The biggest and most commercial event in music, the Grammy’s came to us last Sunday. It left us with a few odd choices from left field, (Beck) and ever more painfully obvious ones (Sam Smith, Sam Smith, Sam Smith, Sam Smith). There’s one thing the Grammy’s do without fail though, and this year’s affair was no different. Above all, they seem to be more than a little out of touch with critical opinion. I understand that no one’s going to want to watch a three-hour broadcast where Boards of Canada is nominated for Best Album. That’s why I’m creating my own totally anti-mainstream awards called the Indie’s (great name, I know). The Grammy’s are obviously arbitrary and not at all infallible, and the same will be true for the Indie’s; I’m not claiming my choices are any better. But I felt like there was no alternative representation from the Grammy’s, and so I’ll commence with the aptly named Indie’s, starting with the Best Rap/Hip-Hop Album.
(Also of note, while the Grammy’s are based on a really confusing timeline for their nominations, the Indie’s will consider any piece of music released last year. If it was released in 2014, it’s good with the Indie’s.)
Indie nomination for Best Rap/Hip-Hop Album
Piñata by Freddie Gibbs and Madlib
You’re Dead! by Flying Lotus
Oxymoron by Schoolboy Q
Run the Jewels 2 by Run the Jewels
Lese Majesty by Shabazz Palaces
While Eminem’s triumphant return stole the attention, this past year was tremendous for lesser known hip-hop acts as well. Madlib is one of the greatest MC/producer/DJ’s still active, and his work with Freddie Gibbs created a vibrant slice of gangsta life. And you can’t go wrong when your album has appearances from the likes of Ab-Soul, Raekwon, Danny Brown and Earl Sweatshirt.
Schoolboy Q’s Oxymoron offered a similar glimpse of life on the street, mixing potent lyrics with fresh beats to create the MC’s best work of his career.
Lese Majesty is the dark horse here, as the Seattle-based Shabazz Palaces made a masterpiece out of sly lines and expert mixing. Expect them to take up the experimental hip-hop torch after the breakup of Death Grips last year.
While it’s more jazz-fusion than rap, Flying Lotus’ trippy You’re Dead! might have been the most complex and well-written album of the whole year, regardless of genre. He gets the nomination based on the album’s roots in hip-hop, as well as the killer Kendrick Lamar-featured track “Never Catch Me.”
But the Indie goes to Run the Jewels 2, and based on critical opinion, this one isn’t even all that close. Run the Jewels had a massively influential year, from announcing their remixed album Meow the Jewels (featuring actual samples of cat sounds), to vocalizing their opinions on Ferguson. But the centerpiece to all that was Run the Jewels 2. Almost every beat is unique and hard-hitting, and in terms of technique, this album couldn’t be produced any better. The Zach de la Roche-featured “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)” is a masterclass of looping and back-tracking. Tracks like “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” and “Blockbuster Night Pt. 1” practically force you to head-bang as El-P spits fire. Killer Mike’s verse on “Lie, Cheat, Steal” is political, aggressive, and extraordinary. Sure, Eminem has a huge name, but Run the Jewels gave such a powerful statement of hip-hop on Run the Jewels 2 that they earn the Indie.
-Daniel Leopold, staff writer