On Tuesday, the list of artists up for Grammy Awards was officially announced — and rappers Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar received a combined 15 nominations. This may be pleasing for the people who have spent the past few years complaining about race at Hollywood award shows — but normalizing the negative messages these artists’ songs contain is concerning, especially during the current cultural crisis in which we find ourselves.
Jay-Z, who has already snagged 21 Grammy awards, received nods in eight categories. He was nominated for Record of the Year for “The Story of O.J.” The title track of the album is about former NFL running back-turned-convict O.J. Simpson. The lyrics are not wholesome and have this anti-Semitic interlude: “You wanna know what’s more important than throwin’ away money at a strip club? Credit. You ever wonder why Jewish people own all the property in America? This how they did it.”
Plus, the chorus of the song consists of a list of different word combinations that include the N-word, such as this: “Light n****” and “dark n****.”
Past lyrics spewed by Jay-Z include gems like, “You ain’t no better because you don’t be fing rappers. You only f with actors. You’re still getting f***ed backwards.”
Meanwhile, Lamar received seven Grammy nominations — including one for Record of the Year for “Humble.” At one point in the title track, he raps, “Girl, I can buy yo’ a** the world with my paystub.” (The rest is unprintable here.)
Despite these kinds of lyrics, both artists tend to receive more than their fair share of praise. At times, that praise even came from former President Barack Obama.
Last year, on Friday, October 28, to be exact, Obama took time out of his busy White House schedule to call into “Sway in the Morning” on Sirius XM channel Shade 45 — to talk about rap music. The host, Sway Calloway, asked Obama to name his favorite rappers — and the president gave him a candid response.
“Kendrick [Lamar] and Chance [the Rapper] are doing amazing work,” said Obama. “I love Drake, and the girls love Drake, so he’s commercially just doing great and [is] unbelievably talented. Jay-Z is still the king, same with Kanye [West]. But when I look at who is breaking new ground, Kendrick and Chance are doing just amazing work and they’re wonderful young men.”
Obama even made a video congratulating Jay-Z when he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame; Obama called the rapper “inspiring.”
Both Jay-Z and Lamar also reportedly visited Obama at the White House during his presidency.
Even the “experts” of the hip-hop industry are known to praise the work of both Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar.
Back in August, Vibe magazine had its editors vote on their top 44 moments in hip-hop history, and they ranked Jay-Z’s induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame as their second most favorite moment.
Earlier this year, Vibe editor Datwon Thomas praised also Lamar as someone who excels at delivering deep messages in his work.
“If we want to use things that are a little more recent,” he told Blkcreatives.com, “you would say Kendrick Lamar’s latest album [‘DAMN’] hits that sweet spot. It’s creative and it has integrity, and then it’s the right length. I think in today’s journalistic market those things aren’t always in the forefront for the people that make it … Journalists are not thinking about creativity. They’re not trying to make sure that facts are there. They’re not trying to make sure that the person reading it is getting the full experience of what they’re talking about. In this day and age, it seems to me it’s just like, ‘Yo, let’s get it out there. Get it up. Get it in front of the people. We’ll figure it out afterwards.'”
Those who are trying so desperately to paint the current president in a morally negative light are celebrating this music.
If this is the future of “quality music,” then generations to come are in trouble. The vulgar lyrics these rappers spew may poison the minds of young people for many years to come if their work remains in mainstream pop culture.
For an industry that’s trying to change when it comes to its treatment of women and its past protection of predators — it seems an odd choice to celebrate music with such blatantly misogynistic and violent lyrics.
It’s also another example of great hypocrisy — those who are trying so desperately to paint the current president in a morally negative light are celebrating this music.
Tom Joyce is a freelance writer from the South Shore of Massachusetts. He covers sports, pop culture, and politics and has contributed to The Federalist, Newsday, ESPN and other outlets.