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Grammy countdown: Grammys slow hip-hop embrace

February 4, 2009 |  3:37 pm

Grammy voters have a long history of trying to correct past mistakes. See last year, when Herbie Hancock took album of the year for his "River: The Joni Letters," his first-ever win in the category. Or in 2005, when Ray Charles' "Genius Loves Company" took top honors. One can even go back a little further to 2001, when Steely Dan won for "Two Against Nature."

Prior to releasing their Grammy-winning albums (Charles passed away a few months before the release of "Genius Loves Company"), all of the aforementioned artists had a lengthy body of work full of esteemed albums. The pattern may continue this year. Robert Plant is nominated for his collaboration with Alison Krauss, "Raising Sand," and the Led Zeppelin legend has just two Grammys to his name.

But giving the award to Lil Wayne for his "Tha Carter III" may also be an attempt to right a few wrongs. Grammy voters haven't exactly taken to hip-hop in its top categories, nor do they often reward artists as sexually explicit as Lil Wayne.

Yet just as record sales are dropping, TV ratings for the Grammys are trending down. The Grammys could benefit from a dose of relevancy, especially after favoring Hancock's "River: The Joni Letters" over Kanye West's electronic-infused hip-hop of "Graduation."

It is, admittedly, a long shot. After all, while West's ego swells by the hour, his music is relatively tame compared to that of Lil Wayne. West, for instance, is a regular performer on the Grammys (he'll be there again this year), but most of Lil Wayne's biggest hits aren't fit for prime-time viewing. And the Grammys are still an organization that didn't have a best rap album category until 1996.

So, Lil Wayne winning album of the year? That wouldn't just be a surprise, it would be a Grammy landmark. Here's a brief look back at how hip-hop has fared in Grammy's top category.

1991 Grammy Awards
MC Hammer's "Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em" becomes the first hip-hop record to garner an album of the year nomination, one of five Grammy noms. The light-footed rapper became a crossover sensation thanks to such hits as "U Can't Touch This" and "Pray." Hammer loses to "Back on the Block" from Quincy Jones, an album that features guest appearances from hip-hop stars such as Ice-T, Big Daddy Kane and Kool Moe Dee.

1993 Grammy Awards
Just because it was a few years before another rap act scored an album of the year nod, it didn't mean Grammy was ignoring the category. Earthy Southern rappers Arrested Development won best new artist.

1994 Grammy Awards

Nothing again in the album of the year field, where the soundtrack to "The Bodyguard" takes top honors. But jazzy hip-hop act Digable Planets scores a best new artist nod and loses to Toni Braxton.

1997 Grammy Awards
Hip-hop trio The Fugees earn an album of the year nomination for "The Score." It loses to Celine Dion's "Falling Into You "but establishes an identity for vocalist Lauryn Hill with Recording Academy voters.

1999 Grammy Awards
The Fugees' Lauryn Hill went solo and set a record. With "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill," she became the first female solo artist to win five awards in one night -- a feat matched last year by Amy Winehouse. Her album, a blend of R&B and hip-hop, is the first hip-hop release to win album of the year, besting Madonna's "Ray of Light" and Sheryl Crow's "The Globe Sessions," among others. Hill is also named best new artist.

2001 Grammy Awards
Grammy voters nominate the top-selling but controversial album from Detroit rapper Eminem, "The Marshall Mathers LP," for album of the year, meaning Eminem accomplishes something his mentor, Dr. Dre, has not. The album loses to Steely Dan's "Two Against Nature," but Eminmen, who was charged as being homophobic, performs on the telecast with Elton John.

2002 Grammy Awards
Hip-hop is starting to make a regular showing in Grammy's top category. Atlanta duo OutKast snares an album of the year nod for its adventurous "Stankonia," but Grammy voters go a more traditional route, giving the award to the soundtrack to "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" The latter features multiple tracks by Alison Krauss.

2003 Grammy Awards
It's Eminem's turn again. The rapper is nominated for "The Eminem Show" but loses to Norah Jones' "Come Away With Me." The latter ties Hill's record for five wins by a female solo artist in one night.

2004 Grammy Awards
If Hill's "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" pulled from R&B and soul as much as hip-hop, 2004's album of the year winner was equally as genre-hopping, if not more so. OutKast takes home the top prize with the double-disc "Speakerboxx/The Love Below," an album bolstered by the massive crossover success of single "Hey Ya!"


2005 Grammy Awards
And so begins the Kanye West era. The Chicago-bred rapper scored a whopping 10 nominations with his "The College Dropout," an album that celebrates his middle-class background and taps vintage soul samples. In addition to album of the year, West was also up for best new artist. He loses both. Album of the year goes to Charles' "Genius Loves Company," and best new artist went to Maroon 5.

2006 Grammy Awards
West certainly has the attention of Recording Academy voters. His "Late Registration" helps him brings in eight nominations, and many critics see the album as one that took more risks than "College Dropout," as West collaborated with producer Jon Brion for a more organic, orchestrated feel. Prior to the Grammys, the rapper tells MTV that if he "doesn't win album of the year, I'm gonna really have a problem with that." He doesn't. The award goes to "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" by U2.

2007 Grammy Awards
No West record, and, therefore, no hip-hop album gets nominated for album of the year.

2008 Grammy Awards
This time, there is another album from West. His "Graduation" sees the artist going again in a new direction, taking on more electronic and rock sounds. Nevertheless, West's eight nominations don't result in an album of the year win. He loses to Hancock.

--Todd Martens

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Related: Grammy countdown: Coldplay versus Mraz in best song race?

Related: Grammy countdown: Album of the year an easy one to call?
Related: Grammy countdown: A surprise record-of-the-year win for M.I.A.?

Photo, top: Lil Wayne / Stefano Paltera / For The Times

Photo, bottom: Kanye West / Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times