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Amid an exciting year for hip-hop, consider Eminem's Grammy snub a relief

Amid an exciting year for hip-hop, consider Eminem's Grammy snub a relief
Eminem has been king of the rap album race since his 1999 breakthrough. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

For close to two decades, Eminem has been a perennial favorite among Grammy voters – particularly in rap categories where he’s long dominated.

Ever since his breakthrough with 1999’s “The Slim Shady LP,” Eminem has been king of the rap album race. He’s collected the award seven times, the most of any rapper in history.

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But that won’t happen in 2019.

For the first time in his career, he was snubbed for a rap album nomination in a year in which he was eligible with two projects — last year’s “Revival” and “Kamikaze,” a surprise release he dropped over the summer.

Not nominating Eminem for either project is, frankly, the smartest thing Grammy voters could have done.

Eminem is one of the greatest emcees on the planet. But let’s agree to agree that his track record has been spotty for much of the past decade — and that’s putting it nicely.

No one can discount the output from the “Rap God,” but wins for muddy releases like “Relapse” and “The Marshall Mathers LP 2,” in particular, felt more like the voting body favoring name recognition over innovation.

His latest releases, for all the hype surrounding both, came and went. Collaborations with Beyoncé and Ed Sheeran, as well as a savvy marketing plan, made “Revival” feel like an event release. But its bloated tracklist and tired offerings made it a snooze. Eminem made up for it with “Kamikaze,” which showed his prowess as a muscular wordsmith, but it was far from his best work.

It would have been hard to take the rap race seriously if either of Eminem’s projects made it in over Travis Scott, the late Mac Miller, Pusha T or Nipsey Hussle – emcees who released some of the year’s most assured and adventurous projects, which would have surely been overlooked if voters made room for their favorite.

Aside from Eminem, there were plenty of snubs that will surely divide rap heads.

Late controversial rapper XXXTentacion felt like a sure thing, as did J. Cole and Lil Wayne, who all put out some of the year’s finest rap albums, but they did not earn nods. Neither did Migos, who are one of the biggest groups out right now. Nor did genre disrupters like Juice WRLD, Lil Pump, Noname, Brockhampton or Tierra Whack — artists who would have shown voters were game to make some inspired choices at a time when there’s so much great hip-hop arriving at a mind-blowing pace.

Sure to be controversial was the overlooking of Nicki Minaj’s “Queen” and Kanye West’s “Ye.”

Both had some of the most polarizing rollouts in their respective careers — with West unveiling his album in the middle of a field in Wyoming and Minaj dominating the news cycle with a ferocious feud with Cardi B — and it’s the first time they’ve put out records denied by voters in this category (next to Jay-Z and Eminem, West has scored the most nominations in this category).

West’s snub is especially surprising.

While his political views and outlandish interviews sparked much derision among his fanbase and the public, this year saw him at his most creative as he bunkered down inside a remote studio in Wyoming’s Jackson Hole valley and oversaw production on a slew of projects, including “Ye,” a joint release with Kid Cudi as Kids See Ghosts, and albums from Teyana Taylor, Nas and Pusha T. All of the projects were well-received, but only Pusha T’s “Daytona” landed a nomination.

West did, however, score a nod for producer of the year for his work behind the boards this year.

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That said, this year’s competition for rap album is as fierce as it could have been.

Cardi B could make history as the first woman to win the award as a solo artist (Lauryn Hill, sadly, remains the only woman to win as her group the Fugees took the honor in 1997). Given that Cardi’s debut, “Invasion of Privacy,” also landed a nod for album of the year, she’s got a particular edge here, as voters are clearly familiar with her meteoric rise.

Travis Scott, Pusha T and Nipsey Hussle’s albums have been among the most beloved rap releases this year, and Miller’s “Swimming” showed an artist evolving his craft before his tragic death a few months after the album’s release.

Ultimately, it’s anyone’s guess who will win. Without Eminem weighing them down, they’ve all got a much better shot.

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