The moment rap boycotted the Grammys
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The moment rap boycotted the Grammys

Musicians across the world have always respected the Grammys, and for decades, it has been the most prestigious award an artist can earn in the music business. However, hip-hop’s relationship with the ceremony has always been rocky.

Rap music wasn’t always mainstream, and for a long time, the Grammys rejected the notion hip-hop was a credible genre worthy of an award. However, in 1989, the establishment could no longer ignore the popularity of rap and decided to (begrudgingly) give rap its own category.

The burgeoning popularity of hip-hop music in America saw 1989 become the first year rappers could potentially earn a Grammy award. 1989 was a year full of fantastic music. From De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising to Big Daddy Kane’s It’s A Big Daddy Thing, there was a plethora of material to choose from. 

Among the nominations were LL Cool J, Kool Moe Dee, DJ Jazzy & The Fresh Prince, Salt-N-Pepa and JJ Fad. However, a culture-wide movement to boycott the awards emerged after it was announced that the establishment had chosen the hip-hop award not to be a televised category. 

As a milestone in hip-hop history, many MCs took it as a sign of disrespect when the Grammys insinuated that the genre wasn’t worth being broadcast. As a result, the whole of hip-hop pulled together to make sure the boycott got media attention.

In his 2021 autobiography, Will, Will Smith, who had been nominated in 1989, detailed the boycott, writing, “Russell Simmons and Lyor Cohen organized the boycott, along with Salt-N-Pepa, Ice-T, Public Enemy, Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick, Stetsasonic, and many others, so even though we weren’t at the Grammys, Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince were everywhere else.”

One individual who helped change the Grammy’s perspective moving forward was the head of Rush Management and Def Jam’s publicity department, Bill Adler, who in a note to The Today Show and the establishment at large, expressed, “However exotic they might seem to the rest of us, acts like Run-DMC, LL Cool J, Eric B. and Rakim, Public Enemy, and EMPD are the Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, James Brown, Bob Dylan, and Joe Tex of the day. They are ‘the sound of young America.”

You can hear more about the 1989 Grammy boycott in the video below.