Donning only his Golf Wang clothing collection and caressing a “Best Rap Album” Grammy in his right arm, Los Angeles-born rapper Tyler, The Creator accepted his first Grammy award for his pop-rap hybrid album, IGOR. His mother and longtime friend and collaborator, Jasper Dolphin stood beside him. The “EARFQUAKE” singer’s grill-laced smile shined brightly as he hugged his mother on stage and gave a beautiful speech ending with, “I love y’all,” raising his proudly earned award in the air.
Soon after, Tyler, The Creator had a backstage interview where he wasn’t afraid to share his opinions on the Recording Academy, even after he had just won his “Best Rap Album” award moments prior.
When asked about whether the “voting process of the Grammys” has affected his feelings towards winning the award, “I’m half and half on it. On one side I am very grateful that what I made could just be acknowledged in a world like this. But also, it sucks that whenever we—and I mean guys that look like me—do anything that’s genre-bending or that’s anything, they always put in a rap or urban category. And I don’t like that urban word. It’s just a politically correct way to say the n-word. So, when I hear that I’m just like, ‘why can’t we be in pop?’ you know what I mean?”
Let’s break this down. According to Hip Hop By The Numbers, a Twitter account that posts various statistics surrounding hip hop, Tyler, The Creator’s IGOR album was 37.1% rap and 62.9%—the Recording Academy requiring Rap Album contenders to contain at least 51% of rap “playing time.”.
So, why can’t Tyler, The Creator be in the pop category? Well, former Recording Academy president, Deborah Dugan alleged that the Academy is racist and sexist, in a 46-page charge of discrimination on January 21, 2020, shortly after her termination on January 16. This could be an explanation as to why an album with over 60% singing to dreamy pop instrumentals was slapped in the rap category.
The report goes into detail of multiple allegations against the Academy. On the seventh and eighth pages, the report recounts Drake’s infamous 2019 speech whereas he accepted the “Best Rap Song” award for “God’s Plan” his mic was abruptly cut off, the broadcast of the show then being sent to commercial break.
The rapper said, “We play an opinion-based sport, not a factual-based sport. This is a business where sometimes it’s up to a bunch of people that might not understand what a mixed-race kid from Canada might have to say or a fly Spanish girl from New York,” before he was cut off.
In a statement given to Variety, the Academy said, “During Drake’s speech, there was a natural pause and at that moment the producers did assume that he was done and then cut to commercial,” then continued, “However the producers did speak with Drake following his speech and did offer him to come back on stage to finish whatever his thoughts were. But Drake said he was happy with what he said and didn’t have anything to add.”
This is only one instance. On the 29th page the report states, “By way of example only, one Black woman who worked for the Academy’s museum was immediately fired after she began to raise concerns about diversity at the Academy.”
There are too many accusations of racism for all of this to be a coincidence. In the same year of Drake’s speech mishap, Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino declined to be performers for the awards and also chose not to attend the show.
Tyler, The Creator went on to say, “Half of me feels like the rap nomination was a backhanded compliment, like, ‘Oh, my little cousin wants to play the game. Let’s give him the unplugged controller so he can shut up and feel good about it. That’s what it felt like, a bit. But another half of me is very grateful that the art that I made could be acknowledged on a level like this one. I don’t do the radio stuff, I’m not played in Target. I’m in a whole different world than what a lot of people here listen to.”
The Academy is no stranger to prejudice, and Tyler, The Creator being nominated in the rap category is another example. While host Alicia Keys sang about being outside of boxes, the Academy yearned to put Tyler and other artists in one. Tyler, The Creator is no stranger to being confident in his uniqueness. Adopting a platinum blonde bowl cut wig for the entire IGOR era is only one of his many mold-breaking choices. But just because he isn’t as commercial-friendly or digestible as other cookie-cutter pop artists, does not mean he can’t have a piece of the pop music pie.
Even his 2017 release Flower Boy had many pop references weaved throughout! Pop-soul singer Rex Orange County had two features on the album, with Corinne Bailey Ray and Anna of the North singing on it as well.
The Academy can’t stand when people speak up about the discrimination in the music industry, it’s no wonder that Taylor Swift (another A-lister) skipped the ceremony this year and scrapped her live performance.
Hopefully, Dugan’s charge was not in vain, and from multiple controversies surrounding the ceremony, the Academy will step up, admit their wrongs, and change. Until then, we can be proud of artists like Tyler, The Creator who are not afraid to speak their truth—even if it costs them.
Featured image via Tyler, The Creator Grammy TV/Radio Room Interview