Tom Fords and Thrift Shops: The 2014 Grammy Awards

Jay Z and Kanye
“I’m not a businessman/I’m a business, man” – Jay-Z
Jay-Z and Kanye: Roc-A-Fella Reunited in Opposite Directions
Jay-Z’s “businessman/business, man” lyric off Kanye West’s “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” remix was, in the words of Nas, a “hot line”. Jay-Z was coming off the Roc-A-Fella Records break up with Dame Dash when the song released in 2005. Fans like myself stayed up all night wondering what would happen to the latest Rocawear line, ROC Films production company, and most importantly, Armadale Vodka (Rocawear and Armadale still exist, while ROC Films’ last release was the college stoner’s bonafide classic “State Property 2”. The Dame/Jay-Z split also foreshadowed internet memes – were you #TeamDame or #TeamJay-Z?). What we couldn’t foresee was how over the next eight years, that line became more prophetic than wordplay.
From the album title to the three minute long commercial/short film that played during halftime of Game 5 of the NBA Final, to Timbaland, Pharrell, and Rick Rubin production, to its early July 4th release on the Samsung Galaxy 4 ensuring it was the first album to go platinum before its release date, everything about “Magna Carta Holy Grail” felt like an event. Leading the way with nine Grammy Award nominations, Jay-Z demonstrated not only how to “move in a room full of vultures” – he showed how to turn the vultures in your favor.
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Kanye West, on the other hand, received two Grammy nominations, for best rap song with “New Slaves”, and Yeezus for Best Rap Album. Yet two nominations weren’t enough as Yeezus was a fixture on year end top 5 lists.
Kanye was the biggest star of 2013. Like big brother, every tweet/interview/art piece/live show/album became trending topic/meme/art piece/event. But whereas Jay-Z finessed his way through the vultures in the room, Kanye chose to confront each one. I figure Kanye views not being nominated for every category that the industry isn’t ready for his vision, thereby showing how he needs to have an even larger voice and influence, that he needs to further stretch his futurist aesthetic. If Jay-Z controls the chessboard, Kanye handcrafted and put gold chains on all the pieces. Even when he loses, he still wins.
The Macklemore Elephant in the Room
I heard about Macklemore years before he blew up. Not on a “I know more underground shit than you” level, but because he was a rapper from the Northwest. And when you grow up as a hip hop fan in the Northwest, you know of rappers from the Northwest.
I knew being a white rapper would be an issue for Macklemore, but thought that it might be the second or third sentence of his national profile. Macklemore has other talking points – he’s from Seattle, raps about NOT doing drugs, and writes popular songs supporting gay marriage. He created his own lane – and therein lies the problem. He’s hip hop, but there was always going to be a disconnect due to the extra attention he received outside of music.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis received seven nominations, including song of the year and album of the year. If the duo wins best rap album and best rap song over Kendrick Lamar, Kanye, and Jay-Z, the divide grows deeper. Or maybe it doesn’t – maybe the focus becomes how a song about gay marriage demonstrates how diverse hip hop is, and can be. Or maybe winning a Grammy Award doesn’t move the conversation either way. Sometimes you win, and you still lose.
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No Love for Miley
Miley Cyrus rivaled Kanye West for 2013 Twitter MVP.
She took her middle finger to the top. She twerked on stage with cats. She twerked on Robin Thicke. She smoked a joint on an award show. She stuck her tongue out like Jordan. She sang a hook about smoking purple in a club while wearing a pair of Jordan’s (twerking + weed + Jordan’s = the jab + cross + left hook of 2013 popular culture). While that same combination inspires think pieces, trending topics, and Vine loops, Miley Cyrus received no Grammy nominations. Sure, cue the criticism that award shows are out of touch with what’s cool and hip – but who blinks first?
Is Miley a musician? A provocateur? A genius who tapped into a nerve? Do the answers even matter? After all, this is an era where albums are disposable but GIFs live forever.
Finally, we discuss how much the Grammy Awards, just like every award show, actually matter. REAL music heads are still unraveling Tim Hecker’s latest masterpiece or are too busy getting high and tweeting “Migos >>> Beethoven” to notice.
But award shows are symbolic of the era. The easy narrative is the battle between Jay-Z’s Tom Ford suits vs. Macklemore’s thrift shop come ups – music for the person we aspire to be vs. the music for who we are now. Regardless, in 2013, Jay-Z wasn’t just a business – he was the industry, man.

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