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HIP-HOP AND R&B GRAMMY FAVORITES

With the 8/31 Grammy eligibility deadline nearly upon us, and with a majority of the streaming market still being dominated by hip-hop and R&B, here are some releases from potential nominees destined to be buzzed about in the committee process. Now, does any of this matter with the biggest hit record of all time, Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” in contention? Or does that song’s otherworldly success segue it immediately to pop and shut it out of all the black music categories? This is a question for the always-unpredictable Grammy committees.

Let’s check out some main contenders:

Tyler, The Creator f/Playboi Carti, “Earfquake” (Columbia): Tyler’s fifth studio album, IGOR, was a shrewd, stylistic leap from his previous solo efforts, and he let his core fans know that up front, warning them ahead of release, “Don’t go into this expecting a rap album.” What he did deliver, however, was a level of ingenuity and skill on par with his musical hero, Pharrell Williams. “Earfquake,” which was originally composed for Justin Bieber (who passed) and pitched to Rihanna (who also passed), gave him his first notable radio hit. Tyler is not just one of the most, he is THE MOST consistently forward-thinking, sonically revolutionary creative of his generation, and he should be recognized for this song and the album as a whole.

Khalid “Talk” (RCA): With this artfully composed gem already destined to be a timeless R&B song, Khalid could very well walk home with a Grammy in 2020, after being nominated for his first five trophies in 2018, including Best New Artist, Best R&B Song (“Location”) and Song of the Year for his work with Logic on “1-800-273-8255.” He is simply best in class both on and off the record—arranging a benefit concert to help victims of the mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso on 9/1 should have him quite top of mind during the nomination cycle. But he deserves a win and should get it this year, for all that “Talk.”

Post Malone f/Swae Lee, “Sunflower” (Republic): Post Malone has been a bit controversial for his lack of enthusiasm to be designated by what he’s clearly influenced from—black music—but this song, a spectacular collaboration that rightfully became a massive hit, deserves a nod for its R&B roots. Not to mention, Malone may be competing with himself on another eligible smash—the arguably even more urban-sounding “Wow.”

J. Cole, “Middle Child” (Dreamville/Interscope): Cole kicked off 2019 with a brutally honest, lyrically potent commentary about being caught between two divergent generations of hip-hop (hence the reference to being the “middle child”). The first single from Dreamville’s 2019 compilation album, Revenge of the Dreamers III, it was one of Cole’s biggest streaming and airplay hits to date. But more importantly, the song accurately sums up the culture’s evolutionary struggle in the SoundCloud and streaming era and the difficulty older rappers have understanding their young peers. That sentiment will resonate with a slew of Grammy voters.

DaBaby “Suge” (Interscope): This standout artist has a distinctive style that has already set him apart on his debut album, Baby on Baby: He’s hyper, aggressive, funny and charismatic but dead-serious at the same time. He busts out on beats like a racehorse—exploding from the gate with the utmost intensity and a winning pace, then sustaining that clip through the whole song—on tracks that rarely hit the three-minute mark, another component of the new style in rap. On this breakout track, the Charlotte native aspires to follow in the legendary and notorious footsteps of Death Row RecordsSuge Knight, who became CEO of the label in 1991 when he was just 26 years old, one year younger than DaBaby when he made this song.

Normani, “Dancing With a Stranger” with Sam Smith (RCA/Capitol), and “Motivation” (Keep Cool/RCA): Last August at the MTV Video Music Awards, Nicki Minaj let us all know that “Normani is THAT bitch!” in defense of a joke host Tiffany Haddish had made about Fifth Harmony, but it was prophetic nonetheless. Less than five months later, Normani was featured on Smith’s new single, a critical and commercial powerhouse Top 10 track. That success vaulted the 23-year-old singer into the mainstream and set up her next flawless move, the recently released earworm “Motivation,” accompanied by an unforgettable music video featuring eye-popping choreography with a basketball that is already iconic. Watch for Normani to be a serious contender for a Best New Artist nomination, along with noms for the collaboration with Smith, as she has indeed proven to be “that bitch.”

Summer Walker “Girls Need Love” (Remix) f/Drake (LVRN/Interscope): Walker’s spectacular debut studio album, Last Day of Summer, was launched with this song as its lead single in the fall of 2018, but it took the 2019 remix featuring Drizzy to crash through the gatekeepers at playlisting and radio, who were ALL sleeping on one of the best singer/songwriters in modern soul. An artist who puts her raw emotions and original vocal stylings on full display in her music (a quality that TDE’s SZA was championed for just a year earlier) Summer Walker is vulnerable, versatile and a very real voice for the ages.

Bruno Mars & Cardi B, “Please Me” (Atlantic): Reminiscent of those extra-saucy ’90s R&B joints, this collab—produced by The Stereotypes, with a topline written by James Fauntleroy—was an explosion of dope with a video to match, and one of the highlights of 2019. With both artists already being multiple Grammy winners, this is a probably a shoo-in for every R&B category this year.

Lizzo, “Truth Hurts” (Atlantic): “Anthem” is the keyword here, and Lizzo has an entire generation shouting that chorus at the tops of their lungs. But she backs it up with every electrifying live performance she gives, which has long been the spark of greatness igniting artist longevity.

Artists on the cusp who could walk away with Grammy nods:

Rosalía, “Aute Cuture” (Columbia): This artist is dynamically crossing over from her Spanish-language base to the mainstream following collaborations with international stars like J Balvin, Pharrell Williams, James Blake and soon, Billie Eilish. This track, which followed her 2019 reggaeton-celebrating Balvin collab, “Con Altura,” is a mocking take on high fashion that namechecks brands and features tongue-in-cheek lyrics like “Hands in the air if you’ve ever been ripped off.” Regardless of tone, however, Rosalía is one of the most exciting and unique voices in all of music, and language barriers will not contain her impending superstardom.

Steve Lacy, “N Side” (AWAL): A force to be reckoned with in R&B, Lacy is already an accomplished producer/collaborator (Solange, J. Cole, Vampire Weekend) and the guitarist/bassist for the future-forward R&B collective The Internet (Columbia), who sprang from the endlessly ingenious Odd Future community. But his debut solo album, Apollo XXI, was a funky, psychedelic work of trippy excellence that was reminiscent of early Prince records, demonstrating the crazy talent level Lacy has for his own vibes. He’ll no doubt follow Frank Ocean’s footsteps in pushing forward the genre in a fascinating way and could be a surprise Alternative R&B contender.

Anderson .Paak f/Smokey Robinson, “Make It Better” (Aftermath/12Tone): This single from the Ventura album pairs a critically acclaimed multi-instrumentalist who is on the outer edges of R&B with his quirky, jazzy interpretations of the genre with a Motown icon and legend—and the result is soulful and powerful. Look for the committee to recognize this work, even if radio and playlisters missed its merits.

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