#Grammys Embrace Rap, Celebrate 15-Minute Hip-Hop Tribute
From Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five to Queen Latifah, the 2023 Grammy Awards celebrated 50 years of hip-hop with an unforgettable 15-minute tribute. As Dr. Dre accepted an innovator’s award, he asked a question that many in the industry have been asking for decades: “Where would a lot of people in here be without hip-hop?” It was a night that seemed to signal a new era of acceptance and respect between the Grammys and rap music.
In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the 15-minute tribute to hip-hop, the record-breaking haul for Beyoncé, Bonnie Raitt’s triumph, Noah’s night as host, Harry Style’s win, Kim Petras’ moment, and the introduction of real people to the show.
##A 15-Minute Hip-Hop Tribute
The 15-minute Questlove-curated travel through time was a joy that brought dozens of stars to the stage, including Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, Run-DMC, Public Enemy, Ice T, Missy Elliott, Queen Latifah, Method Man, Salt-N-Pepa … the list goes on, and still there were those you wished were there.
Nearly as important was the eight-minute version of DJ Khaled’s “God Did” that closed the show — Khaled took public note of the length — that featured a spellbinding appearance by Jay-Z. Quavo’s tribute to Takeoff of Migos was arguably the highlight of a packed and memorable “in memoriam” segment to artists who died over the past year. Kendrick Lamar gave an incisive acceptance speech after “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” won a Grammy for best rap album, his third trophy in this category. It was a night it seemed the Grammys finally accepted rap as music’s dominant form.
##Beyoncé’s Record-Breaking Haul
Beyoncé took a place in history on Sunday when her four Grammys gave her a career total of 32, better than anyone else. The Grammys have a clear pecking order, with four of its awards the most prestigious: song, record and album of the year, and best new artist. Beyoncé has won only one of those awards, when “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” was named top song in 2010. She’s been nominated eight times for record of the year, and never won.
Her most memorable Grammy moments came when two peers stood onstage with their own trophies and saluted her: when Adele said Beyonce’s “Lemonade” should have won instead of her in 2017, and Sunday when Lizzo spoke of skipping school in fifth grade to see Beyoncé perform. Thirty-two trophies. It’s still hard to shake an empty feeling.
##Bonnie Raitt’s Triumph
It may take Bonnie Raitt a few days to lose that look of shock. The 73-year-old guitarist won best song for “Just Like That,” a piece inspired by a story of a heart transplant, where she tried to emulate the writing style of the late John Prine. It was especially gratifying because Raitt is more of an interpreter. “I don’t write a lot of songs, but I’m proud that you appreciate this one,” she said. It was 33 years after “Nick of Time” was named album of the year.
Show host Trevor Noah skillfully played the role of a fan, instead of serving snark from the stage, moving through the audience “like a floating Chinese balloon,” he said. And why not? With Adele, Lizzo, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Harry Styles and the like around, there was plenty of star power. Noah was neither insulting nor obsequious. And one delightful device — having fans talk about their favorite albums — paid off when a memorable grandma got to announce Styles’ album of the year win.
OK, while he was performing “As it Was” Styles was dressed a little like one of those holiday tinsel decorations you thought you’d put away. The smooth pop composition clearly served him well. Later, he marveled at the quality of the competition and how hard it is to pick a winner. “You never know with this stuff,” he said backstage. “I don’t think you can look at any of the nominees and not feel as if they’re deserving. I’m really grateful they chose us.”
##Kim Petras’ Moment
In accepting a Grammy for her duet on Sam Smith’s “Unholy,” Kim Petras proudly took note of her status as a transgender woman and paid tribute to heroes like the late transgender singer Sophie and Madonna. The latter returned the favor by introducing a performance of the song. Petras and Lizzo, who won record of the year for “About Damn Time,” made strong, joyful statements about accepting differences. “I felt on the outside looking in and I stayed true to myself because I wanted to make the world a better place,” Lizzo said.
One element that worked less well was an effort to have family or friends introduce performances. You lose the idea of “real people” when Madonna is one of the choices. The best was the first — Catherine Shepherd, the proud wife, and the two children of Brandi Carlile (the kids also debuted in a hotel ad). “I’m a very, very lucky queer,” Carlile said backstage.
The 2023 Grammy Awards was a night of celebration, recognition, and respect for rap music and its stars. From the 15-minute tribute to hip-hop to Beyoncé’s record-breaking haul to Bonnie Raitt’s triumph, it was a night to remember. Will rappers finally accept the Grammys? That remains to be seen.