Wu-Tang Clan rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard isn’t the only one upset by the Grammy picks in urban music categories. (At Wednesday night’s ceremony, O.D.B. hijacked Wyclef Jean’s mic and badmouthed the choice of Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs’s “No Way Out” for Best Rap Album, explaining that “Wu-Tang is the best.”) Earlier in the week, an all-star panel at Manhattan’s Planet Hollywood – including Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, Stevie Wonder and the ubiquitous Combs – discussed the state of rap, R&B and the Grammys.
Urban music, which includes R&B, hip-hop, gospel and jazz, accounts for 35% of the music industry’s $13 billion yearly take. Yet participation by urban artists in the National Academy of Arts & Sciences (NARAS), which organizes the Grammys, is low. According to those assembled at Planet Hollywood, this accounts for the puzzlement that occurs when the nominations are announced. “How did they get nominated?” asked Edmonds, mockingly describing his reaction to some of the annual choices. Jimmy Jam, producer for Janet Jackson and others, attributed out-of-touch nominations to voter laziness. “When you’ve got a list of over 200 names, you usually pick the one you recognize,” he said.
Sylvia Rhone, president of Elektra Records, suggested that artists stop complaining and get involved. “Instead of pointing the finger and blaming somebody else, take responsibility,” said Rhone. The first step? Joining NARAS, which requires a performer to have just six commercial songs for membership – roughly one album.
Panelist Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott ‘fessed up that she hadn’t been aware of the rules of NARAS membership and pledged to join. Combs promised to have all of his Bad Boy Records artists registered “within the next two weeks.” NARAS CEO Michael Greene praised the artists’ resolve. “The only way to keep the Grammys relevant is to continuously pump new blood into the industry,” said Green. “Six songs is all it takes.” That’s barely a week’s work for Combs.