Black Lives Matter at the Grammys, But What About Black Talent?

By Jamilah King Feb 09, 2015

If you’re looking for one picture to sum up last night’s Grammy Awards, take a look at Prince’s, "bitch, please" face:

Prince made the look when he took the stage to present Beck — Beck! — with the award for best album of the year. Never one to be passive, the iconic singer took the opportunity to hammer home to importance of full-length musical projects over one-off songs that currently flood the industry. "Albums — you remember those? They still matter. Like books and black lives, they still matter," Prince stated.

Kanye started to rush the stage, but then thought better of it. Still, he told reporters after the show, "[Beck] should’ve given his award to Beyonce."

Pharrell added some drama to his exuberant hit "Happy." During his performance, his dancers wore hoodies and raised their hands in a "don’t shoot" gesture as a nod to protesters in Ferguson, Missouri.

Blue-eyed soul singer Sam Smith was the star of the night, taking home four awards for best new artist, song of the year and record of the year for his tantalizing hit "Stay With Me" off his debut album, "In the Lonely Hour." He also took the stage with Mary J. Blige to perform the track, and later gave a shoutout to the heartbreaker who inspired the album.

Beyoncé — not Ledisi — helped close out the night with a moving rendition of the gospel standard, "Take My Hand, Precious Lord." Flanked by black male singers dressed in white and standing in a "hands up, don’t shoot" pose, the singer’s words and gestures easily made for the night’s most powerful moment. The singer also took home three awards for her self-titled album.

Kendrick Lamar’s single "i" won awards for best rap performance and best rap song, which made Taylor Swift very, very happy. Interestingly, the rapper wasn’t in attendance

But while black artists proved the point that black lives matter at last night’s awards, what about black talent? That was a question that seemed especially resonant in this year’s hip-hop category (which wasn’t televised), as Eminem beat out Iggy Azalea for best rap album for "The Marshall Mathers LP 2." It was a moment that showed how white artists rob black artists of hip-hop culture, according to Renee Graham at the Boston Globe

Cultural appropriation is a scurrilous label older than Elvis, and as revolting as Pat Boone’s literally and figuratively pale versions of early rock n’ roll classics by Little Richard and Fats Domino. Such concerns center not only on who makes the music, but who claims its legacy and shapes its future. Nowhere is this discussion more fractious than in hip-hop where the music is culture and the culture, for many, is life. In a genre where its most devoted acolytes still believe authenticity is everything, newcomers are expected to earn the right to stand alongside legends.

Luckily for Iggy, she didn’t walk away completely empty-handed. Her braid damn near broke the internet.