prize for his 1987 hit "Just to See Her."

Franklin and Robinson will probably face off against Love, Marriage & Divorce by Toni Braxton & Babyface. The two R&B vets have won a combined total of 16 Grammys. Voters will admire the thematic album’s ambition and sense of purpose.



Five albums are battling for the remaining two slots: Mary J. Blige’s A Mary Christmas, Robert Glasper Experiment’s Black Radio 2, Ledisi’s The Truth, Kelly Price’s Sing Pray Love, Vol. 1: Sing and Aloe Blacc’s Lift Your Spirit.

Blige won this award eight years ago for The Breakthrough. Her follow-up album, Growing Pains, won in a since-discontinued category, Best Contemporary R&B Album. Blige is set to perform on the TV special A Very Grammy Christmas on Dec. 5. (So which is it, a Mary Christmas or a Very Grammy Christmas?) Blige is also entered in this category with Think Like a Man Too (Music From And Inspired by the Film), but it’s hard to image a Blige voter not knowing that A Mary Christmas would have a better chance of landing a nomination.

The Glasper Experiment won in this category two years ago for the initial Black Radio. Ledisi has been nominated here twice in the past five years. Price has been nominated once. Blacc’s album spawned a Top 10 hit, "The Man."

Several other albums also have a shot at a nomination. Tank was nominated last year as part of the TGT triumvirate. He’s in the running this year for Stronger. Jennifer Hudson’s eponymous debut album won in this category for 2008, but her latest, JHUD, didn’t have the same impact.

Also: Sharon Jones & the Dap-KingsGive the People What They Want, Joe’s Bridges, Kem’s Promise to Love, Chris Jasper’s The One, Chuck Brown and the Chuck Brown Band’s Beautiful Life, Jennifer Holliday’s The Song Is You, Calvin Richardson’s I Am Calvin, Candice Glover’s Music Speaks and Ruben Studdard’s Unconditional Love.

Two albums that were widely seen as duds—Mariah Carey’s Me. I Am Mariah…the Elusive Chanteuse and Robin Thicke’s Paula—have little chance of being nominated. This just wasn’t Thicke’s year.

Best Urban Contemporary Album
Beyoncé
could add to her crowded trophy case, which already houses 17 Grammys. Her eponymous album, which spent its first three weeks at #1, is a front-runner in this category. Beyoncé’s first three albums won for Best Contemporary R&B Album. In addition, Beyonce was a double winner at the BET Awards in June. She took Best Female R&B/Pop Artist and Best Collaboration (for "Drunk in Love," featuring Jay Z).

Pharrell WilliamsG I R L will give BEYONCÉ a run for its money. Williams became a household name this year, with a #1 smash, four Grammys and an Oscar nomination. He was also a double winner at the BET Awards. He took Best Male R&B/Pop Artist and Best Video (for "Happy").



Chris Brown’s X is also likely to be nominated. His 2011 album F.A.M.E. won Best R&B Album. He was nominated for Best Male R&B/Pop Artist at the BET Awards, but lost to Williams.

Five albums are battling for the two remaining two slots: Jhené Aiko’s Sail Out, August Alsina’s Testimony, R. Kelly’s Black Panties, Trey Songz’s Trigga and Prince’s Art Official Age.

Aiko and Alsina were nominated for Best Female and Male R&B/Pop Artist, respectively, at the BET Awards. Both took home trophies in other categories. Aiko won the Centric Award for "The Worst." Alsina won Best New Artist and the Coca-Cola Viewers’ Choice Award for "I Luv This Shit" (featuring Trinidad Jame$).

R. Kelly has been nominated for Best R&B Album or Best Contemporary R&B Album three times in the past five years. Songz was nominated once for Best Contemporary R&B Album. Also, Trigga was a #1 album.

Also possible: Marsha Ambrosius’s Friends & Lovers, Ashanti’s Braveheart, Majid Jordan’s A Place Like This and Rico Love’s Discrete Luxury.

Justin Bieber’s Journals was entered in this category, rather than Best Pop Vocal Album. It has little chance of landing a nomination, but it’s kind of a compliment that the R&B committee accepted the album in urban contemporary rather than kicking it over to pop.
 

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