As part of an ongoing commitment to “evolve with the musical landscape,” the Grammys unveiled a number of key changes to their annual award categories this week.
On Wednesday, the Recording Academy announced plans to rebrand its Best Urban Contemporary Album category as Best Progressive R&B Album, so that “albums that include the more progressive elements of R&B and may include samples and elements of hip-hop, rap, dance, and electronic music” can also be honored.
Similarly, the Best Rap/Sung Performance category is being changed to Best Melodic Rap Performance in an effort to “represent the inclusivity of the growing hybrid performance trends within the rap genre.”
The changes are effective immediately and will be observed at the 63rd Grammy Awards, scheduled for Jan. 31.
In a statement, the Recording Academy’s interim president and CEO, Harvey Mason Jr., said the changes were made “to ensure the Grammy Awards are inclusive and reflect the current state of the music industry.”
He told Variety in an interview that the revamped categories are part of what he hopes “will be a new chapter in our history,” adding, “We’re trying to make sure we’re able to pivot and change and adapt; and we want to be really inclusive.”
In January, Lizzo won Best Urban Contemporary Album for “Cuz I Love You,” while DJ Khalid’s “Higher,” featuring Nipsey Hussle and John Legend, nabbed Best Rap/Sung Performance.
The news comes days after Republic Records ― home to Drake, Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift ― announced that it will no longer classify artists as “urban.”
“We encourage the rest of the music industry to follow suit as it is important to shape the future of what we want it to look like, and not adhere to outdated structures of the past,” the label wrote on Instagram over the weekend.
The term “urban” has, in recent years, been criticized as an outdated and overgeneralized way to categorize music produced by Black artists. In a 2018 essay for The Guardian, British academic and author Kehinde Andrews wrote that the word “stands in for Black and comes with all the same stereotypes.”
Musician Tyler, the Creator offered a similar take at the 2020 Grammy Awards last January. After receiving the Best Rap Album award for 2019’s “Igor,” he criticized the Recording Academy for consistently placing “guys that look like me” in the rap and urban categories.
“I don’t like that ‘urban’ word,” the 29-year-old said. “It’s just a politically correct way to say the N-word to me. So when I hear that, I’m just like, ‘Why can’t we just be in pop?’ So half of me feels like the rap nomination was a backhanded compliment.”
Interestingly, “urban” won’t be completely absent from the Grammy vocabulary. While the Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album category has been renamed the Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album, the Best Latin Pop Album will now be known Best Latin Pop or Urban Album.
Mason told Rolling Stone that the decision to maintain “urban” here was to reflect “música urbana,” used for classifying Latin genres.
Entertainment critics, however, have been similarly wary of that term’s use with regard to Latin music. To that end, Mason noted, “We understand that in the current climate, sentiment might be changing. We are continuing to follow the conversation and are committed to making necessary adjustments.”
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