Let me be perfectly frank and say that I do hold some bias since the focus of this piece has to do with my favorite band. However, I believe that the case that I’m making cannot be ignored, even by those who may disagree with me. Now, when it comes to judging quality hip-hop, I gave up on the Grammys a while ago. During the early years of the “Best Rap Album” category, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences had done a pretty good job of selecting the winner, especially given the quality of albums being released at the time. Every time I look at he 2006 nominees, I can never make up my mind as to which album should win. However in recent years, in my opinion starting in 2007, the NARAS started making some questionable calls. Now I could break down my grievances with the chosen winner year-by-year, but for the sake of time and space I’m going to jump straight to the point. Its seems that the winner in the Best Rap Album category is based more on their name and how many records they sell than how good the album actually is. This year, the NARAS has a very unique opportunity to fulfill the purpose of the Grammys: rewarding the best in each category. Among the nominees for best Rap Album, there is one clear choice to win. Simply put, if undun by The Roots doesn’t win Best Rap Album, there is no hope for the Grammys.
The reason why I say that the NARAS has such a unique opportunity is because there's a glaringly obvious choice when it comes for who should win Best Rap Album. Lets take a look at the nominees shall, we? First we have Based on a T.R.U. Story by 2 Chainz and God Forgives, I Don’t by Rick Ross. These two albums represent everything that I absolutely HATE about hip-hop today: ignorance, lack of substance, unoriginal & generic beats, and just an overall lack of talent. Next up is Take Care by Drake. This album is just Drake whining, whining about things that I couldn’t care less about. If there's one thing that I can’t stand in a musician, it’s a whiner, especially considering the fact that Drake has absolutely nothing to whine about. He’s making millions of dollars despite the fact that he’s decent, at best, at what he does. Had he been born 20 years ago, there’d be no chance in hell for him to have a career. If anything, Drake should be celebrating because he's made more money than others who have ten-times more talent than him, including the next three nominees, one of them being Lupe Fiasco. His latest album, Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1, is a great improvement over his previous record, which his loyal fan base decried as an abomination. However, Food & Liquor II did not quite live up to the hype surrounding its release. You can only say “America sucks” so many times before it gets tiresome. If you want to listen to an album with the same idea but with much better execution, check out Mourning in America & Dreaming in Color by Brother Ali. The next nominee is Life Is Good by Nas. Unlike the previous nominees, there isn’t much to criticize about this record. Nas shows why he is one of the greatest MC’s of all time in an album that I believe is his best since Illmatic. The lyricism is on point and the production is a welcome break from bass-heavy and commercialized garbage that plagues most of hip-hop today. If Life Is Good and the preceding albums were the only nominees for Best Rap Album I would say that Nas deserves to win his first Grammy for Best Rap Album. However, there is one more album that is head and shoulders above the rest: undun by The Roots.
I started this off by saying that I was approaching this topic with a bit of bias because The Roots are my favorite band. However, I challenge anyone to listen to their latest album, undun, and try to tell me that it’s not the best hip-hop album of the past year. undun (lower-case “u” is intentional) is a concept album, meaning that all of the songs on the record are unified by a central theme and tell a story. undun tells the tale of Redford Stevens, a fictional character from West Philadelphia who becomes a drug dealer and ultimately loses his life. However, unlike most concept albums, undun is told in reverse-chronological order, starting with Redford’s death and ending with his ascent to the life of a drug dealer. The artistry exhibited on this record is simply unmatched by the other nominees. The lyricism of Black Thought, The Roots’ MC, paints an incredibly vivid picture of the life of an inner-city African-American youth struggling for a way out but failing to do so. That coupled with the always-brilliant musicality of Julliard-graduate, drummer Questlove creates a record that is both intellectually stimulating and sonically pleasing. The Roots have had four of their albums nominated for Best Rap Album, tying them with Missy Elliott for most nominations without a win. However, without a shadow of a doubt, the NARAS must award undun the Grammy for Best Rap Album or they will lose what little credibility they still have in hip-hop.