This Sunday, February 8, LL Cool J will return to host the 2015 Grammy Awards, his fourth such appearance. It’s been a while since the Radio star took home a Big G, (1997, “Hey Lover”, Best Solo Rap Performance) but he is the proud owner of two such trophies (the other for 1992’s “Mama Said Knock You Out”, same category), and has been nominated 9 times, most recently for his 11th album The DEFinition in 2005. Though “NCIS: Los Angeles” LL is rather different than the LL of “Rock the Bells,” he is truly one of the genre’s earliest, biggest and longest-lasting stars, worthy of both our fandom and our reverence.
Sunday he will play host to the 57th Annual Grammy Awards, the accolade culmination of the previous year in professional music. The biggest stories this year are the 6 nominations apiece for Pharrell, Beyonce, and British singer Sam Smith, each of whom is up for Album of the Year. Smith will look to join elite company with Christopher Cross as the only artist to win the Big 4 in the same year (Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best New Artist). Adele is the only other artist to own all four, though not in the same year. Also up for Album of the Year are Beck with Morning Phase and Ed Sheeran’s album written as “X” (but called “multiply”). It’s also worth noting that while Pharrell is up for Album of the Year with G I R L, he is also a producer on two of the other nominees’ albums in Beyonce and Ed Sheeran.
For Hip Hop heads, the big battle will be for Best Rap Album, a somewhat diverse group of nominees with two clear front-runners. Childish Gambino is nominated for his album Because the Internet as is Wiz Khalifa for Blacc Hollywood, two albums that I rocked when they came out and I was glad to see get recognition. Based on lead single “Collard Greens” I was excited for and then disappointed by Schoolboy Q’s OxyMoron, though I know there are those who disagree, and I’ve only heard a couple tracks off Nobody’s Smiling but I’ll never say that Common isn’t due some props.
But the award this year I think comes down to two clear favorites in Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP 2 and Iggy Azalea with The New Classic. MMLP2 was actually released in November of 2013, missing the September 30 eligibility deadline by five days and pushing it to this year. Given her hype, the hugeness of “Fancy”, her appearances nearly everywhere, and the constant discussion regarding her place in Hip Hop it’s hard to not foresee Azalea Macklemoring this year’s most coveted award. Mathers, though, dominates the category, winning every year he’s been nominated (5) and only having one album of his career not take home the big prize (Encore, 2004). Either way you slice it, it’s pretty stunning to think that the top Rap Grammy Award will most likely come down to a white guy versus a white Australian girl here in 2015.
Over in the Best Rap Song category, it seems likely that Azalea’s sister-in-feud, Nicki Minaj, takes home the award for her song “Anaconda,” though I’m pulling for Kendrick Lamar’s infectious dance/Zen jam “i,” that song is awesome. Also nominated are Drake’s “0 to 100/The Catch Up”, Wiz Khalifa’s “We Dem Boyz”, and Kanye’s “Bound 2.”
Best Rap Performance was the first Hip Hop award introduced to the Grammy’s (1989, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, “Parents Just Don’t Understand”), was split into two separate awards for soloists and groups in 1991 and then rejoined in 2012. I attempted to discern the actual difference between Best Song and Best Performance (for any genre) but came up mostly empty – anyone with insight into this question please tweet me @DrProfEsq. There is generally a high degree of crossover between the two awards and this year both “i” and “0 to 100/The Catch Up” are nominated for both. Also nominated for Best Rap Performance are Childish Gambino on his track “3005,” Christian rapper Lecrae for “All I Need is You,” and Eminem with “Rap God” and its (literally) record-breaking speed.
There is another pair of Grammy awards that are perennially confusing in their similarity and overlap to the point that I and others have asked, “What’s the difference between Song of the Year and Record of the Year?” In turns out the distinction is pretty simple: Song of the Year recognizes the songwriter who composed the song while Record of the Year awards the production as a whole and specifically the performer. The Grammys began in 1959 and for its first decade 6 out of 10 Songs of the Year were won by songs where the performer was not the songwriter. It’s far more common these days that the songwriter and the performer are the same person – 2003’s “Don’t Know Why” performed by Norah Jones and written by Jesse Harris is the only SOTY winner since 2000 to have the two be separate, making for less differentiation and more overlap between SOTY and Record of the Year. This year only one song doesn’t overlap between the two categories. Nominated for both Song of the Year and Record of the Year are “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor , “Chandelier” by Sia, “Stay With Me” (Darkchild Version) by Sam Smith, and “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift. Irish musician Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” rounds out the Song of the Year group while “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea and Charli XCX is the final Record of the Year nominee.
Grammy night always promises some spectacular performances –remember last year’s Kendrick Lamar-Imagine Dragons team-up? – and this year we’ll be eagerly awaiting the trio of Kanye, Rihanna and Sir Paul McCartney most likely performing their new song “FourFiveSeconds.” Duets will be a theme this year as Tony Bennett joins Lady Gaga, Mary J. Blige teams up with Sam Smith, and Adam Levine and Gwen Stefani bring their voices together. Also set to hit the Grammy stage on Sunday are Madonna, Beck, and AC/DC. Perennial performer Taylor Swift is noticeably absent from the list of acts this year, choosing instead to focus on preparations for her 1989 Tour, though she will be in attendance and presenting the Grammy for Best New Artist.
When you tune in for music’s biggest night on Sunday, be sure to follow along with our live tweet @JPLime and using the hashtag #GRAMMYs. Will Iggy take home Best Rap Album? Can Sam Smith make a clean sweep of the Big Four, for only the second time in Grammy history? Let us know your predictions and join us live on Sunday night.