On Sunday night, for the first time in history, a rapper won the Grammy for Song of the Year, but even after tonight, no rapper has ever stood at the podium to accept the award. That’s because, after years of rappers coming out to represent the genre that’s driven more musical innovation than any other this century only to be snubbed (no rapper has ever won Record of the Year, either, and Album of the Year hasn’t gone to a rapper since André 3000 picked up a guitar in 2004), many have simply stopped showing up. (Update: In another first, Gambino has now won Record of the Year, too, for the same song. He wasn’t there to receive that, either.)
Childish Gambino, along with Drake and Kendrick Lamar, was offered an opportunity to perform on “music’s biggest night,” but all three rappers, despite being nominated in many of the year’s biggest categories, turned the Grammys down. Other megastars, such as Jay-Z and Kanye West, the two most awarded rappers in Grammy history, didn’t seem to be in attendance, either. After being openly critical of the Grammys for years, and not just for failing to recognize his own genius, West stopped attending in 2015, even as he continued to rake in nominations. (This year his nominations included one for Producer of the Year.) Last year, Jay-Z attended, only to get blanked in all eight categories in which he was nominated, prompting him to put the Grammys on blast in one of the most-discussed music videos of the year. It was all enough to make Slate’s music critic wonder why these rappers were still showing up.
One rapper who did show up (even if he didn’t perform) was Drake, but the Grammys may wish he hadn’t. After learning that he won Best Rap Song for “God’s Plan,” the most popular artist in the world made a surprise appearance from backstage, walking out only to explain how little the award now means to the genre that it has taken for granted:
Man, um, it’s like the first time in Grammys history where I actually am who I thought I was for a second, so I like that, that is really nice. I definitely is not think I was winning anything …
I want to take this opportunity while I’m up here to talk to all the kids watching, that are aspiring to do music, all my peers that make music from their heart, that do things pure and tell the truth. I want to let you know we play in an opinion-based sport, not a factual-based sport. So this is not the NBA where at the end of the idea you’re holding a trophy because you made the right decisions or won the games. This is a business where sometimes it is up to a bunch of people that might not understand what a mixed-race kid from Canada has to say or a fly Spanish girl from New York [Cardi B] or anybody else, or a brother from Houston right there, my brother Travis [Scott]. But look, the point is, you’ve already won if you have people who are singing your songs word for word, if you are a hero in your hometown. Look, look if there are people who have regular jobs who are coming out in the rain, in the snow, spending their hard-earned money to buy tickets to come to your shows, you don’t need this right here, I promise you, you already won.
And at that moment, as if to underline Drake’s point, the Grammys cut him off to go to commercial.