Grammys 2015: Rap album nods spark controversy -- again

Grammys 2015: Rap album nods spark controversy -- again
Iggy Azalea performs at the Made in America festival at Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 30. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Last time around, the race for Grammy rap album proved to be so hotly contested its eventual winner, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, wound up apologizing to leading favorite Kendrick Lamar.

And for the second year in a row, the rap album category has sparked controversy.


Why? The inclusion of blonde, pop-leaning Australian "rapper" Iggy Azalea.

It should be no surprise that Azalea is in the running. She had a massive year with a handful of smash hits, including “Fancy” (it’s up for record of the year), and now leads the pack of femcees releasing music in the wake of Nicki Minaj’s success.

But like Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, rap fans have labeled her as "too pop" to be considered true to the genre.

Even more, critics have accused Azalea of pilfering the nuances of her flow from Southern hip-hop stylings -- although it should be noted that when she ran away from her native country to America as a teen she lived in Houston and Atlanta, major hotbeds of the style she channels.

After the nominations were announced Friday on Twitter -- Childish GambinoCommonEminemScHoolboy Q and Wiz Khalifa are also up for the award -- the rap category was one of few that captured users' attention and became a trending topic.

Strong efforts from YG, Rick RossJeezyPusha T and Ab-Soul were snubbed, giving those unhappy with Azalea’s nominations plenty to complain about.

It's telling that Grammy voters failed to recognize her in other rap categories ("Fancy" is up for pop duo performance).

Azalea has felt the fury of her peers in the music game since "Fancy" exploded onto pop charts, but huffs have gotten especially louder this week and for an entirely different reason.

Azealia Banks admonished the rapper for not taking to Twitter following recent protests in the wake of recent grand jury decisions not to indict white officers who killed unarmed black men. "Black Culture is cool, but black issues sure aren't huh?" she tweeted.

And J. Cole, a noticeable snub in the category last year, forecast a repeat controversy on his recently leaked track, “Fire Squad," with a seething verse that calls out Azalea and Macklemore.

"History repeats itself and that's just how it goes / Same way that these rappers always bite each other's flows / Same thing that my … Elvis did with rock 'n' roll / Justin Timberlake, Eminem, and then Macklemore," he rapped.  "Look around my … white people have snatched the sound  /  This year I'll probably go to the awards dappered down / Watch Iggy win a Grammy as I try to crack a smile."

Controversy aside, the race is rife with striking narratives.

While Azalea's "The New Classic" wasn't a hit with critics, or commercially, her nod makes her only the fourth female to be in the category since it was established in 1995 behind Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott, Eve and Nicki Minaj.

If she takes the award, she would be both the first female solo artist to win (Lauryn Hill as part of the Fugees in 1997) and the second import act, after Canadian rap-singer Drake, to walk away with the trophy.

A win for Eminem's "The Marshall Mathers LP 2" further extends his reigning record for most wins in this category – he's currently at five – but it would happen with an album that, despite its commercial success, doesn't have the critical impact of previous works.

After ignoring Lamar last year, voters could award his fellow TDE cohort Schoolboy Q for his lauded major label debut and make up for failing to crack the new artist race.

Gambino or Khalifa would be first-time winners if they take the trophy. As would Common, who has lost the award three other times and has a strong shot with his inspired 10th album, "Nobody's Smiling."

One narrative we wished voters would have made happen?

An album nod for Lecrae's masterful "Anomaly," which became the first album by a Christian rap artist to hit No. 1 when it was released in September. He's the only rapper to ever be awarded a Grammy for Gospel album. His single, "All I Need Is You" is up for rap performance against Gambino, Drake, Eminem and Lamar.